Nati Harnik/AP file photo

Congress Fails to Confirm Postal Nominees, but USPS Says It’s Found a Workaround

Agency had prepared a plan B in the event of congressional inaction.

The Senate confirmed a whole slew of political appointees nominated by President Obama before the close of the 113th Congress. Unfortunately for the U.S. Postal Service, those confirmations did nothing to help it.  

Earlier this month, the USPS governing board lost its quorum when the term of Mickey Barnett, its chairman, expired. There are now only three members on the agency’s board of governors, in addition to the postmaster general and his deputy -- one short of the number needed for a majority of the 11-slot panel.

Obama nominated five nominees to fill the vacancies, including Barnett’s re-nomination, and all were approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The full Senate failed to move on any of the five, despite a hard push from the HSGAC Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del.

The Postal Service, however, refused to roll over after the Senate’s inaction. Anticipating congressional gridlock could unwind the agency’s ability to make any major decisions, the board in November authorized a “temporary emergency committee” composed of the remaining members of the board to “exercise those powers reserved to the board necessary for continuity of operations.”

A notice on the Federal Register issued by the Postal Service earlier this week empowered the emergency committee, though at the time of its issuance USPS was still hopeful the Senate would confirm another governor.

“We are disappointed that the U.S. Senate failed to act on the five nominations for the Postal Service board of governors,” said Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, now that the Senate has recessed without acting on the nominations. “We urge the president to promptly provide board nominations for the Senate to consider when the 114th Congress convenes in January, and for the Senate to move expeditiously in considering those nominees.”

Last month on the Senate floor, Carper said the Postal Service was already left “twisting in the wind” because of the congressional failure to enact reform legislation, and failing to provide the agency with a governing quorum would remove its “[ability] to conduct business.”

“Customers are left with uncertainty,” Carper said at the time, “about what the future holds for the Postal Service. We would make that uncertainty even worse if Dec. 8th comes and goes and our five postal board nominees are still waiting for us to act.”

Shortly before the deadline, an aide said Carper was “optimistic” the Senate would act, but the postal nominees fell by the wayside. Obama must now re-nominate the existing or new candidates, who will then have to once again go through the committee process before receiving a vote in the full chamber.

In the meantime, USPS believes it is on firm legal footing to move forward with its emergency plan. In its public notice, the agency said it would “raise serious constitutional concerns” if it interpreted federal statute to mean its remaining governors could not exercise their powers without a quorum. They also said such an interpretation would “violate separation of powers principles.”

“After considering the legal issues involved,” the Postal Service said, officials believe a lack of quorum does not strip the agency of its decision-making authority.

The Postal Regulatory Commission, which has oversight authority on decisions reached by the postal board, said it is still evaluating the impact of the emergency committee.

“The Commission is aware of the Postal Service’s recent notice in the Federal Register outlining decisions and actions that were taken with respect to quorum requirements,” said a PRC spokeswoman. “The Commission will take those actions into consideration with respect to any future Postal Service filings with the Commission.”