By law, the board cannot discharge its duties unless it has a quorum, which requires six members be present. The board has been short of that number for more than a year, falling from six governors in November 2014 to five in December 2014 to three in November 2015 to one in December 2015.
The USPS board has important duties. By law it must: “direct and control the expenditures and review the practices and policies of the Postal Service.” For an agency with a $70 billion budget, and one that has lost $10 billion since 2007, this is a major job.
The governors appoint the top USPS executives and name the agency’s inspector-general. The board is supposed to “represent the public interest generally” and ensure the agency meets its various statutory obligations.
President Barack Obama has nominated five individuals to serve on the board, including James Miller, who previously served. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service, gave the thumbs-up to all five appointees last year. But the full Senate has not yet voted on the nominees.
There are reports (here and here) that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has placed a hold on some of the nominees. Sanders has not yet fessed up publicly and the Senate sadly clings to its hidebound practice of permitting secret holds that gum up the legislative works.
The board purports to be still carrying out its duties. Shortly before it fell to five members, it created a “temporary emergency committee” comprised of its own members and delegated authority to it. In short, it renamed itself to dodge the quorum requirement, a maneuver that seems legally suspect. Regardless, there is no way Jim Bilbray, the sole remaining governor, can possibly do all the work himself.
Interestingly, the USPS’ performance over the past year —with just three governors— is not appreciably worse. Which prompts the question: does the USPS really need a board?
Recall that private corporations have boards that serve as representatives of shareholders. The Postal Service has no owners per se. It is a government corporation assigned duties by law. The federal government has created many government corporations, not all of which have boards. The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., for example, is headed by an administrator appointed by the president, who reports to the secretary of the Department of Transportation. Not having a board has not harmed its ability to manage competently the well-trafficked waterway between the Port of Montreal and Lake Erie.
The Postal Service Board of Governors is not well-structured to provide competent oversight of USPS executives and the massive USPS apparatus. The agency has a half-million employees and more than 30,000 facilities. Governors are part-timers who rarely have expertise in postal operations or corporate matters. They do not have a squad of permanent professional staff who can school them on postal issues and watch the hen house while they are away. Governors’ compensation, notably, is not affected by their performance or by the USPS’ financial results.
As Congress slogs away at postal reform legislation, one hopes it will rethink the USPS board of governors. It may determine that a board is still needed, but if so, lawmakers should define its purposes, and craft the board in a way that would give its members the ability and incentive to be successful.