- - Monday, December 16, 2019

Since our country was founded, the American postal system has kept our communities connected and commerce flowing. As this system has matured and grown, so has the post office’s responsibility to keep our mail secure, from preventing illegal trafficking to monitoring for terrorist threats.

Today, with the rise of e-commerce and a global economy, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) faces challenges that would have been unimaginable when George Washington signed the first postal agency into creation in 1792.

The USPS Board of Governors is currently in the process of selecting the next Postmaster General to lead America’s postal system. While the USPS regularly affirms its commitment to security and safety, the agency’s track record hasn’t always reflected its words. It’s crucial that the next Postmaster General not only understands today’s security challenges, but is prepared to follow through and take them on.

Nowhere is the postal service’s role more evident than in fighting the nationwide opioid crisis. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in one year, with synthetic opioids like fentanyl causing a surge in fatal overdoses even as prescription deaths decline.

The international postal network has unwittingly played a key role by providing a pipeline for powerful synthetic drugs commonly manufactured in China and other foreign countries to reach the U.S. In 2018 a bipartisan U.S. Senate report found that international drug traffickers see the U.S. global postal networks as the carrier of choice, warning that deliveries via private carriers were likely to be stopped by law enforcement.



Unlike packages sent through private carriers, international packages sent through the mail and delivered by the USPS were not previously required to include advance electronic data, or AED, which Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies use to screen and stop dangerous shipments. Thankfully, Congress acted to close this loophole by passing the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which President Trump signed into law in October 2018.

This is where the new Postmaster General must play a role. Over one year after the STOP Act was passed, federal agencies have missed the law’s clear deadlines. While the postal service was required to have AED on 100 percent of packages from China and 70 percent of foreign mail shipments overall by the end of 2018, a letter from Senators Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, found the agency fell short of these requirements.

And the STOP Act requires recurring reports to Congress from the Postmaster General and Department of Homeland Security regarding AED compliance, but the American people have seen no public evidence that these reports have been filed at all.

We need to demand that the next Postmaster General changes this course and delivers the accountability and transparency the role requires. I’d like to pose three questions that I hope all candidates for the role will be able to answer honestly and comprehensively:

• Under your leadership, will the USPS commit to meeting all current and future deadlines for comprehensive AED on foreign packages, and turn away potentially dangerous packages that do not include required AED?

• Will you demonstrate transparency in following the STOP Act and other crucial security laws by properly filing reports and publishing them for the American people to see?

• The New York Times recently called the U.S. Postal Service “perhaps the largest drug-transportation network in the world,” and the agency plays a role in the trade of potentially dangerous counterfeit goods. How will you make sure the USPS makes changes so this is not the case?

Overseeing the safety and security of our nation’s postal system is a massive job requiring an especially qualified candidate. The opioid crisis is affecting every community in America. Small businesses are being hurt by the flow of counterfeit products. And terrorists continue to find new ways to ship biohazards, explosives and other dangerous material into our country. The American people deserve a Postmaster General who not only recognizes these risks but will also promise to follow the law and fight against them.

• Juliette Kayyem, the Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard Kennedy School, served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. She is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages.

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