Postal Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Ruth Y. Goldway has traveled across the country and around the world since taking leadership of the nation’s postal regulator in August 2009. Costs for her trips top $70,600, according to a Washington Post analysis of her travel.
Lawmakers say they plan to look into Goldway’s trips, detailed in a Federal Eye article in Monday’s Post, that found she has traveled to conferences and speeches nationwide and to meetings with international regulators in Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Finland, France and China.
Goldway defended her travel schedule during an interview Friday. A transcript of the conversation — edited for clarity and length — appears below:
Question: Why do you travel so often?
Goldway: “It was up this last year, just because there was a confluence of events. The Commerce Department event was in China this year and the regulatory dialogue was in Brussels. In previous years, those things had been in the States. We’ve had just a confluence of activity, like the postal forum was in California last year; it will be in Florida this year. I don’t think it was that much more in terms of travel.”
What did you do on these trips? What is the purpose of these trips?
“I find I learn a tremendous amount when I meet with my colleagues who are involved in postal issues internationally. It’s an opportunity to hear about their innovations, about the problems, about the dynamics of the international economy. The global envelope manufacturers [which she met with last fall in Scotland] bring such a remarkable array of business people to discuss the dynamics of the printing industry. I learn a great deal and it’s a great education.
“And the domestic travel is very valuable because you get to see people outside the Beltway and to hear from the users of the mail in a way you don’t when they’re making presentations in front of you in D.C. Often they feel a little intimidated about criticizing the Postal Service” at PRC hearings in Washington.
“Our job at the PRC is to represent the interests of all of the stakeholders. In order to do that, we really need to make an effort to get out of the city now and then.”
Is it appropriate for you to be traveling so much in the past six months when the USPS posted such historic losses and Congress started considering a new round of postal reforms?
“I think you could look at the records of the commission and see that we have completed all of the work that is assigned to us within our statutory deadline, even though the amount of work has been increasing dramatically in the last year and a half. I know that Senator [Thomas R.] Carper was unhappy with how long it took us to make our decision on the six- to five-day proposal, but we all felt that we had to do that given the Administrative Procedure Act guidelines.
“I think people are more concerned that we should be given more funding to do more things than they are concerned that somehow we’re spending money unwisely. . . . We try very hard to husband our resources and return to them money that’s not used, even while we have a bigger workload.”
But what about travel? Has the travel been appropriate?
“Travel is about 1 percent of our budget, overall. And given that we have statutory responsibilities to be engaged overseas, I think we handled that expense pretty wisely.”
Is travel a perk of the job? Is that a fair characterization — that the travel is a perk?
“I must admit I like traveling, but I don’t see it as a perk of the job. I see it as an obligation.”
What role do you play in crafting postal reform legislation?
“Congress asks us for advice. They have hearings at which we testify and I present commission findings and occasionally my own opinion. They call us in as experts to evaluate their proposals, which we will go over and give them a balanced opinion.”
Have you missed commission hearings because of your travel schedule?
“I can’t recall that I have. There may have been a particular meeting that I didn’t go to, but if that’s occasionally the case with other commissioners, you have to miss a meeting for one reason or another. But if I have missed something it hasn’t stopped any proceedings for going on. But I don’t recall anything specifically.”
My review of the travel records suggests that you booked several personal trips to occur before, after or in the midst of official travel, to London, Madrid and some one-day stays in Beijing. Why did you do this?
“There were a few times when I thought I could take a few extra days off work and enjoy myself without costing the commission any money. I am allowed to take some vacation with this job.
“There were a couple of times that I was traveling and there was a weekend day, and rather than charging a per diem, I would find a friend and take the day off and charged it personally. I think I counted seven days of personal enjoyment. Of course, I worked on a lot of weekends during the trips.”
There are several trips on your itinerary that take you to California. Could you have started those trips instead at your home in Santa Monica [where she occasionally visits on weekends]? Should we read anything into you having the PRC pay for you to travel and stay in California when you live nearby?
“I live in Venice. I used to live in Santa Monica. I’m registered to vote there, anyway.
“I often go to California for weekends. It’s not as often as I’d like, but I like to go. I found myself in California for one of those trips, where I had to go to San Francisco. I asked if it was within our rules to get a ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco then back to D.C. rather than Los Angeles to D.C. to San Francisco and back to D.C., and she gave me the okay to do that.”
To your knowledge, has the PRC ever paid or been involved in booking any of your personal travel?
“Well, my personal assistants will help me with my calendaring of all kinds of events. I generally do the initial planning of what I’d like to do and then ask my assistant to help me with the final details so they coordinate well with the official travel that I take.
“It’s certainly standard procedure for presidential appointees.”
To your knowledge, are you still the longest-serving politically appointed executive branch official?
“Yes, 14 years, that’s right. I think I have met with the approval of three presidents.”
What is a typical day like for you?
“I arrive at our office at about a quarter of 7 in the morning and I go to the gym and I work out for 45 minutes to an hour, get dressed and I’m up here at about 20 after 8. And I’m at my desk and at meetings until about 6:30 at night unless there’s a business lunch or I go to the Hill. We have hearings. The commission has a lot of briefings, we have a lot of hearings in front of us, so we arrange for the staff to give us briefings on the various issues.”
And those issues are tied mostly to the present-day pressures facing the U.S. Postal Service?
“But the present-day pressures include our international efforts.
“I will grant you that the revenue of international mail is very small compared to the total revenue. Although with its package delivery and Express Mail Services that are international, it’s a growing source of revenue. The interesting thing about a network like the Postal Service is that the value of the network is based on its extent. Those far reaches of the network are the ones where you make the least amount of money, but they make the network the most valuable. You have that much mail, but can you imagine what a network would be without having international connections? You have to that international connectivity. It’s essential.”
Anything else you’d like us to know?
“I know that travel is an easy mark for people, but I really think that what we do is well within the bonds of responsibility and I make a special effort to make sure that any travel I take is extremely frugal. I’m a small person, I can get on a plane easily, but I think it’s important to travel. The benefit really does outweigh any of the costs that are invested in it. As you can see, we try very hard to manage the funds of the commission so that we are responsible and are aware of the financial concerns of the Postal Service and to do our jobs as best we can.”
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