Willhite: Progress Made on Postal Reform

WASHINGTON — A postal official told members of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee at their meeting here yesterday that the U.S. Postal Service is pleased with the momentum gained from the postal reform bill, even though it died in committee this year.

“A lot of people think that [the bill] going down was something we should be worried about or feel badly about,” said Deborah K. Willhite, USPS senior vice president of government relations, “but it was not our anticipation that it was going to pass. What the bill did do, however, was engage a lot of people in the postal reform debate that had never been engaged before.”

Willhite also noted that President Bush signed into law a bill Aug. 6 that lets the U.S. Customs Department open and inspect international-bound postal mail packages weighing more than 16 ounces without a search warrant. The USPS supported the 16-ounce provision, she said, because otherwise a bill could have passed that would have let Customs open any mail without a search warrant.

The agency used unusual alliances to get the 16-ounce provision into the Senate version of the bill, Willhite said. Along with the postal service, “the [American Civil Liberties Union], the Cato Institute and the [National Rifle Association] all worked on behalf of the 16-ounce provision, and with this alliance of strange bedfellows, it became the accepted part of the bill,” she said.

Customs officials began opening outbound mail at international mail centers as soon as Bush signed the bill, she said, though “we haven't gotten reports on how that is going.”

On the bioterrorism front, Willhite said vendors of equipment to prevent biological and chemical attacks will not do business with the USPS unless protected from liability should their products not do their job.

Though many government agencies are indemnified, the USPS is trying to get such legislation added as part of the Homeland Security bill in September “so that we can actually buy the technology we need,” she said. “This is a very big push of ours going into September. One of the things that held up the cleanup of Brentwood [post office] was that the people who make the machines we needed to clean up the building would not do it without being indemnified.”

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