The U.S. Senate recently approved San Marino resident John Barger’s appointment to the United States Postal Service Governing Board, giving the panel its first operating quorum in half a decade after years of blocked nominations.
Barger, a brother of District 5 Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, was approved on Aug. 1, alongside two others; the three join two other board members to form the first quorum of the nine-member panel since 2014, the lack of which has hamstrung the storied institution while it has relied on an emergency committee to continue operations.
“It’s too important [an institution] to have a governing board that is dysfunctional,” Barger said in a phone interview last week. “I take my hat off to President Trump and [Treasury] Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin for recognizing the importance of the postal service.”
Barger, a Republican who says he has worked local and national campaigns for both Republican and Democratic candidates, described himself as an entrepreneur and former Wall Street investor, having formed and sat on boards for a variety of multinational companies throughout his career. He formerly chaired the board of the L.A. County Employees Retirement Association, an entity that in his time managed around $65 billion in assets for more than 150,000 active and retired employees.
Throughout his years, Barger has earned his master’s degree in finance from the London School of Economics, a law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law and a bachelor’s degree in history from Ohio Wesleyan University.
One requirement for the post, Barger explained, was having overseen fiduciary responsibility for more than 50,000 employees, and he added that he thought his ability to work well between business and labor interests helped to bolster his resume. His nomination was advanced from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs with full support and approved by the full body by unanimous consent.
“We just need to have people in governing positions who are capable of reaching across the aisle and building consensus so that things can get done for the American people,” he said.
The USPS Governing Board is, among other duties, in charge of appointing the postmaster general and deputy postmaster general. It was first created in 1971 after the then-Post Office Department was reorganized from being a Cabinet-level position to an independent agency of the executive branch.
“It’s going to be a very interesting assignment,” Barger said. “The USPS and the Post Office is older than our Constitution. Our first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin. The reason that it’s so important is because it’s the one conduit that our government uses to communicate with every single American, rural or urban, near or far.”
USPS, the federal government’s largest employer outside of the military, has since the Great Recession experienced significant revenue declines after an unusual decade of running a budget surplus. Declining use of “snail mail” in favor of email or phoned communications is considered a large factor in this, as well as the mounting cost of benefits.
Still, Barger said the agency has had positive moments amid the tangled web of bureaucracy, and he said he looked forward to the challenge of improving the agency.
“I think the big challenge is going to be how we maintain that universal service obligation — which I think is very, very important — while at the same time calibrating what it should cost and how to best serve the American people and the postal service,” he said. “It’s the only agency I’m aware of where the pension fund liability has been properly calculated based on realistic return scenarios. I think there are some things that they’ve done right in the past. What we’re trying to do now is adjust to changes in technology and maintain that service obligation.”
An unstaffed governing board has helped hamstring the agency from making those adjustments and decisions, according to numerous news reports throughout recent years. Preceding Trump, then-President Barack Obama had nominated five candidates for the board, all of whom were approved in committee but were blocked from floor votes each time.
Several outlets have reported that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a longtime independent who is for the second time seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, was responsible for blocking those floor votes, although neither he nor his office have commented on it.
Barger specifically credited the support of Sens. Ron Johnson (a Republican from Wisconsin), Gary Peters (a Michigan Democrat) and Kamala Harris, a Democrat and California’s junior senator, in his approval by their committee.
“It’s by the grace of God,” Barger said. “It’s a blessing to be able
to serve. It’s not anything to which I am entitled, and I view it as an opportunity to serve and to hopefully be able to get something done for all of us and our own community.”