Potter, who retired in December after a 32-year postal career, would take the top job at a tumultuous time for the airports authority. The authority’s board has been skewered by local, state and federal leaders for its management of the second phase of the 23-mile Metro project and for its initial handling of the search for a new chief executive.
Board Chairman Charles D. Snelling said he could not comment on the search until after the board’s formal vote, scheduled for Wednesday morning. Potter did not return phone messages this week. Other sources familiar with the search spoke on condition of anonymity so they could talk freely about personnel matters.
Potter, 55, would replace James E. Bennett, who announced his retirement more than a year ago after 14 years on the job. E. Lynn Hampton, another veteran of the authority, has held the position temporarily and plans to retire after a new leader is named.
The authority is a self-supporting entity with 1,400 employees and a $1.9 billion budget. Potter’s biggest challenges could be political. The authority’s board is under fire for the rising cost of the Metrorail project, including its preference for building an underground station at Dulles. Local leaders, who are helping pay for the project, have urged the board to reverse course and back a less expensive aboveground station that is not as close to the terminal.
Potter would also have to manage a diverse 13-member regional board that includes appointments from the president, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the District’s mayor.
Although Potter does not have airport management experience, he developed relationships with airlines who ship cargo for the Postal Service. Those who have worked with him said Potter’s leadership of one of the nation’s largest employers would serve him well in a new arena.
FedEx founder and chief executive Frederick W. Smith worked closely with Potter because of the Postal Service’s reliance on the company’s planes to move Priority Mail.
“There are very few people who have managed something as big and complex as the U.S. Postal Service,” Smith said. “I suspect that’s why they’ve got him at the top of their list.”
‘The guy next door’
The son of a postal worker, Potter rose through the ranks of the service, starting as a postal clerk in New York in 1978, before becoming one of the longest-serving postmasters general. He presided over a difficult period for the quasi-government agency as an increasing number of households and businesses have come to rely on e-mail correspondence and online bill-paying services. With declining mail volume and rising retiree health costs, the Postal Service reported an $8.5 billion loss in 2010.