Momentum Builds for Presidential Postal Commission

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With the prospect of postal reform doubtful any time soon after last month's defeat of a reform bill by the House Government Reform Committee, members of the mailing community say momentum is growing for a presidential postal commission.


"We've heard that it is likely that a commission will be formed within a month or two," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association.


Cerasale said the DMA started to support the idea only recently. Previously, the DMA said a commission would only slow the reform process.


"When postal reform basically went down in the House, that pretty much dictated to us that something else had to be done," he said. "Now, it looks to me like a presidential commission is the fastest way to get some type of reform."


Some mailers think a presidential commission would be subject to fewer political pressures than would congressional efforts and, therefore, make more progress. Still, Congress would need to pass any recommendations that the commission would craft.


Mailers and the U.S. Postal Service say that any commission should consist of an unbiased cross-section of interested parties, including academia, labor and business. There is no word, however, on how many members such a commission would have.


There have been reports that President Bush has already signed off on a concept paper for creating a commission and that the process of identifying those who would serve has begun. But Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council and a major proponent of a presidential commission, said he has not heard anything definitive. The Mailers Council is a coalition of corporations, nonprofits and major mailing associations.


"I'm not sure [the White House] is that far along," he said. "I just don't get the sense that they are that ready to roll on this. If they were, I think we'd be hearing more about names and who would be on the commission."


That does not mean they are uninterested.


"The Treasury Department has become increasingly interested in this issue, and that's a positive sign," McLean said. "The Treasury Department has met with a number of people in the mailing community and will be meeting with more throughout the summer."


McLean has met with administration members who he said are concerned about a General Accounting Office report published in February that said the agency continues to experience deficits, severe cashflow problems, rising debt and liabilities that exceed its assets.


If a presidential commission were to be created this year, McLean said, "we need to get it formed before Labor Day. After that, the administration and Congress will be focused on appropriations and the next election."


Meanwhile, there's no turnaround in sight for the postal service based on third-quarter numbers, which were announced earlier this month. The USPS lost $281 million in the quarter, which ended May 17, and mail volume was down 1.2 billion pieces - or 2.5 percent - compared to last year. Standard Mail volume was down 738 million pieces, accounting for 60 percent of the total decline. First-Class was down 231 million pieces.


Still, the revenue loss was $80 million less than expected because of cost-cutting measures. USPS chief financial officer Richard J. Strasser said those efforts included cutting 13,750 career employees and more than 54 million work hours below last year's level.


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