Lawmaker pushes five-day mail delivery, altered pension funding

A Senate Democrat on Thursday introduced legislation that would allow the U.S. Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery and lower its retiree pension fund payments.

The 2010 Postal Operations Sustainment and Transformation Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., grants the Postal Service flexibilities in its delivery schedules, pension payment obligations and employee compensation.

"[USPS has] also put forth a plan that shows a commitment to further cost cutting and efforts to make their business relevant during these changing times," Carper said in a statement. "Achieving these goals will require a shared sacrifice on the parts of the Postal Service, postal employees and major postal customers."

Agency officials in March outlined a 10-year strategy to cut costs and increase flexibility in the face of significant budget shortfalls. Key changes USPS is seeking include a move to five-day delivery, which officials estimate could save $40 billion over 10 years, as well as relief from a 2006 provision requiring the agency to prefund its retiree health benefits. The Postal Service inspector general earlier this year reported USPS overpaid its Civil Service Retirement System account by $75 billion and contributed an additional $6.8 billion in excess of Federal Employees Retirement System obligations.

Carper's bill would require the Office of Personnel Management, which also contributes to CSRS, to recalculate the Postal Service's obligations to the account, and USPS would receive more than $5 billion annually from the overpaid amount. In addition, the legislation would grant the Postal Service flexibility to adjust mail delivery frequency, close post office locations and have arbitrators consider the agency's finances during labor negotiations. Employee compensation, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of USPS' costs, has been determined without those considerations, Carper said.

Postmaster General John Potter expressed support for the bill, which he called a "roadmap to recovery."

"It permits us to step into the 21st century by enabling elemental reforms to our network, our infrastructure and our labor relations, and it reduces the number of days we provide door-to-door delivery service to more closely align our costs and the needs of our customers," Potter said.

Jennifer Warburton, director of legislative and political affairs for the National Association of Letter Carriers, expressed concern about the initial draft of the bill. NALC does not support congressional interference in the collective bargaining process, she said, adding the union has been pushing back against delivery-day reduction and will continue to work with the committee on the legislation.

House lawmakers also are addressing Postal Service concerns. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in August introduced legislation that would allow the postmaster general to choose 12 mail holidays every fiscal year to suspend mail delivery. Chaffetz, who opposes USPS' five-day delivery proposal, said the bill would reduce work hours and operating costs, but the Postal Service did not support the proposal.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., in July sponsored a bill that would reduce the agency's burden to fund its CSRS account and reverse years of overpayment. Lynch expressed support for the CSRS provisions in Carper's bill, but said the remaining policies will have to be resolved by the next Congress.

Carper's legislation would take effect in fiscal 2011, but the Postal Service still will require congressional action to avoid defaulting on its retiree health payment due Sept. 30.

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