WASHINGTON Civil rights activists are urging Congress to reconsider the appointment of a top U.S. Postal Service official because of his ties to the payday lending industry.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights penned a letter earlier this week urging senators to oppose a second term for Mickey Barnett on the USPS board of governors, unless his previous work as a lobbyist is vetted more closely. Barnett, who is the USPS board's chairman, lobbied for numerous groups while an attorney, including the New Mexico Independent Financial Services Association.
"We are especially concerned about Mr. Barnett's ties with this industry in the context of his reappointment, because of the close relationship between the USPS and the communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by payday lending and other predatory forms of credit," the group said in the Dec. 1 letter.
Barnett's pending reappointment comes at a time when the postal agency is considering its own foray into financial services. The USPS inspector general issued a controversial report in January floating the idea of the agency as a way to shore up its beleaguered finances offering products such as remittances and small consumer loans to underbanked customers.
The civil rights group's letter suggested that, given the burgeoning interest around the idea, Barnett's work with the payday lending industry raises concern.
"At worst, his service for the payday lending industry poses a potential conflict of interest for the consideration of proposals for a USPS role in the financial service marketplace," the letter said.
The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved Barnett's reappointment last month, and he now awaits Senate confirmation. He first joined the postal board in 2006, and became its chairman in 2012. (The chairman is selected by a vote of the board.)
In the letter, the advocates said Barnett must first "give assurances that he would not use his position to promote the practices of the industry he previously represented" before the full Senate votes. If the Senate acts before that can be done, the group said lawmakers should not confirm him.
A spokesperson for the USPS declined to comment.