Sen. Thomas Carper, D-DE, introduced a postal reform bill yesterday that would help stabilize mailing rates and maintain universal service. The bill is similar to one that died in a House committee a year ago.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2003 would begin the process of developing a modern rate system for pricing products, Carper said, while creating a strong regulatory body to ensure that the U.S. Postal Service competes fairly with other carriers.
“My bill does not attempt to reform the postal service by rolling back universal service or taking pay, benefits or collective-bargaining rights away from employees,” he said in a statement. “The bill gives the postal service the flexibility it needs to compete in the 21st century.”
Carper, a member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, was a critical player in the passage of this year’s Civil Service Retirement System legislation, which let the USPS lower pension contributions and keep rates steady until 2006. However, passage of the bill is unlikely, Carper has admitted, as Congress waits for the President’s Commission on the U.S. Postal Service to file its report on reform recommendations July 31. Carper said he hopes the legislation will help guide the commission members as they complete their work.
Carper’s bill would rename the Postal Rate Commission the Postal Regulatory Commission and give its members the authority to create a new system of rates and service standards. The commission also would be able to subpoena USPS employees and records and punish or fine the agency for violating any rate or service regulation it issues.
Carper also wants the new PRC to create a new system for pricing and classifying First-Class mail and other products and services that are part of the postal monopoly. The new system would give the agency more pricing flexibility, allowing it to use rates to encourage safer, sender-identified and easily traceable mail and to encourage people to mail during non-peak periods.
The new PRC also would be able to institute emergency price increases at certain times, such as a national fuel crisis, that threaten the agency's ability to fulfill its universal service mandate. The bill also requires mailers, the postal service and the commission to agree to a schedule of rate increases over a period of time to make them more predictable and less frequent. Negotiated service agreements also would be allowed under the bill.
Carper’s legislation is based on a bill introduced last year in the House by Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, that enjoyed the support of most of the mailing community and nearly all organization representing USPS employees and its Board of Governors.