By Eric Katz
August 2, 2013
Two oversight leaders in the Senate have introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service, striking middle ground between partisan proposals put forward in the House.
The 2013 Postal Reform Act was introduced by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the committee’s ranking member. Coburn voted against Carper’s bill in the last Congress -- the legislation ultimately cleared the Senate but died in the House -- and his support this time around dramatically increases the likelihood the upper chamber will once again approve a reform measure.
Carper’s bill calls for a 40-year restructuring of USPS’ requirement to prefund retirees health benefits, creates a USPS-specific calculation for the agency’s retirement systems payments and surpluses and allows for the elimination of Saturday mail delivery one year after the legislation’s enactment.
These provisions are very similar to measures included in the Republican-backed House bill, pitched by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. That legislation recently cleared the committee, but did so without any Democratic support. It is currently awaiting a vote on the House floor.
House Democrats introduced their own plan, sponsored by the oversight committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. The bill preserved more rights for USPS employees and sustained several postal services Issa’s bill would cut. Though staffs from both chambers worked together at the end of last Congress to reach a bicameral agreement, there was very little coordination this time around, according to Senate committee aides.
Carper and Coburn also found common ground with House Republicans in proposing to phase out to-the-door delivery. The proposal had been a sticking point for House Democrats, and the Senate bill is more lenient in its language. The bill would cease all to-the-door delivery in future addresses, while allowing existing housing units to voluntarily opt out of receiving deliveries to the door. Issa’s plan would phase out the vast majority of door-to-door delivery, which only about one-third of the nation currently receives.
The reform act would allow the Postal Service to not offer new employees access to the Federal Employees Retirement System or contribute to their Thrift Savings Plan account. It would also give USPS authority to, in consultation with postal unions, create an independent health care benefits system for its employees, either within the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program or outside it. Currently, USPS employees are enrolled in FEHBP with all other members of the federal workforce.
The Postal Service has repeatedly called on Congress to allow it to enter into its own health care benefits system, claiming it would save $8 billion annually. The bill would attempt to find further health care related savings by allowing retirees to receive care through Medicare Parts A and B, rather than through their employer-sponsored benefits. USPS has also endorsed this change.
The overhaul would place a two-year moratorium on current closures planned for processing plants, as well as the accompanying termination of overnight delivery. Carper opted to strip a provision from his last bill authorizing the Postal Service to offer buyout incentives to employees, aides said, simply because it has the resources to do so without explicit congressional authority.
Carper’s bill attempts to increase revenues by authorizing USPS to create new, non-postal products, as well as offering other government services at post offices. It would also allow the Postal Service to deliver alcohol, which federal statute currently prohibits. The bill would give USPS more flexibility in setting the rates for their products.
Another major provision of the legislation would overhaul the workers’ compensation program for all federal employees. The measure would lower the benefits provided to employees injured on the job who reach retirement age. These employees would receive compensation in line with their retirement benefits, rather than the larger of percentage of their full salary, as they currently earn.
Carper said Congress must act swiftly on reform to avoid the Postal Service’s collapse.
“Although the situation is dire, it isn’t hopeless,” Carper said in a statement. “With the right tools and quick action from Congress, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.”
Carper and Coburn both emphasized the bill is fluid and subject to change as it moves through the legislative process. If the House and Senate each pass their own versions of postal reform, the bills would go to conference, where representatives from both chambers would work out the differences.
Issa fell short of issuing a full endorsement of the Senators’ plan, but said the proposal included key provisions that will allow the two sides to work together moving forward.
“I look forward to working further with Chairman Carper and Ranking Member Coburn as they advance and improve this legislation,” Issa said in a statement to Government Executive. “I hope that Oversight Committee Democrats will change course and drop their partisan opposition to these bipartisan provisions and join me in working toward a reasonable, balanced Postal Reform Act.”
The Postal Service itself, however, was completely behind the legislation.
“We applaud Senators Carper and Coburn for introducing this bipartisan bill,” said USPS spokesman David Partenheimer. “It contains the needed structural changes to our business model to help return the Postal Service to sound financial footing.”
Committee aides said they tentatively plan to hold hearings and a subsequent markup of the bill shortly after Congress comes back from its August recess.
By Eric Katz
August 2, 2013