USPS and Congress trade barbs

Members of the House of Representatives committees that oversee the US Postal Service argued on April 15 that a reduction in service to five home delivery days per week would further erode mail volumes and harm the agency.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee expressed skepticism with this part of the Postal Service’s 10-year plan to reinvigorate its business model and restore financial health at the federal agency.

“I have deep concerns about moving from six days of delivery to five,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

His Democratic colleague from California, Rep. Judy Chu, asked “Once we go down this road, where does it end?”

“If we repeal the language on six-day delivery, then why not four days of delivery or three?” she asked.

Postmaster General and CEO John Potter’s plan also calls on Congress to change the prefunding schedule for the Postal Service’s retiree health benefits fund and to give the USPS the freedom to close post offices for economic reasons.

Other parts of the USPS’ plan do not require congressional action, such as increasing the agency’s retail presence and introducing new products and services to bolster revenue.

The Postal Service lost $3.8 billion in its 2009 fiscal year, and its leaders have projected a net loss of nearly $7 billion this fiscal year.

Still, House members acknowledged that change is sorely needed at the Postal Service, although they did not agree on what was needed.

“I think the one thing we are all in agreement on is that doing nothing is no longer a viable option,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia. The subcommittee held a joint hearing with the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee to consider the Postal Service’s future viability on April 15.

Some committee members pressed for a downsizing of the USPS’ network and labor force. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the ranking member of the full committee, said the Postal Service appears to have a third more workers than it needs.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, expressed his concern that proposals to consolidate the postal network could lead to privatization — a fear that Potter attempted to dispel.

In his testimony, Potter pressed his case for moving to five-day delivery, saying the way US consumers communicate has changed dramatically. Even if Congress were to grant the Postal Service financial relief by changing the retiree health prefunding schedule, a reduction in delivery days is necessary, he added.

Ruth Goldway, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, was highly critical of the Postal Service’s plan, saying it focuses solely on service reductions. She said the consensus in the mailing community is that there is very little new in the Postal Service’s plan.

Goldway’s testimony drew sharp criticism from Chaffetz, who did not think it was appropriate for Goldway to include personal opinions in her statement, especially about the five-day delivery plan.

Chaffetz has floated the idea of giving the USPS flexibility to reduce the number of days it delivers by 12 per year.

Chaffetz also said he will introduce legislation that would establish a panel similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), to independently assess which postal facilities should close.

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