USPS says Senate-passed postal reform effort doesn’t go far enough

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe approves of much of the Senate overhaul bill . Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe approves of much of the Senate overhaul bill . J. Scott Applewhite/AP

If Senate-passed legislation to reform the U.S. Postal Service becomes law, the agency will be back asking Congress for help in a few years, according to the USPS postmaster general. Elsewhere the reform bill drew mixed reaction.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe approved of much of the Senate overhaul effort but said it didn’t go far enough. “We believe that there are important and valuable provisions contained in the legislation,” Donahoe said in response to the Senate’s 62-37 vote earlier this week. “We would have preferred the Senate allow the Postal Service to move further and faster in addressing its cost reduction goals.”

USPS is still plugging its own plan to restore itself to solvency and survive in a digital age. The agency wants the flexibility to revamp its own health benefits to employees -- independent of federal programs currently available. It also seeks to modify first-class and standard mail pricing to adjust for lower volume and reduce the number of full-time USPS positions through attrition and retirements.

An amendment passed into the Senate bill would stall a USPS plan to shutter thousands of post offices and hundreds of distribution centers -- but that provision optimistically depends on postal reform winning approval from both chambers of Congress and the president’s signature in just more than two weeks before those closures are set to begin. “Today, the Postal Service incurs a daily loss of $25 million and has a debt of more than $13 billion. Based on our initial analysis of the legislation passed today, losses would continue in both the short and long term,” Donahoe added. “If this bill were to become law, the Postal Service would be back before the Congress within a few years requesting additional legislative reform.”

House Republicans, who have a more conservative measure still on the table, called the Senate bill a “bailout” for the postal service. Labor unions took aim at a provision that cuts workers’ compensation for all federal workers. The final Senate bill also included some labor victories, such as the failure of an amendment to prohibit USPS employees from collective bargaining.

Both the Senate bill and the House Republicans’ proposal recognize that USPS has overpaid its retirement accounts and would refund those payments, according to a release from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “Both bills recognize that labor costs represent 80 percent of the Postal Service’s costs and instruct arbiters in future contract negotiations between the Postal Service and employees to consider the financial condition of the Postal Service when making collective bargaining benefits decisions,” said Carper spokeswoman Emily Spain.

Architects of the House bill, the Postal Reform Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., take issue primarily with flexibility the Senate bill gives to the Postal Service. The House bill includes a proposal to create a panel similar to the Defense Department’s Base Closure and Realignment Commission to make decisions about closings and finances.

Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Issa, noted a Washington Post editorial that praises the Senate bill’s trimming of the Postal Service workforce, elimination of some debt to the Treasury and restructuring of health benefit prepayments, but overall came out in favor of the stricter measures both the House and USPS propose.

“By a more important measure, what the Postal Service actually needs to be solvent, the Senate bill falls disastrously short,” the Post wrote. “What little hope remains for genuine postal reform now lies in an eventual House-Senate negotiation.”

After the vote Wednesday, Issa called the Senate's approach unacceptable. "Instead of finding savings to help the Postal Service survive, the Senate postal bill has devolved into a special interest spending binge that would actually make things worse,” he said.

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