By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the only 2016 presidential candidate to address postal issues in his campaign, has been acting without public attention on another important postal issue.
The Vermont senator single handedly has forced the United States Postal Service board of governors out of business, two individuals familiar with the issue have told Linn’s.
By placing holds on President Barack Obama’s appointments to the board during the past two years, Sanders has allowed the board to shrink to what will be a single presidential appointee as of Dec. 9.
Former congressman James Bilbray of Las Vegas then seems certain to become the only presidential nominee on a board that is supposed to have nine presidential appointees.
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Unless the Senate suddenly gets troubled by the prospect of one of the largest federal agencies lacking a supervisory board, Bilbray seems certain to be the only White House appointee in the postal boardroom.
The terms of the two other sitting presidential appointees — Louis J. Giuliano of Virginia and Ellen C. Williams of Kentucky — expire on Dec. 8.
The board has been paralyzed for months.
The reason: It can’t act on anything unless it has at least four presidential appointees present.
Thanks to Sanders, the Senate has not approved any postal nominees for two years, leaving the board without a quorum.
The board has not had all nine presidential seats filled since December 2010.
The postmaster general and deputy postmaster general sit on the board, but they cannot vote on key issues such as rate changes and the selection of a new postmaster general.
The president submitted the names of the five nominees again this year — James C. Miller III of Virginia, Stephen Crawford of Maryland, Mickey Barnett of New Mexico, D. Michael Bennett of Washington, D.C., and David S. Shapira of Pennsylvania — but they are once again stalled in the Senate.
Victoria Kennedy, widow the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was one of President Obama’s five nominees to the board in 2014. However, after the nominations were blocked in 2014, she decided not to try a second time for the board.
Sanders, who urged Postmaster General Megan Brennan Aug. 26 to give up on a plan to slow mail deliveries, did not respond to Linn’s requests for comment on his efforts to block the nominations.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee approved the candidates earlier this year, but their appointments have been gathering dust on the Senate’s executive calendar — since May in most cases.
Why the Senate has delayed all the appointments is a puzzle to many.
Stephen Kearney, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, said, “As far as I know now, it is most likely just that the Senate does not put a high priority on postal governors.
“There also might be some belief that with the possibility of reform legislation, the Senate should wait until after the new law is passed before consenting to the President’s nominees. Senator [Tom] Carper [D-Del.] is working on a new reform bill that he plans to introduce in September.”
In 1970, when the Postal Service became an independent federal agency, the board was established by Congress to oversee the new organization.
As directed by the members of a 1968 presidential commission, the board was to be composed of highly qualified executives drawn from Fortune 500 companies. No one with postal experience need apply.
It never worked out that way.
Being more political than corporate, presidents have tended to name political pals to the board, or have permited Senate leaders of both parties to select the postal governors.
As federal jobs go, being a governor is a bit of a plum.
Those confirmed by the Senate get a $30,000 annual salary, $300 a day for up to 42 days of meetings a year, and travel expenses.
Most meetings are in Washington. There is a secretary to the board, but no staff.
The board has been a critical sounding board for postmasters general, providing guidance on key policy issues for the USPS.
The governors set stamp prices (stalled appointee James Miller was a key supporter of the forever stamp) and have set legislative policy.
By law no more than five of the governors can be of the same political party. They serve seven-year terms.
According to the USPS website, “They shall be chosen solely on the basis of their experience in the field of public service, law or accounting or on their demonstrated ability in managing organizations (in either the public or private sector) of substantial size, except that at least four of the governors shall be chosen solely on the basis of their demonstrated ability in managing organizations or corporations that employ at least 50,000 employees.”
David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, told Linn’s that the board members have remained active despite the lack of a quorum.
“Specifically, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution during its November 2014 meeting establishing 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,” Partenheimer said.
“The governors of the Postal Service also issued a resolution regarding the exercise of the powers vested solely in the governors, as distinguished from the Board of Governors,” he said.
“The resolution clarifies that the inability of the Board to constitute a quorum does not inhibit or affect the authority of the governors then in office to exercise those powers vested solely in the [Board of] Governors, upon the concurrence of an absolute majority of the governors then in office.”
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