What to Expect From America's First Female Postmaster General

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, left, and U.S. Postal Service Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The U.S. Postal Service announced today that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is retiring Feb. 1. He’ll be replaced by Megan Brennan, the agency’s chief operating officer, who will be the agency’s first female postmaster general.

It’s doubtful that Brennan will stray much from her predecessor’s path. Brennan and Donahoe go back a long way. She was part of Donahoe’s team when he was the postmaster of Lancaster, Pa., in the 1990s, and she has been part of his leadership group in Washington since Donahoe was named postmaster general in late 2010. And like her mentor, Brennan is a USPS lifer: She started out at the USPS as a letter carrier in Lancaster in 1986.

The more interesting question is why Donahoe is stepping down after four years in his position. His predecessor, John Potter, a former letter carrier from the Bronx, ran the USPS for nearly 10 years, making him one of the longest-serving postmasters general in history.

But Potter largely put off making the hard decisions until his final year, when he issued a study documenting how the postal service’s business model was broken, something that had been apparent for years.

Soon after, Potter departed. That left Donahoe to do the hard work. He reduced staff. He cut hours at post offices. He closed big sorting facilities. He also negotiated more equitable deals with postal worker unions. The USPS reported a $5.5 billion loss for fiscal 2014. It would have been worse if Donahoe hadn’t taken these steps. Predictably, he was subjected to a lot of personal criticism, which may be the reason he is stepping down so soon.

Donahoe’s detractors claim that he’s just a hatchet man. That’s not true. Under Donahoe, the USPS struck its historic deal to deliver packages for Amazon.com on Sundays. More recently, it started carrying groceries for the Web-based retailer. If the USPS has a future, it’s doing more deals like these to offset the inexorable decline of first-class mail.

Expect more of the same from Brennan. Does she have any choice?

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