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Congress Returns, Postal Reform Awaits

Postal reform likely will be on the agenda this year for the 109th Congress, which convenes today.

Prominent mail industry executives want Congress to pass legislation quickly that would revamp the U.S. Postal Service, especially because it could affect postal rates in 2006. Postal insiders said two bills introduced last year probably will be reintroduced early this session.

“It is expected that postal reform legislation will be introduced very early in the first session [of the 109th Congress],” said Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, Crystal City, VA.

A reason the bills may be reintroduced swiftly is that the leaders of the postal oversight committees have returned. Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, was re-elected, as were other House postal leaders, including Reps. John McHugh, R-NY; Danny Davis, D-IL; and Henry Waxman, D-CA. Waxman is the ranking minority member of the House committee.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-CT, the ranking minority member, were not up for re-election.

“There has been almost no change among committee membership and oversight staff and White House personnel,” McLean said. “Almost everyone who was involved last year will be involved this year.”

Because the House and Senate committees that oversee the USPS also dealt with the intelligence reform bill that Congress passed late last year, “postal reform is the No. 1 legislative issue for both chairman Davis and chairman Collins,” McLean said.

Another encouraging sign, McLean said, is that “the White House and the oversight committees have met multiple times since the election to discuss the bills.”

The big question is whether the reintroduced bills will contain the same language as those introduced last year. The White House raised additional issues last month that may be addressed in this year's bills, McLean said. The White House “believes that there should be additional language in the bills requiring greater financial transparency from the postal service,” he said.

What is expected, however, is for the bills to address the Civil Service Retirement System issue. The bills introduced last year, which passed the House and Senate committees, would have repealed a provision requiring that money owed to the USPS because of an overpayment into the CSRS fund be held in an escrow account. Repeal would free up $78 billion over 60 years, letting the postal service pay off debt to the U.S. Treasury, fund its healthcare liabilities and mitigate rate increases.

If that money isn't released, the postal service has said it will seek a double-digit rate increase for 2006. The USPS is expected to file a rate case in April.

The bills also would return responsibility for funding CSRS pension benefits related to the military service of postal retirees — a $27 billion obligation — to the Treasury Department. No other federal agency has to make this payment.

Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, including CRM, database marketing and production for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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