Postal Service out of control! (Literally)

It may be Christmas time and the busiest mail and package delivery time of the year, but the U.S. Postal Service has no one in charge.

Oh, sure, Postmaster General Megan Brennan is on the job, as are all her deputies in finance, marketing and operations. Your Christmas and Hanukkah cards will reach their destinations. Packages will reach their intended doorsteps. Postal employees will receive their pay. USPS will make a modest operating profit, something in the $600 million range, while sustaining multi-billion-dollar losses because of structural issues impervious to congressional or any other ability. A new stamp with Andrew Wyeth is coming out.

Business as usual, in other words.

But you could empty nine cans of Silly String in the USPS boardroom and not hit anyone. That’s the big weird thing about USPS. It has no Board of Governors. All the terms of the nine presidentially-appointed members have expired, and only Postmaster General Megan Brennan — a Postal employee technically — and Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman are left.

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President Obama has sent several names for the Board to the Senate, but the august body been busy with other things, like trying to sustain the stalemate of the last eight years.

According to last month’s report from the USPS inspector general, here are some of the things the Postal Service can not do or have legally without a Board of Governors.

  • Find or appoint a Postmaster General or Deputy,  and set their pay
  • Approve a budget or financial statements
  • Make capital expenditures or issue debt
  • Set policy
  • Establish or change postal rates
  • Create and market new products like, say, drone delivery
  • Have a long-term strategy
  • Transmit the annual report of USPS to Congress
  • Appoint or remove the inspector general

Otherwise, USPS is fine without a Board of Governors. Except, in the IG’s words, “the Postal Service is facing profound strategic, operational, and financial challenges. Now more than ever it needs a governing body that has sufficient authority to meet its responsibilities and that can attract highly qualified members with a diversity of skills and experience.” When I spoke to Charlie Crum, director of Operations Research in USPS’ Office of Inspector General, about it, he was even-handed but I sensed he was astonished by the situation.

Former Rep. James Bilbray’s (D-Nev.) term expires this week, Thursday to be exact. Last month he told Linn’s Stamp News, “I cannot effectively run the United States Post Office by myself.”

The situation seems absurd, but it’s going on right now.

The Postal Service has a long and rich history of donnybrooks over how it should be managed. A long line of presidents, Congresses and commissions has been pushing the behemoth Postal Service away from its highly political roots to something of a modern-day operation. The largest original source of patronage jobs since the founding of the Republic, its network of post offices are no longer available to White Houses to grant. They don’t make ’em like James Aloysius Farley anymore, postmaster general and Democratic Party chairman, unofficial ambassador to the Holy See. Now you need industrial scientists, MBAs and marketing wizards.

And since the 1968 Kappel Commission and the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act, you need a Board of Governors.