When Megan Brennan becomes the nation’s 74th postmaster general Feb. 1, she is likely to discover that one of her big challenges is making friends on Capitol Hill.
Some of the best friends of the United States Postal Service have been questioning some of her predecessors’ actions of late.
That is likely to make Brennan’s efforts to secure financial help for the USPS from lawmakers more difficult.
In the Senate, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has said he wants assurances that Brennan’s selection followed a detailed search.
In the House, another USPS supporter has been questioning the Postal Service’s slow reaction to a computer hacking incident that has been linked to China.
At a Nov. 19 House hearing, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., was upset over how long USPS officials waited before telling employees some of their personal information, such as Social Security numbers, may have been compromised.
Randy Miskanic, the agency’s computer security expert, told the committee an earlier disclosure of the hacking might have alerted the people who broke into the USPS computers.
Lynch did not buy the argument.
“That secret squirrel stuff — we have to figure out how sophisticated these people were and what information they’ve got — that doesn’t fly,” said Lynch.
As soon as the Postal Service realized its computers were hacked and personal information about workers disclosed, Lynch argued that the employees should be told.
“If we go with your plan, a U.S. government agency could have Social Security numbers for all its employees compromised, and you’ll decide based on your own interests when the employees will be notified,” Lynch said, suggesting that legislation might be needed to prevent any future delays in warning workers.
As the House Postal Service subcommittee learned, the USPS was informed by the Department of Homeland Security of the hacking on Sept. 11. The agency waited until Nov. 10 to inform the public and its workers about the incident.
While neither Carper nor Lynch will be chairing postal committees in the next Congress, Brennan will need the help of all the agency’s friends on the Hill if any of the financial-aid measures that the two previous postmasters general have been urging for years are to have any chance of passage.
Speaking of Congress, I recently asked my member of the House, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., what he thought of how the new postmaster general was selected.
What I received from Connolly, who also sits on the House Oversight Committee with Lynch, was a detailed letter on the plight of the USPS.
The most unsettling sentence was one that suggested that most Americans would opt for “preserving our current universal service standard that allows an individual for the cost of 46 cents to mail a letter from Virginia to California in two days … ”
Sadly, Connolly does not seem to know that the price of that first-class letter is 49¢.
But I suspect that he is not alone.
Many lawmakers seem oblivious to the workings of the USPS.
Educating them, especially members of the postal committees, will make Brennan’s work on Capitol Hill challenging.
If the letter carrier delivering your Christmas parcels looks familiar, he or she might just be a recently retired carrier the Postal Service has hired back for the holidays.
According to spokeswoman Darlene Casey, the USPS has been using a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act to rehire retirees “to fulfill functions critical to the mission of the agency.”
She did not say how many carriers have returned under a provision that allows them to continue to collect full retirement benefits and get paid for the work they perform.
National Letter Carriers Association president Fredric Rolando told Linn’s the USPS can hire “temporary holiday carrier assistants” for the four-week holiday period in December.
Last year the USPS told the NLCA they primarily used retired letter carriers, but had not offered the union any data on how many it used.
“Likewise, this year USPS indicates they would prefer to utilize retired letter carriers, but again, they have not shared any such data,” Rolando said.