Aggressive timetable set for postal overhaul legislation

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, laid out an "aggressive timetable" Wednesday for a Postal Service overhaul bill, saying she plans to introduce bipartisan legislation with Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., by the end of the month.

A committee aide said Collins hoped to mark up the bill in May.

Testifying today at the Governmental Affairs Committee's eighth and final hearing on postal overhaul, postal regulators told lawmakers that increased rate-setting flexibility must be balanced with greater transparency regulations in any legislation for the Postal Service.

In the past decade, the Postal Service has not been adequately transparent in its rate-setting process, said Postal Rate Commission Chairman George Omas, who added that the agency had fought requests by GAO and other groups for information regarding rate setting, adding to an overall "culture of resistance." Omas also said, "I do not think that private-sector confidentiality concerns should apply to a government-owned entity like the Postal Service."

The current rate-setting process can take up to 18 months, and numerous witnesses have said that an expedited process is a key aspect of a more successful, more businesslike Postal Service. To that end, Omas advocated elimination of the "adversarial, trial-type rate-setting hearings" that currently delay implementation of new rates.

But Omas said he disagreed with a recommendation from a presidential postal commission shifting to an after-the-fact review of rate changes. Omas said he believed a prior administrative review could be accomplished in as little as 90 days, but that such a review was necessary to avoid cumbersome retroactive rate changes.

Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman David Fineman disagreed with Omas, saying postal management should be given the flexibility to change rates within a congressionally set cap. Fineman said Congress was essentially striking a deal with management on rate-setting, requiring greater transparency but allowing greater flexibility. Moving to a post-review of rate changes is essential to that increased flexibility, he said.

The committee also discussed potential changes to the structure of the postal regulatory agencies. The president's commission advocated a smaller board of governors with shorter terms. There are now nine commissioners serving nine-year terms.

The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process that would remove the Senate approval process of board nominees. Carper said that "most, if not all, members of the board of governors" should be confirmed by the Senate and added that any changes to that process would weaken congressional oversight. Fineman said the recommended three-year term of service was too short, and he agreed with Carper that the commission's recommended changes could result in a partisan board.

The committee also debated proposed qualifications for board nominees, including requisite experience on the board of a large company, a background in statistics or accounting, and a 70-year age maximum limit.

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