Little Out of Bounds for Postal Reform Commission

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Yesterday's announcement that President Bush had created a postal reform commission brought relief to mailers more for what it will not consider than for what it will.


The nine-member panel will explore universal service, privatization and other issues. Unacceptable, however, will be allowing taxpayers and ratepayers to be saddled with the full cost of the U.S. Postal Service's problem, U.S. Treasury undersecretary Peter Fisher said at a news conference announcing the executive order to create the commission.


"The postal service is not broken," said James Johnson, the former Fannie Mae CEO who along with Hughes Electronics chairman Harry Pearce will co-chair the commission. "There are changing circumstances that require us to think ahead."


Mailers took heart from these statements that a reprise of the 1970 Postal Reform Act, which fundamentally changed the USPS into the entity it is today, was not in store.


"I think we're going to be looking at a modest course correction," said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Washington. "I'd be terribly disappointed if this group steers us into a major overhaul, as in the 1970 act."


A Washington Post report Dec. 10 that privatization would be on the commission's agenda, perhaps stemming from a statement in Bush's executive order that "postal monopoly restrictions" be considered, had raised hackles in the mailing industry. Fisher offered assurances that the commission was not a "stealth project" to privatize the postal service.


"I was pleased to see that he came out and said that," said Robert E. McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, the nation's largest coalition of mailers. "Privatization is not a credible solution at this point."


The president's order creating the commission explicitly states that it will review the postal service's ability to maintain universal service. The commission is to look at how to deal with rising costs resulting from delivery addresses increasing by 1.5 million a year while volume is dropping thanks to competition from e-mail.


Mailers said they realize the commission will explore whether six-day-a-week universal service can remain viable. Jack Estes, executive director of the Main Street Coalition for Postal Fairness, said universal service is central to the postal service's mission but that all options should be on the table.


"We may or may not like what the commission comes up with," Estes said. "But now we can rise above the vested interests, including our own people, that have been urging Congress to take a certain approach."


Fisher and postmaster general John Potter also made clear that the commission's reform ideas would be complementary to the postal transformation proposed earlier this year by the USPS.


The postal service should not sit on its hands while the commission, which has until July 31 to issue a report, does its work, said John Campanelli, president of R.R. Donnelley Logistics, Chicago.


"What we don't want to happen here is for people to sit around and say, 'Let's wait for the commission to issue a report before we do anything else,'" he said.


The nine people appointed to the commission were unfamiliar to mailers except by reputation and had no apparent ties to the industry. This follows the course President Johnson took when he appointed the 1968 commission that led to the 1970 Postal Reform Act, mailers said.


"It gives us a unique group of individuals who may come at this with a totally different attitude," McLean said. "Clearly, no single idea we've had up to this point has had a tremendous amount of success."


The other members are Dionel Aviles, president of Aviles Engineering Corp.; Don Cogman, chairman of CC Investments; Carolyn Gallagher, former president/CEO of Texwood Furniture; Richard Levin, president of Yale University; Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association; Robert Walker, chairman/CEO of Wexler Group; and Joseph Wright, president/CEO of PanAmSat.


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