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Still, Ms. Shuttleworth’s ties to Mr. Bernstock played a role in the contract award.

Mr. McKiernan said Ms. Shuttleworth “already had some familiarity, she had the qualifications to get the job done, and Mr. Bernstock could attest to her capabilities, thereby shortening by a considerable amount of time an assessment process for a project that was already falling behind schedule.”

At the time of the no-bid hiring, USPS officials were facing billions of dollars in losses and declining mail volume.

The Postal Service’s board of governors met in Washington on March 12 last year - two months before Mr. Bernstock signed off on the contract - and board member Carolyn Lewis Gallagher noted that the USPS risked running out of cash for the first time in its history, according to postal records.

The USPS hired Mr. Bernstock in June 2008 to help bolster revenue in part because of his experience in the corporate sector. Postmaster John E. Potter called Mr. Bernstock a proven leader with a track record “of building businesses and delivering revenue while driving down costs.”

Among other positions, he worked as chief executive officer at Vlasic and chief operating officer at Scotts Miracle-Gro. As president of mailing and shipping, Mr. Bernstock oversees a division that produces more than $70 billion in revenue.

The Times reported in January that under a special condition of his hiring, Mr. Bernstock has been able to retain paid positions on outside corporate boards that earned him more than $270,000 in cash and other compensation in fiscal 2008.

Postal officials say the arrangements do not interfere with Mr. Bernstock’s postal work and that he uses his personal time to attend to business on boards for weight-loss giant Nutrisystem and Pantry Inc., which runs a chain of convenience stores.