House Postal Bill Has CSRS Fixes; Senate Introduces Draft

The House Government Reform Committee sent a postal reform bill to Congress yesterday containing victories for mailers and the U.S. Postal Service regarding Civil Service retirement funding, an issue neglected in the first draft of the bill.

The bill would do away with the proposed escrow fund into which the postal service is required, starting in 2006, to begin placing the savings of more than $3 billion a year it reaped from last year's CSRS legislation. It also would remove an obligation placed on the USPS by the same legislation to pay the cost of CSRS benefits earned by postal employees during military service, an estimated cost of $27 billion.

Committee members said the bill was a big step toward postal reform.

“This bill is far from perfect,” committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, said during the bill's markup. “Nobody is going to be entirely happy, but you can't score unless you get to first base.”

Meanwhile, mailers scrambled to digest a draft of a Senate version of a postal reform bill released to industry representatives yesterday by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The Senate draft appeared to contain numerous measures that would be welcomed by the postal service and the mail industry, including language on the CSRS escrow fund and military pension benefits matching the House draft.

“Our comprehensive, bipartisan legislation strongly endorses the basic features of universal service — affordable rates, frequent delivery and convenient community access to retail postal services,” Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Tom Carper, D-DE, said in a joint statement.

Carper and Collins, who chairs the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, have been supporters of postal reform legislation. They said they plan to introduce the reform bill within the next week.

Both drafts should provide significant relief for members of the mail industry, who were concerned that an initial draft of the House version did not address CSRS issues at all. One mailer lobbyist attending yesterday's House Government Reform Committee markup observed that backroom bargaining over details of the reform bill went on throughout the day.

Mail industry representatives were attending the House committee markup all day yesterday and were unable to analyze the Senate draft in full. However, mailer organizations expressed optimistic initial impressions of the draft.

The Direct Marketing Association issued a statement saying that at first glance, the Senate draft seems to include “positive provisions that would sustain the postal service.” The draft includes measures that would make rate increases more predictable, the DMA said.

That would be a victory for mailers dissatisfied with the current practice of occasional rate cases that aren't tied to specific numbers or dates.

In an apparent bow to postal labor organizations, the draft also includes language that would prohibit the postal service from creating “workshare discounts that exceed cost avoided” unless approved by a Postal Regulatory Commission that would replace the current Postal Rate Commission.

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