Postal Bill Would Make Closing Facilities Easier

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-DE, plans to introduce a postal reform bill this week similar to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that died in a House committee last June, but with several key changes — including a provision to make it easier to close postal facilities.

Like last year's act, this bill would require a regulatory commission to establish a new rate-setting process for categories including First-Class, Periodical and Standard. However, the bill eliminates a price cap in which rates for Market Dominant products could not rise more than the Consumer Price Index.

The old bill also did not specifically authorize negotiated service agreements, while Carper's does.

Carper, a member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, was a critical player in the passage of the recent Civil Service Retirement System legislation that let the U.S. Postal Service lower pension contributions and keep rates steady until 2006.

One significant aspect of his bill requires a regulatory commission to devise a set of service standards, then have the USPS use these service standards in closing post offices and processing facilities.

The postal service would submit a plan to Congress about how they would meet these service standards. The plan would include a list of facilities that can be closed and consolidated. This list would be submitted for study to a Network Modernization Commission, which would be modeled after the Base Closing and Realignment Commission used to streamline the Defense Department's base infrastructure.

“We are very interested in [the section] that would create something comparable to a base-closing commission because we believe the postal service has to find a way to shrink the size of its work force and its delivery network, and any congressional proposal that moves the postal service closer to doing that without congressional interference is worth considering,” said Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council. “Right now, members of Congress are forced to defend any post office closing even if it might be good for the postal service as a whole because of the potential loss of jobs in a congressional district or in a state.”

Carper concedes that passage of the bill is unlikely as Congress waits for the Presidential Commission on the U.S. Postal Service to file its report on reform recommendations July 31 before considering any postal legislation.

Still, he said that he hoped the points presented in the bill “can serve as a touchstone for the president's commission as they complete their work.”

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