Ruth Goldway bristles at the suggestion that she was pushed out as the nation’s top mailing regulator due to the travel expenses she racked up during her tenure at the agency that oversees the U.S. Postal Service.
Earlier this month, President Obama removed Goldway from the chairmanship of the Postal Regulatory Commission, tapping Commissioner Robert Taub to take the reins of the agency on an interim basis until a permanent chair is appointed and confirmed.
Since at least 2012, Goldway has been dogged by allegations of excessive travel on the government dime, but she maintains that her ouster was a purely political maneuver.
“I don’t think there was anything sensational there,” she said in an interview.
Goldway acknowledges that she had become a magnet for criticism by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including some who have been pushing to marginalize the PRC through postal reform legislation.
But Goldway, who had chaired the PRC since 2009 and has served on the panel since 1998, maintains that her trips to overseas locations were legitimate and in service of her job. Still, she understands that travel expenses are a ripe target for budget hawks.
“Government travel is an easy thing to seize on,” she said.
“Some people misconstrue it,” she added, calling travel “something that conservatives often use as a red herring.”
So if travel wasn’t the reason for her removal, what was?
Goldway was already on borrowed time at the PRC, having completed her third term in November. Several months earlier, she had notified the White House that she was not interested in serving another term. But Goldway believes that her chairmanship was used as a political bargaining chip, arguing that the White House offered her demotion as a concession to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to clear the way for the Senate to confirm two nominees to serve on the commission.
“It’s my understanding that the White House, after I completed my term, decided to remove me in order that the deadlock would be broken,” Goldway said.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the White House position was directly related to moving the nominations forward,” she added. “That’s the big picture politics.”
Goldway said that many of her domestic trips have come as an effort to engage with disparate segments of the mailing community, particularly through the series of field hearings the agency held as it was evaluating the Postal Service’s proposal to move to a five-day delivery schedule for regular mail.
International travel, she argues, offers the opportunity to commiserate with her counterparts in other countries, and to advocate on behalf of U.S. interests in foreign settings such as the Universal Postal Union, a legislative mandate for the PRC. Goldway was instrumental in the Postal Service’s adoption of the Forever Stamp, for instance, an idea she says came from meetings with officials from foreign posts.
“My two most proud accomplishments are the Forever Stamp and the ability to get the private sector interest considered and represented in the Universal Postal Union, which had never been done before,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t traveled.”
As for the current political climate, Goldway feels that the White House, while generally supportive of the PRC, has approached the challenge of USPS reform from the starting point of the “budgetary shortfall,” fixating on the billions of dollars the agency has been losing annually, rather than seeking out innovative new ways to tap into the Postal Service’s sprawling infrastructure to boost revenues and expand citizen services.
“I don’t think there’s been enough energy put into doing that by the White House,” she said. “I don’t think the White House was as supportive of the Postal Service as a communications network as it might be. I think the bias in the White House is toward the digital age.”
Goldway plans to remain on the commission until a new appointee is confirmed, perhaps early next year. She said that she would like to remain a voice in discussions about the future of the Postal Service, but most likely on an issue-by-issue basis.
“I’m pretty old, so I don’t think I want another full-time job,” she quipped, saying that she hopes in retirement to “learn how to relax a little more.”