Draft postal overhaul bill draws criticism from mailers

The House Government Reform Committee began circulating a draft Monday night of the postal overhaul bill it will mark up Thursday, but some commercial mailers say the bill is too weak to save the beleaguered Postal Service.

The 126-page draft, which Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., will introduce sometime before Thursday's markup, includes many provisions recommended by the President's Commission on the Postal Service last July, including mandated transparency regarding the agency's finances, costs and operations.

Like the commission's recommendations, the bill would restructure the agency's rate-setting process, establishing an inflationary rate increase cap and creating a strong regulator to monitor rates. But the bill would not give the Postal Service nearly the level of rate-setting freedom recommended by the commission, instead imposing price controls on competitive postal products. The bill would return to the Treasury the military service costs for postal retirees who served in the armed forces, but it is mostly silent on the kinds of workforce issues Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, has said she will include in her bill later this month.

A Davis spokesman said he hopes the legislation will maintain the broad support expressed so far for postal change.

"Chairman Davis is determined to keep together the coalition that has formed in support of postal reform," the spokesman said. "We believe we have narrowed the universe of unresolved items to a very small few, and are hopeful that we will have bipartisan support when we mark up this legislation in committee on Thursday," he said.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters today that, although he had not yet seen the draft, he will schedule floor time for the bill if the committee approves it.

"I see no reason why we can't bring it to the floor," DeLay said.

A minority source on the committee praised the "cooperative process" of drafting the bill, but she said the legislation still leaves some large issues unresolved, including the fate of a mandated escrow account for the agency.

Some in the mailing industry, however, believe the committee is so eager to maintain coalition support that it has produced a fatally weak bill.

"This is a horrible, horrible disappointment," said Association for Postal Commerce President Gene Del Polito, who represents large commercial mailers such as Time, Capital One and RR Donnelly. "We have made clear there are two things that have to be done to reform the Postal Service: Give them new methods for cost determination and give them the authority to withdraw excess costs and needless services, such as facility consolidation," he said. "There are no such provisions in the draft at all."

Del Polito said one provision in the draft to restrict worksharing agreements would actually drive up postal costs, although it is favored by postal worker unions and postal competitors.

"I see a lot of compromises built in to assuage the concerns of competitors or unions, but I haven't seen anything to suggest the postal service is going to be any better off under this bill," he said.

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