By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
On the day that President Barack Obama welcomed Donald Trump, his successor, to the White House, the watchdog of the United States Postal Service issued a plea for help.
What the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General said in a white paper was that, unless Congress acts quickly, the huge, independent federal agency will become powerless to handle several vital tasks.
Setting stamp prices, hiring or firing the postmaster general, and planning new postal products are all powers granted to the nine presidential governors who oversee the USPS.
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Those powers, the inspector general said, will vanish in mid-December because the last presidentially appointed member of the Postal Service’s board of governors can no longer sit on the board.
When former Rep. James Bilbray of Nevada departs the boardroom, all nine of the presidential seats on the board will be vacant.
Thanks largely to the opposition of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Senate has failed to nominate any of Obama’s candidates for the board in recent years.
At a November meeting of the board’s “temporary emergency committee,” Bilbray noted that the postmaster general and the deputy PMG remain members on the board.
“But I cannot effectively run the United States Post Office by myself,” he said.
“We are shocked that somebody out there doesn’t hear us, doesn’t hear how badly we are off. [We are down to] one governor: me.”
It’s not clear what the incoming Trump administration wants to do with the USPS, which has defaulted on billions of dollars it owes the U.S. Treasury.
The word “postal” did not appear in the 2016 Republican Party platform, and Trump did not discuss any postal issues during the campaign.
Sanders said only during his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that he would appoint postal governors who presumably shared his interests.
Sanders wanted the USPS to get back into the banking business, offering financial services to communities that had few banks, an idea that postal management has not endorsed.
With Sanders’ defeat by Hillary Clinton, all discussion of the USPS disappeared from the presidential race.
Now the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General is hoping its white paper, titled “Governance of the U.S. Postal Service,” will draw some attention to the problem as Trump begins to discover in detail the problems his administration will confront.
Congressional Republicans have expressed little interest in what some say would be a “bailout” of the USPS, and one of the few postal union leaders to comment on the Nov. 8 elections, Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, was not optimistic about the prospects.
Noting that the union had endorsed Hillary Clinton, he said in a Nov. 9 statement: “Had we prevailed in more races, we would have been in a better position to achieve sensible postal reform legislation and to protect the interests of active and retired members of the NALC.”
“Now we face a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
Mailers Hub News, a new postal newsletter, notes that Postmaster General Megan Brennan’s proposal to rename “Standard Mail” as “Marketing Mail” has come under attack.
The Association for Postal Commerce, whose members are major mailers, filed comments with the Postal Regulatory Commission, objecting to the name change.
Noting that the change will require mailers to change the indicia on their mailings at their own cost, the association complained that the USPS “has not evaluated how these changes will affect response rates.”
“If the ‘Marketing Mail’ indicia causes recipients to view mailpieces as ‘junk mail’ their value will be reduced immeasurably,” the APC said.
Mailers Hub said in its Nov. 7 issue that postal officials were quick to note at a recent meeting of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee that the Postal Service won’t soon be asking for a revision of its labelings of “Standard Mail.”