Lawmakers announce bipartisan plan to reform Postal Service

The U.S, Postal Service could receive a $7 billion overpayment it made into the Federal Employees Retirement System and use some of that money to offer buyouts and other incentives to reduce its workforce by nearly 100,000 employees under a new plan unveiled by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee -- including Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine -- announced the provisions of the bill at a press conference Wednesday.

"We are not crying wolf here. The Postal Service will literally not survive unless comprehensive reforms are taken," Collins said.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., also on the committee, said USPS could use $2 billion of the $7 billion repayment for buyouts -- which would be capped at $25,000 per employee -- while the rest could be used to pay some of the Postal Service's $15 billion debt to the Treasury or to meet other financial obligations. He estimated the measure would save USPS $8 billion a year.

The senators recognized the measure would be considered controversial.

"We're going to be battered probably from all sides when we go forward with this," Lieberman said. "It's a national problem and we're not going to solve it by playing partisan politics or being rigid."

The Postal Service's health care system also would face changes. The bill would restructure prefunded retirement health benefits, reducing the payment goal to 80 percent, and would require USPS to negotiate with its unions to develop a new employee health care plan.

The legislation also requires that retirement age employees who receive workers' compensation be paid no more than they would under normal retirement benefits.

Collins put forth a similar solution with legislation she introduced in February.

The National Treasury Employees Union spoke out against this provision.

"These proposals are simply punitive and unfair to those dedicated federal employees who suffered a catastrophic injury that prevents them from ever working again," NTEU President Colleen Kennedy said in a statement.

The bill also would prohibit for at least two years the option of cutting Saturday service. If the Postal Service still needed to find savings after that, then a five-day delivery plan could be implemented.

"Slashing or eliminating Saturday service is truly the last resort and not the first option," Collins said, explaining that the measure would only cause more businesses to stop using the mail system.

Previous legislation has addressed the same ideas, such as a proposal by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., that also featured a $7 billion FERS repayment, while other bills, such as a proposal by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would provide for an immediate switch to a five-day delivery system.

Other provisions included changing from door delivery to curbside delivery by 2015 and requiring USPS to draft a strategic plan on how to consolidate offices every five years.

The Postal Service has not yet provided an opinion on the legislation.

"We are currently reviewing the provisions included in the bill to determine how it addresses our financial crisis and the need for a more flexible business model," USPS said in a statement. "The Postal Service continues to take aggressive actions under our control to cut costs and increase revenue to return to profitability and urgently needs passage of comprehensive, long-term legislation to get us there."

Similarly, the American Postal Workers Union is analyzing the legislation and waiting to give a statement.

The Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group representing the private sector mailing industry, voiced its support for the current plan.

"From what we've seen so far, this bill is a smart and balanced approach that can shore up the Postal Service and help preserve the 8 million private sector jobs that rely on the mail," Art Sackler, coordinator for the coalition, said in a statement.

The legislation will be presented to the full committee next Wednesday for markup, Lieberman said.

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