Postal Reform Uncertain in Congress

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The House of Representatives has dismantled the subcommittee on the postal service, leaving the fate of postal reform uncertain.

A spokeswoman for the Committee on Government Reform, which will assume the panel's responsibilities, said postal reform is still a high priority. Some direct marketers, however, are skeptical.

Josie Duckett, the spokeswoman, said the elimination of the postal subcommittee would instead "elevate postal issues to the full committee so that Congressmen [John] McHugh and [Dan] Burton, the two foremost champions of postal modernization, could continue to aggressively pursue postal reform."

Burton, R-IN, is chairman of the committee.

Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, stepped down as postal subcommittee chairman this session after six years in the post. Rules imposed by House Republicans prevent committee or subcommittee chairmen from holding a seat for more than three terms.

McHugh pushed for postal reform in his postal reorganization bill, H.R. 22, which was designed to give the U.S. Postal Service more freedom to manage its business and to establish rules to ensure fair competition. Direct marketers generally supported the bill, but it stalled in committee during the last session of Congress. McHugh remains on the Committee on Government Reform.

Direct marketers have expressed concern about the absence of a postal subcommittee when the agency needs it most, especially because they think reform will help the agency compete at a time when it is losing record amounts of money each year.

Richard Barton, a government relations and public affairs consultant in Arlington, VA, and former senior vice president of congressional relations at the Direct Marketing Association, said, "What this means is that the focus of postal service will be diluted on the full committee because the full committee has a lot to do. And as much as Dan Burton may support the concept of postal reform, he has a lot of other things to do."

Barton said that having no subcommittee will make it harder for the full committee to focus on postal issues in the short run. But in the long run, he said, "if the chairman ... can really focus on postal reform, it's actually in some ways better, because if the full committee decides to take the matter seriously, then it can go through the process faster and with stronger consideration."

The USPS always had a specific oversight committee in Congress until six years ago, when it became a postal subcommittee.

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