Post Office loses another $5.1 billion; Bernie continues to prevent help

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And then, there were none.

Not a single member remains of the Postal Board of Governors. The board, which is supposed to have 11 members – nine appointed by the president and approved by Congress, as well as the Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General – lost its final outside member, James Bilbray, when his term expired at midnight on Dec. 8.

{mosads}The governors, who advise the Postal Service on management, approve price changes and can fire the Postmaster General, serve staggered 9-year terms, so one member’s term expires each year on Dec. 8. If no replacement is approved, the law permits a governor to serve for an additional year. The board must have six members to achieve quorum.

President Obama has nominated five people to serve on the board – three Democrats and two Republicans. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service, has approved all five. But the full Senate has not taken up the matter because a senator – believed to be Bernie Sanders – has placed a hold on their nominations.

Sanders is said to have placed the holds at the request of postal unions, who particularly object to former Postal Board Chairmen Mickey Cochrane and James C. Miller.

No governor has been approved since 2010, and in December 2014, the Board of Governors moved to establish a plan to enable the board to fulfill its functions even as its membership dipped far below quorum. The Board passed two resolutions – one that said its core functions, such as firing the Postmaster General or making pricing decisions, would not be affected by lack of quorum; and the other, which said no set amount of governors was needed to make decisions, meaning even one governor could wield all the board’s power.

In one of its last acts with quorum, the board set up the Temporary Emergency Committee, which the Federal Register says has any powers “necessary for operational continuity.” Its members are any current member of the Postal Board of Governors and the Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General. Which means, as of now, the board advising the management of the Postal Service consists of the top officials of the management of the Postal Service.

But some question whether the board can delegate authorities to the Temporary Emergency Committee. The language of the law says vacancies do not impair the powers of the board “as long as there are sufficient members to form a quorum.” Moreover, the law requires seven votes to dismiss a Postmaster General. Without seven members, it can’t. 

Beyond the ability to undercut the letter and spirit of the law authorizing the board, the Postal Service actually needs its governors. It has lost $37.1 billion in the last five years, and its unfunded liabilities are up to $101 billion. Its customers aren’t happy – the amount of mail that arrived late increased 48 percent from 2014 to 2015 – and many of its lines of businesses are either struggling or outright failing.

The board consists of people with experience in public service, law or accounting with a demonstrated ability to manage large organizations and corporations. The Postal Service is second only to Walmart in employees and second only to McDonalds in total real estate.

The board, when at full strength, is supposed to include at least four governors based solely on their ability to manage organizations or corporations with at least 50,000 employees.

Members also are supposed to have executive experience overseeing a similar public or private entity, knowledge of the Postal Service and its functions, industry landscape and regulatory policies, a commitment to fiduciary responsibility and accountability and a commitment to protect the core mission.

This is the exact kind of help the Postal Service needs. Its management has worked diligently to squeeze every dollar out of postal facility efficiency. What hurts the Postal Service is bad business decisions – a multimillion-dollar deal with Amazon that has proven to be a huge loser, deals with international posts that hurt Americans, delivering fish, groceries and other products in high-density areas where traffic prevents profitability.

Bernie Sanders says he wants to help postal workers hurt by facility closings and an influx of lower-wage part-time workers. In the process, he is enabling the Postal Service to keep making the kinds of decisions that put workers at a disadvantage. If he wants to help the workers, he needs to let their bosses get the advice they need and are provided by law.   

Brian McNicoll, former senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is a conservative columnist based in Reston, Va. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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