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Ex-Postmaster General Accuses the USPS of 'Prostituting' Stamps

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in Washington, D.C., on June 10

Photograph by David Banks/Bloomberg

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in Washington, D.C., on June 10

Linn’s Stamp News isn’t the first place most people look for a scoop—unless you’re a philatelist, of course. Then you can’t afford to miss what’s in the pages of the self-described “world’s largest newspaper devoted to stamp collecting.”

On Aug. 3, Linn’s Washington correspondent Bill McAllister reported that former U.S. Postmaster General Benjamin Bailar had resigned from the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, questioning its mission and accusing current Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe of “prostituting” the stamp-issuing process.

McAllister cited a letter that Bailar wrote in July to Donahoe. According to McAllister, Bailar, who served from 1975 to 1978, lamented the ongoing tensions between the U.S. Postal Service and the advisory committee. The committee was created in 1957 by then-Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield to help the U.S. Post Office Department (its name at the time) choose new stamp designs.

The friction came to a head last year when the USPS issued Harry Potter stamps. At the time, the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported “that the selection of the British boy wizard is creating a stir in the cloistered world of postage-stamp policy. The Postal Service has bypassed the panel charged with researching and recommending subjects for new stamps, and the members are rankled, not least of all because Potter is a foreigner, several members said.” On its website, the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee says: “It is a general policy that U.S. postage stamps and stationery primarily will feature American or American-related subjects.”

The disagreements also come at a time when both stamp sales and philately itself are in decline, due in large part to the Internet.

Bailar accused Donahoe of ignoring the committee’s concerns and proceeding with a plan to commercialize stamps in the hope of increasing the USPS’s income. “This is probably painful to hear, but the situation has reached a point where someone has to say it, and it will likely not be said by members continuing on the committee,” Bailer wrote, according to Linn’s. “U.S. stamps have an impact on the self-image of the nation and how we are perceived by friends and enemies aboard … we are no longer producing a program that, overall, supports that vision. While this may support a drive to ‘sell the product’ with abundance of pretty and popular culture subjects, the result is a program that lacks gravitas.”

Not everybody on the committee seems to agree with Bailar. Janet Klug, its chairwoman, has praised Donahoe, saying he regularly attends its meeting. She told the Washington Post this week: “The Postal Service is asking us to do more in the way of pop culture. We’re trying to get a lot of young people interested in stamps. We have to go where they live.”

Meanwhile, Donahoe doesn’t seem interested in publicly debating his 80-year-old predecessor. USPS spokeswoman Toni DeLancey told the Post that the Postal Service has relied on Bailar’s “extensive postal knowledge and prior experience as Postmaster General, which was invaluable.”

Linn’s noted that Bailar is a well-known stamp collector. It’s worth noting that Donahoe is a philatelist, too.

Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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