Postal commission chair outlines proposal for deep staff cuts

A co-chairman of a commission appointed by President Bush to suggest ways to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service outlined his vision Wednesday for a "dramatically streamlined" mail system-with far fewer employees-to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

James Johnson, one of two commission co-chairmen, testified in the first of a series of hearings on reforming the nation's postal service. His commission released a report July 31 with recommendations for reform, and Johnson acknowledged that some of the commission's recommendations differed from those in proposed congressional postal reform bills.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., who introduced postal reform legislation in June, said he agreed with "90 percent" of the commission's recommendations. However, he expressed concern over several of the report's recommendations regarding the postal labor force.

One of the most controversial elements of the commission's report has been its recommendation to shrink the size of the postal workforce. The commission recommends transforming the Postal Board of Governors into a more corporate-style board of directors with a greater flexibility in workforce management.

One of the board's "core responsibilities," said Johnson, "is to have a comprehensive human resources plan ... and it should have a point of view about the optimum size of the workforce."

Seventy-six percent of the current postal budget is spent on personnel. Johnson said he believes "there are more employees in the postal service today than are required."

He stressed he would reduce the workforce through natural attrition, noting that 47 percent of postal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next seven years.

Although the commission recommended the postal service continue as a public entity, Johnson emphasized, "What guides us through all this activity is 'best execution.'"

He added: "If the best execution is a public execution, through postal employees who are in place today, then that is absolutely what should be done. If the best execution happens to be through a contracting mechanism ... then we go that direction."

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the committee would continue its hearings this fall and next year, hoping to hear testimony from the postmaster general and the General Accounting Office in November.

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