The War on the Postal Service Continues

We got some really bad news on that front this week. Late Monday afternoon, the Postal Regulatory Commission filed an update with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing the resignation of vice chair David C. Williams from the USPS Board of Governors, effective at the end of April. Williams had been confirmed for the position just in August 2018, by a Senate voice vote. Technically, he was filling a term that expired in December 2019, but he had until the end of this year to depart, and could have been reinstated for a new term.

This is distressing for a couple reasons. First of all, nobody is more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the postal service than David Williams. He was the longtime Inspector General who wrote the famous (to me, anyway) white paper in 2014 arguing for the return of postal banking. He was an innovative voice for improving revenues at the agency while also solving basic societal problems (wouldn’t postal banks have been a good place to deposit CARES Act payments so they weren’t stolen to cover existing debts?). And he understood the mission of the postal service, to connect the nation and promote commerce.

Worst of all, my sources indicate that this was a resignation in protest. Everyone has been focused on Donald Trump blathering that the USPS needs to quadruple package delivery charges to Amazon or they won’t get any rescue funds. But the CARES Act included a $10 billion expansion of the Treasury Department’s line of credit to the postal service. There have been reports that Treasury was using the leverage gained through those purse strings to demand significant changes to the agency, not limited to package rates. It includes forcing concessions on postal union pay and benefits, interfering in hiring decisions (including the next postmaster general, the key figure on postal policy), and the terms of large contracts. The USPS would have to formally request the loan money, and as of late April they hadn’t, though there had been preliminary discussions.

Williams’ resignation suggests the worst is about to happen: that Treasury will use its power and the leverage of the coronavirus crisis to fundamentally damage the postal service and its workers. Williams didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), a stalwart defender of the Postal Service, gave a statement to the Prospect that, if you read between the lines, signals what happened here. “If political pressure played a role in the sudden departure of David Williams, it is an ominous storm cloud over the head of our postal service,” Pascrell said. “As one of the most respected leaders of the USPS and a longtime advocate of postal empowerment and postal banking, Williams’ leadership is desperately needed to guide the post office through what may be its most precarious moment in modern times.

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