Robert G. Taub, who helped move the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act through Congress as an aide to Rep. John McHugh, was named acting chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission yesterday by President Obama. Taub has served as a PRC commissioner since 2011.
He replaces Ruth Goldway, who led the PRC through several key policy decisions in recent years, most notably last December’s approval of a 4.3% exigent rate increase. Goldway, whose term expired in November, is in holdover status and will continue on as a commissioner.
Taub was the lone dissenter in the vote on the special rate increase, arguing that the Postal Service’s financial consultant had proved that the effects of the Great Recession were permanent, that an exigent—or emergency—situation did not exist, and that a longer-term rate increase was warranted. The majority decision had held that the increase should be in effect only for 18 months or when $3.2 billion in revenue lost to the recession was recovered—whichever came first.
“How is it,” Taub wrote in his opinion, “that the Postal Service suddenly experiences no further impact from the Great Recession and that the continuing financial harm attributable to volumes lost due to the Great Recession has ended?”
In an interview with Direct Marketing News today, Taub declined to speculate on the future of exigency, but said that he is in agreement with outgoing Chairman Goldway that the Postal Service needs price regulation. “In crafting PAEA, we took the view that the Postal Service is 100% a federal agency working in a commercial marketplace, and there was recognition that there had to be oversight,” Taub said. “As for exigency, I can’t comment except to say that, when the time comes, we will call it as we see it.”
Direct mailers and catalogers generally view Taub as someone they can work with. “Taub is a thoughtful and serious guy, a real student of the postal industry, but aside from his dissenting opinion in the exigency decision, no one knows where he stands on policy,” said Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.
The Direct Marketing Association’s SVP for government affairs, Peggy Hudson, echoed Davison’s concern, but expected Taub’s administration at PRC to be a fair one. “He knows the industry, and he’s known for listening to all sides of an issue before making a decision,” she said.
Taub brings impressive background to the job. He served in a variety of leadership positions over 12 years with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees the Postal Service. It was there in 2006 that he played an important role in the passage of PAEA. He also helped conduct hearings and investigations into postal operations that ultimately led to the enactment of a dozen other postal laws. Taub subsequently served as a special assistant to McHugh when he became secretary of the Army, a government entity which, at 1.2 million, has a larger workforce than USPS.
Taub could be pressed into vital service immediately, as several storm clouds mass over Postal Service headquarters. If new nominees to the postal board of governors are not approved by Congress next week, it will cease to have a quorum and will not be able to suggest a rate increase for 2015. With reform legislation stalled in Congress, and with both the Postal Service and mailers waiting for exigency decisions from the D.C. Court of Appeals, the Postal Service might feel the need to ask for approval of a rate increase immediately.
Taub, who’s been through these battles before, appears resolute that all will turn out well. “There’s still time for the Senate to act so that the board won’t lose its quorum,” he said, adding that the Postal Service has a way of persevering. “There’s an inherent and underlying strength in the Postal Service. It will make it through the next year and into the future.”