Lawmakers Call for Review of CMRA Rule

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Several members of Congress have renewed their call for a Justice Department review of a U.S. Postal Service rule governing commercial mail receiving agencies.

The regulation involves addressing requirements for individuals or small companies that get their mail at commercial mail receiving agencies such as Mail Boxes Etc. Under the rule, the USPS will require CMRA private mailbox holders to include either a "PMB" designation or the pound sign on their mailing address to designate it as a CMRA mailbox rather than an apartment or suite number.

The regulation was approved in March 2000, but box holders have until Aug. 1 to comply. No designation is currently required.

According to the USPS, the secondary address designation is intended to protect consumers because some private mailbox holders have used a suite or apartment number along with the street address of the CMRA, implying to senders that the box holder maintains a physical presence at that location.

Such addressing practices created the opportunity for fraud or deception, the USPS said. For example, consumers who want to donate to local organizations or buy from local businesses might mistakenly think they are doing so when they respond to an out-of-state organization or firm with an address at a local CMRA.

The new designation will discourage fraudulent or deceptive practices by ensuring that the public knows the address is not a physical location, the USPS said.

Currently, 800,000 firms, predominantly small businesses, use private mailboxes and executive suites.

However, opponents said the rules unnecessarily burden USPS competitors because some consumers might be discouraged from doing business with CMRA mailbox holders, perceiving those businesses as unsavory.

In their letter late last month, the lawmakers -- Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX; Todd Tiahrt, R-KS; Roscoe Bartlett, R-MD; Phil Crane, R-IL; and Van Hilleary, R-TN -- pointed to a 1979 Justice Department opinion on postal rule-making that states the USPS has an "enforceable obligation" to formally justify regulatory necessity and to consider competition when regulating competitors.

The letter also said that in April, after a yearlong review of the regulations, the USPS Office of Inspector General concluded that the postal service "did not demonstrate the need for regulatory change by presenting statistical or scientific data to support its claims of mail fraud conducted through private mailboxes. In addition, it did not show how the regulations would curb fraud, assess the impact on receiving agencies and private box holders, or consider alternatives to revising the rules."

Rick Merritt, executive director at PostalWatch, a nonprofit postal watchdog, said this issue could become a landmark case.

"With the postal service competing directly with private-sector businesses and bootstrapping its way into more and more new business ventures, this issue is not just about private mailboxes, but about a government agency that uses regulatory and law enforcement powers for competitive advantage," Merritt said. "The way in which the postal service conducted itself in the private mailbox debacle can provide valuable insight as to what lies ahead for other postal service competitors."


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