Postal regulatory chairman’s $70,000 in travel comes under scrutiny

Days before the U.S. Postal Service announced record-setting losses in September, the nation’s top postal regulator traveled to Scotland for meetings with European envelope manufacturers.

A few weeks later, Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Y. Goldway visited Portugal, Switzerland and China to meet with international postal regulators.

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES) - Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway.

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Goldway has incurred at least $70,600 in official domestic and international travel expenses during her tenure, outpacing her predecessor, according to commission travel records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Although the commission’s roughly $14.3 million budget is set by Congress and not directly tied to the Postal Service, the frequency and expense of Goldway’s travel is coming under scrutiny from lawmakers who track USPS and its financial woes.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) said he plans to inquire further.

“A significant increase in the amount of travel by the commission chair — or any member of the commission — raises legitimate questions,” Carper’s spokeswoman, Emily Spain, said. “This is a time when the leadership of the Congress, the Postal Service and the Commission should be focused like a laser on the Postal Service’s financial problems.”

Spain said that Carper aides were aware of Goldway’s travel and that media inquiries about the issue have intensified Carper’s interest.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who tracks postal issues, called Goldway’s travel schedule troubling. “When organizations are struggling, good leaders often make a pointed effort of curbing their own expenses as an example,” he said.

Goldway and the PRC office said her travel has been frugal and in the service of the commission.

She receives numerous invitations to international conferences “and attends only those that are beneficial to the Commission and the Postal Service in terms of sharing information about activities in the U.S.,” the PRC said in a statement. The chairman also represents the U.S. government at global conferences when requested by the Commerce and State departments, the commission said.

“I must admit I like traveling, but I don’t see it as a perk of the job, I see it as an obligation,” Goldway said. “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.”

USPS said it lost $5.1 billion in fiscal 2011. Passage of pending legislation would shore up USPS finances and permit the end of Saturday delivery and the closure of thousands of post offices and processing facilities. The bills also would require the PRC to accelerate its work, because some lawmakers are concerned it moves too slowly to issue nonbinding advisory opinions on postal operations and rulings on contested post office closings.

The PRC is an independent five-member regulatory commission overseeing the Postal Service. It includes two Democrats, Goldway and Vice Chairman Nanci E. Langley. Republican commissioners are Mark Acton and Robert G. Taub. President Obama nominated Republican Tony Hammond in December to fill the fifth seat.

Goldway has served on the PRC since 1998. She is a former mayor of Santa Monica, Calif., manager of public affairs for the Getty Trust and ex-wife of a former U.S. ambassador to Finland.

Since Obama designated Goldway as chairman in August 2009, she has spent at least 238 days traveling, attending meetings across the United States and in eight countries, records show.

Goldway’s travel costs have totaled at least $11,183 since the fiscal year began in September, records show. She attended conferences in Portugal and China in October and visited Switzerland for a conference in November.

In fiscal 2011, Goldway spent more than120 days on the road on16 domestic and international trips at a cost of $32,458. Overseas stops included Bern, Switzerland, Brussels and Paris. Domestic travel included five trips to California.

The Washington Post tabulated Goldways’s travels by counting all days spent traveling to and from meetings and time spent at the meetings.

The PRC does not dispute the costs of Goldway’s travel, but it counts her days away differently. In fiscal 2011 she was away from the office 31 work days, traveled and worked on nine weekend days or federal holidays, and took seven days of leave after or in the midst of official travel, the PRC said. It also noted that commissioners have consistently underspent the travel budget, which rose from $150,000 in fiscal 2008 to $178,000 in fiscal 2011.

Goldway said several annual conferences she attends occurred in California or overseas last fiscal year.

“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,” Goldway said.

Her predecessor, Dan G. Blair, traveled less frequently during his two and a half year chairmanship, records show. He spent 101 days traveling, at a cost of $58,788. During his chairmanship, from December 2006 to August 2009, Blair attended meetings in Austria, Canada, China, Japan and Switzerland. He made 19 domestic trips.

“I think there’s great value to seeing how mail is actually handled, rather than just hearing about it in a sterile hearing room,” Blair said.

He declined to comment directly on Goldway’s travel, but said: “I think you have to evaluate my travel in 2007 against postal finances and the economy versus now in 2012.”

Goldway’s three trips to China were part of a series of meetings betweenU.S. and Chinese officials on postal regulations and global shipping, organized by the Commerce and State departments, PRC records show. Blair took similar trips, according to records.

At an October 2009 meeting in Nanjing, China, Goldway shared a 12-slide PowerPoint detailing her commission’s responsibilities and accomplishments, according to the commission’s online archives.

During an April 2010 speech to a European Commission conference in Valencia, Spain, she detailed the Postal Service’s financial declines and reviewed postal reform proposals.

At the three-day European envelope conference in Scotland in September, Goldway participated in a discussion on best-selling mail products and services and attended other meetings, according to travel records.

In October, Goldway spent four days in Lisbon attending meetings hosted by Portuguese electronic and postal regulators. Portuguese conference organizers paid Goldway’s $633 hotel bill, records show. Federal law prohibits such gifts. The PRC said it unsuccessfully attempted to reimburse the organizers, and has referred the situation to government ethics officials.

Goldway and several PRC officials regularly attend field hearings and conferences. Former vice chairman Acton attended 20 conferences and commission field hearings across the country between November 2007 and May 2011 for a total cost of $22,326, according to records.

Langley, who joined the commission in 2008 and succeeded Acton as vice chairman in January, has also attended conferences, including a meeting of Latin American postal officials in Miami in February 2010, according to the commission’s online archives.

 
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