Congress renews focus on postal issues

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Though reform was signed into law last month, postal issues remain on the agenda for Congress, according to postal insiders.

The 110th Congress convened Jan. 4, with Democrats retaking the House of Representatives and the Senate and lawmakers on both sides promising cooperation.

"[Congress will] be tracking very closely how the [postal reform] bill is implemented as well as how the Postal Regulatory Commission is working," said Jerry Cerasale, Direct Marketing Association senior vice president of government affairs.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is the first major change to the U.S. Postal Service since 1971. It will link future rate increases to the Consumer Price Index and give the USPS more flexibility in pricing of competitive products. The act also turns the existing Postal Rate Commission into a regulatory body with greater authority and responsibility.

The law requires postal-related reports to be sent to Congress in the next few years by groups as diverse as the PRC, the USPS and its board, the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of Inspector General.

One report calls for the USPS and PRC to develop a plan for meeting a set of service standards for market-dominant products within six months after the establishment of the standards.

Another report covers how postal decisions have affected or will affect issues such as a comprehensive USPS plan for reemployment assistance and a plan offering early retirement for postal workers.

Congressional committees also will monitor postal issues. In December, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-CA, the new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, announced a new subcommittee covering the federal workforce, postal service and District of Columbia. No such committee existed in the 109th Congress, though there was a task force on postal affairs.

"The [postal service] subcommittee is a good thing because it means more attention will be paid to postal issues," said Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council. "Even though we got reform, there are other postal issues we hope Congress will look into during the session."

These issues include oversight on postal operations and the rate case, including timing and the implementation process. Mr. McLean also said Mr. Waxman will be interested in service standards, especially given the operational and delivery problems in Southern California a few years ago.

"Representative Waxman will want to get some clarification as to how those problems occurred and how quickly the postal service responded to them," Mr. McLean said. "His interest in this area is clearly because of concerns surrounding the possibility of delivery problems when the postal service consolidates facilities. We have the same concerns, but we believe the postal service should close outdated and underused postal facilities."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-CT, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the USPS. Though no agenda has been set, Mr. McLean said it's been a long time since the Senate held a general postal oversight hearing, "so we should expect one sometime very soon."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, the committee's previous chair, is interested in the issue of delivery standards and the need for new service performance measurement systems, Mr. McLean said, "so our hope is that Senator Lieberman will continue to follow this issue closely."

Mr. McLean also said that Sen. Collins requested a Government Accountability Office report on issue in the 109th Congress, and that "the report is under way."

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