Packing the Postal Service in Five Easy Steps

Note: This article was initially published with an error in attribution; this article was written by Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub.

In the midst of the Great Depression, newly re-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. The measure would increase the size of the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen justices by allowing the president to appoint up to six additional justices, one for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. Roosevelt had chafed at the court’s rejection of several of his New Deal initiatives, so the plan would have let him add enough new members to the panel to ensure a majority would favor his proposals. Opponents, however, called the proposal “court-packing,” for obvious reasons.

Fast forward to 2020, and we see another example of “packing” underway, only without any legislative envelope or other disguise to conceal it. Soon, the distinct possibility exists that the senior executive ranks of the Postal Service could be populated entirely by partisan sycophants knowing little more than where their political bread is buttered.

Step One

The first step in such a coup starts at the top: the Governors of the Postal Service. Thanks to Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) who, using the Senate’s rule that allows a single member to block action, placed on “hold” on confirming nominated governors, causing vacancies to grow on the Board of Governors until, in 2016, none were left. That lasted for twenty months.

In October 2017, the new administration nominated two persons to the Board, David Williams, former USPS Inspector General, and Robert Duncan, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Other nominations followed, and by early 2020 the board had five appointed governors.

Step Two

The administration’s views on the Postal Service became apparent in two documents issued in 2018: the June 21 “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” and the December 4 report by the president’s “Task Force on the USPS Postal System.” Both found familiar problems with the agency – such as its financial stress because of the prefunding obligation – but both also identified needed structural reforms. The June 21 document even alluded to getting the agency in sufficiently decent shape to consider privatization.

Also in 2018, the administration started complaining about the prices being paid for small parcels mailed from China, and the presumably too-low prices being paid by Amazon, a company equated in the president’s mind with the Washington Post, a regular critic of the administration, because of common ownership.

The Postmaster General tried to explain that the prices on incoming international mail are not set by the USPS but by the Universal Postal Union, and that the prices paid by Amazon well exceed the associated costs. By not acceding to the president’s misinformed complaints, the PMG got onto his bad list as did USPS management in general, by association.

Step Three

When Megan Brennan announced last October that she would retire at the end of January 2020, that allowed the president’s chosen governors to find a replacement who would be more amenable to doing what he wants rather than trying to correct his erroneous opinions.

They found their choice earlier this month, selecting longtime political supporter, contributor, and partisan Louis DeJoy as the next Postmaster General.

The departure of David Williams from the board, reportedly in protest of the panel’s growing subservience to the White House’s wishes, was followed soon after by the announcement that current Deputy PMG Ron Stroman also would be leaving, by June 1.

Step Four

This latter development gave the governors and their PMG selectee the chance to pick yet another like-minded colleague for the Number Two spot at USPS HQ.

By statute (39 USC 202), the Governors of the Postal Service (i.e., the Board’s politically-appointed members) have the exclusive right to select the Postmaster General and the Inspector General; the Board and the PMG choose the Deputy. It’s highly unlikely that the Board will involve outgoing PMG Brennan in picking the next DPMG, instead waiting until after June 15 when DeJoy is on board to announce their choice.

Step Five

Also by statute, the PMG appoints the agency’s General Counsel, Judicial Officer, Chief Postal Inspector, and “such number of Assistant Postmasters General as the Board shall consider appropriate.” All except the Deputy “serve at the pleasure” of the PMG.

In other words, DeJoy and the new Deputy, likely cued by the appointed governors and the White House, would have carte blanche to legally replace all the top executives of the Postal Service with individuals taken from the ranks of the partisan faithful. The packing – or the coup – would be complete.

The latest official Postal Service organizational chart (posted on PostalPro) shows 37 positions of vice-president or higher, including the PMG, Deputy, other statutory officers, and the “assistant postmasters general” (EVPs and VPs) allowed by law as deemed “appropriate” by the Board.

The incumbents in those positions oversee functional activities and execute official policy for every aspect of the agency’s operations. Most of the individuals have experience in not only their respective disciplines but in the unique workings of the USPS. Displacing them in favor of three dozen more political hacks would establish a partisan philosophical hegemony and remove any effective resistance to the execution of whatever directive might be forthcoming from the mercurial whims of the administration.

Bonus Step Six

For those who would benefit from effectively subverting the Postal Service, the packing process would have enabled them to achieve their goals – whether raising prices for Amazon, blunting the influence of the unions, or – as some observers have theorized – finishing its financial ruination as a justification for even further disassembly.

Of course, whether there will be a Step Six depends on whether the preceding steps would have been successfully completed as planned. We’re on the cusp of Step Five, and there’s little in the way after that – except how far the process actually goes depends on the continued alignment of the political stars.

The 2020 elections could retain incumbents in the White House and Congress or could not only change the party makeup of Congress but unseat the president as well.

In the former scenario, it would afford four more years to implement whatever is the presumed agenda for reworking the postal system. In the latter scenario, it’s doubtful that a different president and Congress would allow the management of the USPS to be changed as now would seem to be the plan – assuming that it wouldn’t be a fait accompli.

Regardless, in the end, whatever happens will be the political result of political choices, made by political people for their own political purposes. If those purposes happen to also benefit the USPS as an institution, or the commercial mailing industry, the mailing community, and 330 million American postal customers, it simply would be a fortunate coincidence.


Excerpted from the May 25 issue of Mailers Hub News.

 

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