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Potter: Anthrax Scare Will Cost USPS Billions

The cost of securing the U.S. mail system following anthrax bioterrorism attacks will range in the billions, postmaster general John E. Potter told a U.S. Senate panel yesterday.

Potter testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs that the cost of the anthrax crisis would force the U.S. Postal Service to ask Congress for financial assistance. Efforts to test, clean and secure postal facilities in response to the threat will have a dramatic financial impact, though final figures are unavailable, he said.

“We did not anticipate the expenses connected with the anthrax attacks on top of an already bleak financial outlook,” he said. “This outlook had already been clouded by revenue loss associated with all of the events that began with the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Initial costs of the anthrax attacks were for testing, masks, gloves and sanitization materials and services. Potter said he was grateful for the $175 million President Bush has committed to help pay for supplies and equipment.

When pressed by lawmakers about efforts under way to safeguard the mail system, Potter responded, “I can tell you for certain it will be several billion dollars.”

Potter's statement came as authorities discovered anthrax yesterday at a post office in Washington and a postal facility in Dulles, VA. Two postal workers have died from the inhaled form of anthrax at a postal facility in Washington.

Potter also testified yesterday afternoon before the House Committee on Government Reform, where lawmakers grilled postal officials about the USPS' reaction to the anthrax crisis. Potter reiterated to the committee members that the cost of anthrax attacks to the USPS would run into the billions and received assurances from committee chairman Dan Burton, R-IN, that Congress was committed to helping the agency financially.

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