By George Knapp, Matt Adams – December 4, 2015
LAS VEGAS – This is the time of year when millions of Americans rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver holiday greeting cards or packages. Despite strong challenges from e-mail and rival delivery companies, the U.S. Postal Service is still a vital link for large and small businesses as well as everyday folks.
The board that oversees the entire operation, however, is shrinking and could soon vanish.
The I-Team first reported this a few months ago, with the help of four-time Nevada Congressman Jim Bilbray. There hasn’t been a fully functional U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors since 2010. The governors make sweeping policy decisions about the operation of the postal service, but gridlock in Washington is preventing new board members from being appointed.
Within a week, Bilbray could be the only person left on the board.
“If we don’t get any new appointees by December 6th of this year, I will be the only governor in the United States Postal System. So, actually, I am the chairman of the board right now,” he said.
Bilbray could be very lonely if he calls any future meetings of the U.S. Postal Board of Governors. There are supposed to be nine governors appointed by the president with approval of the U.S. Senate, but partisan gridlock has thwarted all attempts to appoint new members. As terms expired, the number dwindled to a mere three board members.
“The other two that are with me are both (gone) by the end of December,” Bilbray said. “They are in a holdover year, then they go off.”
Bilbray and the other two governors have been acting as an emergency committee to oversee one of the largest and most visible agencies in the federal government.
The board was created by Congress as a way to deflect political heat for making touchy policy decisions. It oversees a budget of $66 billion, includes 30,000 offices, and employs 500,000 people – a number which has dropped by 200,000 in nine years.
The postal service has faced challenges from electronic mail and private package delivery companies, but it still plays a vital role in the economy. Having a functional board would seem to be a priority. It isn’t.
Five nominees have been in limbo in the U.S. Senate since 2014. They were blocked for any number of reasons, including proposals to privatize the operation or close facilities.
After the I-Team first publicized Bilbray’s concerns in August, Bilbray and the postmaster general sent a letter to the two top leaders in the Senate: Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. Reid recommended Bilbray to the board.
The letter implores the Senate to act by December 8 to avoid an “untenable situation.”
According to Bilbray, a Senate committee chairman was ready to bring the five names to the floor for a vote but was blocked at the last minute by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
One day after the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Sanders told a cheering crowd of postal workers that he would oppose efforts to privatize the post office or close thousands of facilities.
A stamp collector publication was the first to report that Sanders blocked the most recent attempts to appoint new board members, speculating that he did it to gain leverage in getting the postmaster to re-open several mail sorting facilities that had been closed.
Bilbray says he is open to any ideas that would bolster the postal service, but it has to start with a fully functional board of governors.
Friday morning, Bilbray presided over the final meeting of the three-member board. By Tuesday, he will be the only remaining board member. Even though his term also expires Tuesday, he agreed to serve for a holdover year, so there is at least one governor.
The longtime congressman did this, even though he’s been battling health issues related to his exposure to natural asbestos during the years when he hiked the desert near Boulder City.
Bottom line is that he and the postal service really could use some help.