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PRC Issues New Rules Governing Advisory Opinions

The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) yesterday issued amended rules governing the advisory opinions it is required to issue on service changes proposed by the U.S. Postal Service. The new rules establish an expedited pre-filing discovery period to give mail stakeholders distinct opportunities to weigh in on the effects of changes and result in more robust proposals for the PRC to deliberate in the 90 days it has to deliver its opinion.

The law that established the U.S. Postal Service and the PRC in 1970 stated that the Postal Service needed to seek advice from the PRC on “N-cases” involving service modifications within a reasonable period before planned implementation. It also required the PRC to conduct hearings inviting testimony and rebuttal from interested parties in the 90 days it had to formulate an opinion. But that has proved a daunting challenge for PRC during a turbulent time at the Postal Service. USPS initiated only five N-cases between 1970 and 2006, when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed. Since then, it has filed seven, some of which involved far-reaching and complicated issues such as network realignment.

“There is a sentiment that the PRC should move more quickly to allow the Postal Service to move more quickly, so we came up with a new set of specific rules that would meet the requirement and limit the process to 90 days,” said PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway. “The key element is the establishment of a pre-filing phase to discuss the proposal with the postal community. Our hope is that, as a result, the proposals that come before us will be specific. We’ve had it happen that the Postal Service files a proposal and then makes a change in it 30 days later.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Opportunities for participants to explore subjects related to the service change by means of special PRC studies or public inquiries;
  • Expedited deadlines for filing and responding to motions, filing briefs and reply briefs, and filing rebuttal testimony;
  • New discovery procedures, including a mandatory technical conference and a limitation on the number of written interrogatories;
  • Revised procedures allowing for back-to-back hearings on USPS’s direct case or rebuttal or testimony

“We believe that if we can establish a pro forma calendar at the beginning of every case that more or less follows the schedule, these rules will accommodate the full process,” Goldway said. “Of course, the process may be extended if rebuttal testimony is lengthy or necessary documents or information is not readily available.”

After the new rules are published in the Federal Register–expected to happen in June–they go into effect within 30 days unless they’re challenged in court. But, no matter what new controls are placed on the advisory process, the Postal Service is not bound to follow suggestions for changing or delaying service modifications suggested by PRC.

“They still don’t have to accept our advice, but this means that the changes they want to make have a more likely chance of being heard and adopted by mail industry participants,” Goldway said. “We want to be helpful to the postal world and we think this will allow them to have their opinions heard.”

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