USPS Retreat to Focus on Postal Reform

The U.S. Postal Service will make postal reform a major topic of discussion at its annual strategic planning retreat scheduled to take place immediately after the board’s monthly meeting next week.

Senior-level postal managers and the USPS’ Board of Governors will discuss options for reform at the retreat.

“The board wants to discuss broad issues, such as the principles of reform and the role of the postal service,” said Deborah Willhite, senior vice president for public affairs at the USPS. “Reform this year is front and center.

“We are going to talk about the postal service's flexibility in pricing products, labor and investments and also the postal service's need to be regulated more along the lines of private institution versus a government institution,” she said.

Willhite also said that one idea is to promote the creation of a presidential commission on the postal service's future.

“I don’t know how tactical we will be able to get in this board meeting, but a commission is one of the options the board may want to consider promoting,” Willhite said. “But what the interest is on this subject in the White House, we are not sure.”

Willhite said the USPS is trying to gauge President Bush’s interest.

“If the president did focus on this, then I think it would be very beneficial,” Willhite said.

The postal service’s current structure — as a quasi-governmental agency — was a direct result of a presidential commission formed in the 1970s, Willhite said.

Moreover, there is concern within the direct marketing industry about postal reform, especially since the House of Representatives dismantled the subcommittee on the postal service earlier this year. While a spokeswoman for the House Committee on Government Reform — which will assume the panel's responsibilities — said postal reform is still a high priority, marketers think less attention will be focused on the issue.

Many mailing associations are letting President Bush know the importance they attach to postal reform.

The Association for Postal Commerce sent a letter Feb. 16 to Andrew H. Card, Bush’s chief of staff, stating that the “time has come for a presidential commission to study and make recommendations on the future organization and function of an American postal system.”

The letter also said that an “extraordinary effort will be required to save the viability” of the postal service and that the effort will require “the leadership of the president of the United States to focus lawmakers on postal legislative reform.”

The Mailers Council, a consortium of large mailers, recently sent a letter to the White House asking for a meeting to discuss the state of the USPS. The council, however, said its goal was not to ask the president to take any specific action but instead to educate the administration about how much the USPS affects American business.

The Direct Marketing Association, however, said last month that it does not favor a proposal for a presidential commission at the expense of more immediate action by Congress. The DMA said such a commission would simply be studying an issue that has already been a topic of much analysis on Capitol Hill over the past five years.

Instead, the DMA is calling for the immediate reintroduction of postal reform legislation.

Specifically, it is calling on Congress to revisit the Postal Modernization Act of 1999, which did not make it to the floor in the 106th Congress. This bill would modernize the legislative and regulatory environment that surrounds the postal service. The bill would also give the postal service business flexibility to compete in the rapidly changing communications and delivery environment.

The USPS Board of Governors publicly called for postal reform late last year, stating that “statutory reform of the nation's postal system is necessary to provide the foundation for a financially secure postal service, one that is capable of meeting the needs of the American people today and far into the future.”

The USPS believes reform will help the agency compete at a time when it is losing record amounts of money. According to the postal service's most recent estimates, the agency’s net loss could reach $2 billion to $3 billion this year.

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