There is a strong possibility that the White House will announce a presidential commission on the U.S. Postal Service this week, postal insiders say.
“We heard a similar rumor in July, when the rumor was we were going to hear something about such a commission during the summer recess,” said a postal insider who requested anonymity. “But I tend to think this one is real because I'm hearing it from all sorts of different places.”
The White House would not comment on plans for a commission to examine the postal service.
Mailers and the USPS have said that any commission should consist of an unbiased cross-section of interested parties including academia, labor and business. They hope it resembles the Kappel Commission, formed in 1967 by President Johnson. Members included business, business-education and labor leaders without any direct interest in the mailing industry. Its report was the foundation for the 1970 legislation that created the USPS to replace the cabinet-level Post Office Department.
“I remain hopeful that the White House will appoint a presidential commission on postal reform by the end of this year,” said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Washington. “But I think the most important announcement is going to be about how the commission is staffed. Will they use a model similar to the Kappel Commission, which provided an objective, arms-length view of postal operations, or will it be a board already slanted toward one point?”
The White House can create and appoint a presidential commission without a vote from Congress. But any recommendations generated by the commission must be submitted to Congress for authorization. Speculation has been that if a commission were formed, it would have nine people mandated to give a decision in nine months.
Momentum for a commission began growing this summer, and most mailing groups support the concept. The Direct Marketing Association, which originally said a commission would slow postal reform, began supporting the concept this summer when a House of Representatives postal reform bill was killed in committee.
The postal service recently got a pleasant surprise with the discovery that it has almost fully funded future obligations to a pension fund. This would let the USPS reduce its contributions to the fund by $2.9 billion in fiscal year 2003 and $2.6 billion in FY '04. Lowering its contributions requires congressional approval, however, and the 108th Congress, which begins next month, is looking into it.
Approval is expected, and postmaster general John E. Potter has said the reduction in pension contributions would be used to pay down the debt and keep postal rates steady until 2006.
“This legislative change could delay the next rate case even further, giving the USPS some much-needed breathing room,” said Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, a coalition of corporations, nonprofits and major mailing associations. “However, one-time pension savings cannot resolve the USPS' long-term problems. Therefore, we continue to support creation of a presidential commission on the postal service.”