Barely two weeks after a prominent senator questioned her travel activities, Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway is unapologetically heading overseas.
“I know that travel raises questions,” Goldway said in a Friday interview two days before embarking on a 13-day trip to Switzerland, “but I really feel that I’m doing an honest job and the right thing for the Postal Regulatory Commission and the country.”
After leaving on a flight from Washington this Sunday, Goldway will spend most of the next two weeks in the Swiss capital of Bern, according to an itinerary provided by the commission. The first leg, running from Monday through Friday, will be for a gathering of the Universal Postal Union, an international coordinating body. The second leg—which includes a side trip to Geneva—encompasses a meeting of women leaders titled “Sister Republics: Building Bridges—An Action Plan for Women’s Leadership,” according to the itinerary. That meeting is sponsored by the State Department, meaning that the PRC isn’t paying for it, a commission spokeswoman said today. Goldway is scheduled to speak during one session before returning to Washington on March 9, the itinerary indicates.
In the interview, Goldway described the Universal Postal Union meeting as directly related to the commission’s work. On the agenda, for example, are possible changes worth tens of millions of dollars in added reimbursements to the financially ailing U.S. Postal Service for handling mail from other countries once it arrives in the United States, she said. Her participation in the “Sister Republics” meeting follows an invitation from the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, Donald Beyer, who wrote in November that “we would be honored to have you share your experiences with us.”
But the trip comes as Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is scrutinizing Goldway’s travel activities since she became chairman in August 2009. Carper, who heads the Senate subcommittee that oversees the PRC and the Postal Service, launched the review Feb. 8 after Federal Times and The Washington Post reported that the pace of Goldway’s travel was running above that of Dan Blair, who chaired the commission before her, even as the agency’s workload has grown amidst the Postal Service’s worsening financial crisis.
As of earlier this month, Goldway had taken 34 trips at a total cost of almost $71,000, including 11 overseas destinations, records showed. During a slightly longer tenure as chairman, Blair took 25 trips worth about $59,000.
Goldway, who publicly posted her travel records on the commission’s web site this week after giving them to Carper’s office, has defended her travel as relevant to her work and beneficial to the Postal Service and the mailing public.
In a Friday statement, however, Carper spokeswoman Emily Spain questioned Goldway’s priorities. The commission, which is funded through postal revenues, is currently reviewing the Postal Service’s plan to abandon overnight delivery of first-class mail as part of an aggressive cost-cutting agenda to close or consolidate more than 220 processing plants. While USPS officials say they want to proceed as soon as a self-imposed moratorium on plant closings expires in mid-May, the PRC won’t issue a legally required advisory opinion until late July at the earliest, according to public documents.
“Embarking on travel that does not appear to be closely related to the role the Postal Regulatory Commission has been given in addressing the Postal Service’s dire financial situation would appear ill-advised at this critical juncture,” Spain said.
Goldway responded that she and Carper would have to “respectfully disagree,” adding that she is continually engaged in PRC business while traveling. Before issuing the advisory opinion, the commission has to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, she said. Among other requirements, that means hearing from 13 witnesses and reviewing thousands of pages of documents. While it’s “unfortunate” that the timetable is longer than what the Postal Service wants, Goldway said, “in terms of the law, we’re not in a position to do anything different from what we’ve done.”