“The postmaster general’s actions have damaged his reputation with congressional leaders and further complicates congressional efforts to pass comprehensive postal reform legislation in the future.”
With all of the help the U.S. Postal Service requires to close a $20 billion gap, Donahoe doesn’t need to anger Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader.
Donahoe’s surprise move, announced Wednesday, to shore up Postal Service finances by cutting Saturday mail delivery was bold, aggressive, perhaps even audacious. Those can be admirable characteristics in an executive when his actions work.
If they don’t work, those same actions look foolish, panicky and self-defeating.
Time will tell whether Donahoe gets away with his end run around Congress, but it is already apparent that he has alienated some forces whose help he desperately can use. A move to five-day mail delivery would save $2 billion annually, but Donahoe needs congressional support for reform legislation that would help dig the Postal Service out of a much deeper hole.
Donahoe also needs union cooperation for his proposal to move USPS employees to a health insurance program run by the Postal Service. But his unilateral five-day move has so upset labor leaders that two unions have called for his dismissal.
He wants to impose five-day mail delivery beginning in August. Package delivery would continue on Saturdays and post offices would be open. Once a temporary budget funding measure expires March 27, there will be no congressional restriction against five-day delivery.
In fact, postal officials say there is nothing in the temporary measure that prohibits five-day delivery. “We think we could move to five-day now,” said Mary Anne Gibbons, the USPS general counsel.
But the restriction has been repeatedly imposed by Congress since 1983, so there is no doubt about what the will of lawmakers has been.
“The fact is that for 30 years we’ve had this,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.). “ I think the intent is clear.”
Donahoe may be counting on polls showing popular support for five-day delivery and indications from Congress and the White House that they are ready to abandon three decades of past practice. With everything on their legislative agenda, lawmakers might not take time to reimpose the six-day mandate before Donahoe can make it a done deal.
But even if they don’t, and even if his action is within the letter of the law, members of Congress don’t like outsiders messing with their prerogatives. While five-day delivery certainly is a legislative possibility, preemptive agency moves to undermine years of legislative history are not appreciated on Capitol Hill.
“Given the importance of the post office to communities in Nevada and across our nation, such a drastic policy change cannot be enacted without approval from Congress,” Reid said. “Instead, the postmaster general relied on flawed legal guidance to claim that he can circumvent Congress’ s authority on the matter.”