Lawmakers tout new postal reform measure as employee-friendly

Lawmakers are stepping up efforts to reform the U.S. Postal Service, with a bill they say takes good care of agency employees.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., on Wednesday introduced legislation that would allow USPS to realign its workforce and to relieve financial burdens related to employee benefits. Under the proposal, the Postal Service would receive a refund for the reported $6.9 billion overpayment to its Federal Employees Retirement System account. That money would pay for early retirement and voluntary separation incentives. The bill also would adjust the schedule for prepaying retiree health benefits, currently set at $5.5 billion annually.

According to lawmakers, the bill takes employee well-being into consideration. USPS would be allowed to use reduction-in-force procedures, except when prohibited by collective bargaining agreements, and would be required to develop a performance evaluation system to guide the RIF process. Employees would be able to contribute a portion of voluntary separation incentives toward Thrift Savings Plan accounts.

Postal officials have announced plans to cut 120,000 jobs by 2015 in addition to an expected job reduction of 100,000 through attrition.

"The Postal Service is not on death's doorstep, but it is facing serious financial challenges," Cummings told reporters Wednesday. "This bill tackles fundamental challenges with fundamental changes."

The legislation also would require the Postal Service to conduct a study on workforce reduction methods; create a chief innovation officer job at the agency; allow flexibility to offer new products and adjust rates; and improve efficiency in evaluating and implementing service changes.

Lynch and Cummings agreed that the bill is a response to legislation sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., scheduled for markup Wednesday afternoon. The new bill takes better care of postal employees and looks at long-term solutions, they said. Lynch earlier this year introduced a proposal that would reduce the agency's burden to fund its retirement accounts and transfer any surplus back to the agency. He will keep that measure on the table in addition to the new bill.

"Too often we put the Postal Service in somewhat of a straightjacket," Cummings said. "We need to give them the flexibility . . . to move into this era."

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