Senate gridlock forces Postal board into emergency committee

The Postal Service Board of Governors says it will keep working, even though it doesn't have enough members for a quorum.

The Postal Service Board of Governors has formed a temporary emergency committee so that it can continue working, even though it lacks enough members for a quorum.

To do otherwise would “raise serious constitutional concerns,” the board said in a notice published Tuesday in the Federal Register.

It’s an unprecedented step, necessitated by the Senate’s sluggish pace. And it comes at a bad time for the cash-strapped agency, which has yet to convince Congress to pass legislation to help it cut costs.

The board shrank to five members on Dec. 8, when Chairman Mickey Barnett’s term ended. By law, it must have six of its 11 seats filled for a quorum.

Barnett, a Republican, is one of five nominees cleared by a Senate panel but not yet approved by the full chamber. The other nominees are fellow Republican James Miller III and Democrats Stephen Crawford, David Bennett and Victoria Reggie Kennedy.

“The U.S. Postal Service is hopeful that the U.S. Senate will act on the five nominations for the Postal Service Board of Governors,” the agency said in a written statement. “We urge the Senate to act on the nominations before the current Congress ends its session.”

The board picks are among dozens of executive-branch nominees awaiting Senate confirmation votes.

President Barack Obama in October tapped a sixth board nominee, David Shapira, a Democrat. He has yet to be approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

The Federal Register notice states that the remaining board members will continue making decisions by majority vote.

“The powers to appoint and remove the Postmaster General, revoke delegated Board authority, and make pricing and classification decisions ensure that, as principal officers under the Constitution, the Governors have ‘ultimate control and authority’ over the Postal Service, and therefore that the Postal Service’s governance structure is constitutionally sound,” the notice states.

It is backdated to Nov. 14, when the board held a meeting and adopted the resolution.

Postmaster General Pat Donahoe is one of two board members who do not need Senate confirmation. He plans to retire early next year, raising the specter of even more upheaval if the other members are not confirmed before this congressional session ends.

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