Government affairs

Legislative Updates

House subcommittee holds hearing on international shipments of drugs through mail

On Sept. 7, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations of the House held a hearing to “Examine the Shipments of Illicit Drugs in International Mail.” Witnesses included:

  • Gregory Thome, Director of the Office of U.N. Specialized and Technical Agencies Bureau of International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Guy Cottrell, Chief Postal Inspector at U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
  • Todd C. Owen, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Lori Rectanus, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Tammy Whitcomb, Acting Inspector General at USPS

The hearing came as Congress is under increased pressure to address the country’s opioid epidemic. During the hearing, the Postal Service testified to seeing a 54 percent increase in inbound international parcels from 2012 to 2016. The increase raised numerous questions about the Postal Service’s internal processes for tracking, identifying and intercepting potential packages containing fentanyl and other opioids. Much emphasis was also given to the use of Advanced Electronic Data (AED), which includes who is sending the package, where they are sending it from, who it’s being sent to and what the package contains.

Throughout the hearing, witnesses emphasized that, unlike private shippers who can use AED and can pick and choose its customers, the Postal Service has a universal service obligation, meaning it must accept all shipments to U.S. addresses.

Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) questioned the Postal Service and State Department about why shipments into the U.S. do not have AED already in place. Cottrell noted that the “Postal Service is a leading proponent to get more AED, but [is] faced with certain constraints… [as it cannot] control what foreign post is mailed into [the U.S.].”

“The issue is that, for the U.S. Postal Service,” Thome added, “according to our treaty obligations, they must accept mail from foreign postal services, unlike the express services… it’s a question of the capacity of the foreign posts to provide the data.”

As a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the USPS must work in partnership with 191 different postal services, many of which lack the technological infrastructure to handle AED at the moment.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) spoke specifically about the shortcomings of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act of 2017, saying “the STOP Act is premature, it assumes the effectiveness of using the [AED] data before a thorough evaluation of its use has been performed… it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between the Postal Service and consignment carriers.”

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