GAO calls for more streamlined, transparent Postal Service

The head of the General Accounting Office demanded "more specificity and more transparency" Wednesday from the United States Postal Service, as the nation's cash-strapped mail service examines possible reform efforts.

In the second of a series of Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings on reforming the postal service, GAO Comptroller General David Walker said the service faces "a bleak fiscal outlook-[and] has an outdated and inflexible business model."

He called on the Postal Service to develop a comprehensive improvement plan and present it to Congress, followed by periodic assessment reports. GAO placed the postal service on its list of "high-risk" federal agencies in April 2001.

A presidential commission to study the postal service released its report in July, and the chairman testified to the committee in September.

At Wednesday's hearing, Postmaster General Jack Potter said the commission's recommendations largely reflected goals and reform efforts the postal service is already pursuing. In particular, Potter said he agrees with the commission's recommendation the postal service have greater flexibility in rate setting and in closing low-performing post offices and distribution centers.

He also underscored the commission's vision of a smaller, more streamlined workforce, although he said he believes the target size of the workforce could be achieved through natural attrition over the next decade. He emphasized he "has committed to our unions that we would not lay people off." By 2010, 47 percent of current postal workers will be eligible for retirement, Potter said.

Potter took issue with the commission's recommendation to create an independent board, similar to previous military base-closure commissions, to examine post offices and distribution centers. He said the value of such a board is "questionable," and the expertise behind such decisions lies with postal employees. "We're everywhere, and we intend to stay everywhere," Potter said.

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said further hearings on the presidential commission's report will be held early next year. Collins also said she would work with Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., who introduced postal reform legislation in June, to draft a bipartisan postal reform bill, which she will introduce next year.

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