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Postmaster general talks about retirement, successor

By Ed O'Keefe

Age -- not declining mail volume, sinking profits or an uncooperative Congress -- triggered John E. Potter's decision to step down as postmaster general after 9 1/2 years, he said Tuesday. And after three decades delivering letters and packages on behalf of the nation's largest private firms, he's seeking out a new employer.

"Every civil service employee has a target, and my target was to reach 55 and then move on to do other things," Potter said in an interview. He hit the big 5-5 last month, and the Postal Service Board of Governors has known for years that Potter wanted to leave when he reached the age, he said.

Asked several times in several ways whether he was forced out, Potter finally invoked his wife, Maureen, who's also a former postal worker.

"If you'd ask my wife what was his goal when he started as PMG, it was 'Gee, it'd be great if I hit my 55th birthday and retire,'" he said. "And to be quite frank with you, being the longest-serving PMG since 1814, that was a significant goal. I consider myself to have accomplished my goal and to leave in a time frame that I set when I took the job."

"I think the biggest accomplishment was getting the entire organization focused on customers and making them our highest priority and ensuring we do everything we can do to serve the customer," he said. "And be efficient at it to keep prices affordable."

Critics would note however that USPS faced coordinated opposition to proposed rate hikes this year -- a plan soundly rejected by postal regulators.

Potter's Dec. 3 departure date is designed to give his successor, Patrick Donahoe, time to prepare for the new job.

"Pat is his own man, and I'm sure that like me when I took over, he has his own ideas about where the postal service is going to go," Potter said. Donahoe should continue to do what he's doing, Potter said, "because he's been the person who's been in the chief operating officer of the Postal Service. He literally has run the place. He is the one who's produced the results when it comes to productivity and service. People in this organization know Pat, love Pat. He's a great leader, and he has the full support of everybody in the Postal Service."

But Potter cautioned that Donahoe will need a bigger political profile for the inevitable fights with Congress.

As for his own legislative battles, Potter said he's glad Congress is finally talking seriously about implementing reforms long sought by postal executives. Democratic lawmakers are pushing bills supported by Potter that would make changes to the USPS pension system and give the mail agency the right to close post offices, set prices and determine delivery dates without Congressional interference.

"There is support for government-provided universal service on both sides of the aisle," Potter said. "I think going forward you'll see that regardless of who is in charge of Congress after this election."

Potter doesn't have anything lined up for his post-postal life, except a long vacation. He's yet to seek a new job "because when you're in the Postal Service, literally everybody is your customer, so to avoid conflict of interest I haven't been out there pursuing other things."

"But now that the word is out, I will," he said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 26, 2010; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Postal Service  
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Comments

Even though Potter was the Lead manager during the postal collapse, he still believes he made the postal service better. The ranks of management have expanded, mail volume has declined, and productivity has collapsed. The USPS has instituted intelligent bar codes, but fails to create intelligent managers.

Posted by: colulus | October 28, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

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