It’s understandable that there should be a natural tension between a regulator and the regulated, and that’s always been the case between the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Postal Service. Even so, there would be periodic briefings and discussions, and the relationship was civil. However, under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, that relationship, at least from the Postal Service’s side, has become adversarial, confrontational, and anything but civil.
DeJoy has been outspoken in his dislike for the PRC, considering it unnecessary and an impediment to the advancement of his agenda. Not a fan of operational transparency, DeJoy resents when someone tries to learn more about what the USPS is doing than he wants to reveal – which is usually nothing – and that applies especially to the PRC.
A prime example of this is ongoing; as operational changes under his 10-Year Plan have accelerated, concerns in the mailing community have as well, driven in part by the lack of communication from DeJoy and his cabal about what’s being done and how it will impact mail preparation and postage.
Responding to such industry concerns, the commission opened a public inquiry docket last April 20 (PI2023-4). In the order establishing that docket, the PRC stated
“… the Commission notes that stakeholders have expressed concerns regarding a lack of a forum to explore the impacts of these proposed changes. The Commission previously found that an advisory opinion on the entirety of the Postal Service Strategic Plan was not warranted. The instant docket is not intended as an advisory opinion process on the Postal Service Strategic Plan. However, the Commission finds it beneficial to the interest of transparency to provide a forum to learn more about these strategic plan initiatives that may have a significant impact on the postal community. Accordingly, the Commission opens this Public Inquiry to provide a forum to seek additional information about the planned S&DCs, as well as other planned initiatives associated with the Postal Service Strategic Plan.”
Needless to say, DeJoy did not appreciate having the PRC or ratepayers nosing around in what he was doing. His lawyers had earlier argued that The Plan – despite being a plan – was not a unitary blueprint that would impact service nationwide (and thus be subject to PRC review) but simply a set of separate but related initiatives (that, thus, are not reviewable).
Nonetheless, over the eight months that the docket has been open, the commission has asked a series of questions (as Chairman’s Information Requests), some self-initiated and some in reaction to motions by outside parties. The USPS has duly answered those questions, usually with just enough information to be responsive.
On December 20, the PRC filed ChIR No. 7 asking about transportation changes and related costs associated with establishment of the sorting and delivery centers. Those questions apparently exceeded DeJoy’s limited tolerance. In an exceptionally combative “motion for reconsideration” filed January 2, his legal team conveyed the his displeasure:
“On December 20, 2023, Chairman Kubayanda issued Chairman’s Information Request No. 7 (“ChIR No. 7” or “ChIR”), which exceeds both the stated bounds of this docket as well as the scope of the Commission’s authority. The Postal Service has answered, and will continue to answer, information requests issued in this docket, to the extent that they are appropriately within the Commission’s authority and the legitimate scope of this docket. As explained more fully below, that is not the case with this request. Therefore, pursuant to 39 C.F.R. § 3010.165, the Postal Service respectfully requests that the Commission reconsider and withdraw ChIR No. 7, as it is based on a material error of law.”
The agency’s 20-page rejection of the PRC’s questions expanded its assertion that the commission had no business, and the scope of the inquiry would not justify, asking for what was requested. Doing so, the USPS claimed, “unjustifiably intrudes on Postal Service managerial independence.”
Observers often criticize the PRC for being cautious if not timid in asserting its role as a regulator. Accordingly, how the PRC will respond to the DeJoy’s defiance remains to be seen, but the gauntlet clearly has been thrown down.
If it backs down in this situation, critics will feel validated; perhaps worse, DeJoy will feel even more emboldened to act indifferently toward the commission and its authority. Conversely, if it denies the USPS motion, the agency might take it to court, initiating a likely months-long battle during which DeJoy would continue to operate as opaquely as possible.
DeJoy has argued in the past that ratepayers don’t need the PRC to protect them from the USPS, but his opposition to acting transparently would suggest otherwise.
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