Postal commission debates extent of reform

Mailers, unions, postal officials and academics collided Thursday before a presidential commission over whether the Postal Service should be privatized or commercialized.

The President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service, named to chart the service's future, received clashing views during its second public hearing. It is due to report July 31.

Rutgers University professor Michael Crew, a postal expert, said the present postal business model is "flawed," a view shared by others. He argued for commercialization of the government monopoly, either "on a gradual basis or with a big bang."

At least one commission member, Joseph Wright, head of a communications satellite business, favored a drastic change. "We better go for the big bang because we are not going to have another chance for awhile," he said, noting that the last Postal Service reorganization by Congress occurred in 1970. Crew also favored a "big bang" overhaul. Similarly, David Fineman, chairman of the Postal Service's Board of Governors, called for more reorganization.

"From a governance standpoint, the direction, in my opinion, should be toward a more commercial, businesslike structure," he said. However, lawyer Murray Comarow, former executive director of President Johnson's postal reorganization commission, opposed privatization. "I predict you will walk away from that," he said. Privatization proponents, Comarow said, should carry the burden of proof on such a "drastic and perhaps a radical change."

Postal Rate Commission Chairman George Omas, noting relations are good with the Postal Service, nevertheless criticized it for withholding data needed to allocate costs for making rate decisions. Richard Strasser, chief financial officer of the Postal Service, disputed the charge and said the service provides more financial information than most businesses.

Gus Baffa, president of the National Rural Carriers Association, said "the antiquated rate setting process needs to be revamped or replaced." One change he adamantly did not want was reduction of six-day mail service. Echoing this was William Young, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, who urged continuation of universal service to every household and business.

Direct Marking Association President Robert Wientzen said the postal system is in a "death spiral" with no easy remedies. American Postal Workers Union President William Burrus took issue with that attack and others, such as a statement from Robert McLean of the Mailers Council-the largest group of mailing associations-stating that "the Postal Service cannot survive another decade as it is currently chartered." Burrus said, "Despite common perception and unsupported assertions, the Postal Service has a business model that is not broken."

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