Tester, Postal Board exchange volleys over executive pay

Billings Gazette

by Zach Benoit

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., criticized the board that helps run the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday for what he views as exorbitant executive salaries during a time of organizational and financial restructuring.

“The Secretary of the Treasury presides over our nation’s economy at one of its most turbulent times in history on a civil servant’s salary,” he wrote in a letter sent to the board on Tuesday. “The Secretary of Defense is responsible for maintaining our nation’s security while overseeing 1 million men and women in uniform who were until just recently, engaged in two wars.

“Both secretaries have accepted compensation that is likely much less than they would receive in the private sector and four times less than the Postmaster General’s annual compensation package.”

According to Tester’s office, the postmaster earned about $800,000 in pay and benefits in 2011.

The postal service is in the middle of a billion-dollar cost-cutting effort and has announced plans to close or reduce operations centers and rural post offices around the country, including last week’s announcement that it would close processing centers in Butte, Helena and Wolf Point.

Tester has been a vocal proponent of keeping rural post offices open and has met with the Postal Board of Governors several times on the issue.

Tuesday’s letter was in response to one that the board sent him after a recent meeting to discuss the state of the USPS and an amendment to it Tester has been working on that could reduce postal executive compensation.

In that letter, the board told Tester that reducing leadership pay would make it difficult to find qualified leaders and could impact management of the USPS.

“We are concerned that the proposed provisions would ultimately undermine the effective management of the organization,” the board wrote in the Feb. 22 letter.

Tester disagreed, saying that “sacrifice is inherent to those positions,” especially since hundreds of people could lose their jobs with the proposed office and processing center cuts.

“They made their case that they have to be competitive with the likes of UPS and FedEx,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like comparing apples and cows. It’s a totally different business.”

He said they’re different because the USPS is a public service and an integral part of the U.S. government, while the other two are private.

A postal reform bill is pending on the U.S. Senate floor and Tester said it could come up for a vote within the next month, although no specific date had been set as of Tuesday afternoon.

The board’s letter, signed by Chairman Thurgood Marshall Jr., and member Louis Giuliano, went on to say that Tester’s amendment, which, among other things, suggests tying executive pay to congressional salaries, could have a “chilling effect” by encouraging leadership to leave or retire.

Tester said it’s about sacrifice during tough times and through changes coming to the post office.

“At this time of restructuring, it seems appropriate that senior executives at the Postal Service and members of the Board should acknowledge this sacrifice,” he wrote.