Fineman "Delivered" For US Postal Service

CQ Weekly

Postmasters Arrive Special Delivery

When Postmaster General John E. Potter announced two weeks ago that he would retire Dec. 3 after nearly 10 years in the job, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine thanked him for his service and urged his replacement to “strengthen the Postal Service by cutting costs, enticing more customers and putting this vital institution on a sound financial footing.”

Collins also noted, perhaps in warning, that the position is filled by the Postal Service Board of Governors, whose members are confirmed by the Senate, and that she is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction.

New members of the part-time Board of Governors are almost routinely confirmed with little questioning or opposition. That’s despite the Postal Service’s miserable financial condition — it lost about $6 billion in fiscal 2010 and could lose $238 billion over the next decade — and years of criticism of its practices by Congress, particularly by Republicans.

The experience of the board’s newest member, Dennis J. Toner, is typical. A longtime aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he was serving as a Senate Democrat from Delaware, Toner had his confirmation hearing before Governmental Affairs in front of only two members: Delaware Democrats Thomas R. Carper and Ted Kaufman , himself a former Biden chief of staff. Two weeks later, the committee approved Toner’s nomination by voice vote, and in September, the Senate confirmed him to the board by unanimous consent.

Postal Service officials, in fact, said they could not think of a single time the Senate has rejected a president’s nominee to the nine-member board, which at this time is split 5-4 in favor of Republicans.

S. David Fineman, who served on the Board from 1995 to 2004, including two years as chairman, says the lengthy background check conducted by the White House and committee members ensures that nominees face little opposition, although he recalls a nomination that was upended because of a conflict of interest.

The board has broad authority to set postal policy, conduct long-range planning and direct expenditures, but according to Fineman, “The most important thing that they really do, quite frankly, is to choose the Postmaster General.”