Congress should clarify intent of U.S. Postal Service’s “ghost ship” board

WASHINGTON (Feb. 9, 2016) – Congressional inaction on nominees to the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors has left the agency under the control of a Temporary Emergency Committee (TEC) for more than a year, a troubling precedent that could have wide-ranging impacts across the federal government, according to a new study from the R Street Institute.

Federal statute dictates that the Postal Service board needs a quorum of six members to exercise its authority. But the U.S. Senate has refused to act on any of five nominations submitted by President Barack Obama to fill members’ expiring terms, leaving the board with just one governor serving alongside the postmaster general (PMG) and deputy postmaster general (DPMG).

“On the one hand, the TEC solution can be understood as an effort by well-meaning governors to maintain operations in an unprecedented environment,” authors Kevin R. Kosar and Daniel J. Richardson write. “Nevertheless, there are aspects of this action that could prove challenging and set a troubling precedent for agencies that face similar challenges.”

To date, the TEC’s functions appear very similar to those of the full board that preceded and created it. But the emergency action also blurs the distinction between the commission and single-administrator models of agency governance in important ways. The authors cite the USPS as a case study in how breakdowns in the appointment process can create instability for agencies and undermine congressional prerogatives.

“Instead of the Senate’s failure to confirm leading either to new nominees or policy victories, the result has been an administrative solution that centralizes executive functions in fewer hands,” Kosar and Richardson write. “The danger is that this solution provides a blueprint to other agencies faced with similar pressures.”

Unless Congress passes sweeping legislation, these issues will have to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, creating more upheaval in the agencies and potentially introducing incentives for a president to withhold making appointments.

“This leaves Congress on uncertain footing in negotiations with the executive branch over the impact of appointment decisions and forces agencies to make contentious choices just to maintain their operations,” the authors write.

Kosar and Richardson recommend that Congress clarify the intent of the board’s statutory quorum requirements and delegation provisions. They note that lawmakers previously have provided such clarity in other cases, such as the statute governing the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 

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