Sweeping Postal Service reform measure advances in House

The first sweeping restructuring of the U.S. postal system in a generation took another step closer to approval in the House Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation (H.R. 4341) on a voice vote. That committee was sent the legislation for review of legal aspects by the House Government Reform Committee that gave the bill its basic approval on May 12.

Similar legislation (S. 2468) is pending on the Senate calendar for floor action.

The bill, years in the making and incorporating recommendations of a presidential postal reform commission, would provide the first updating of the U.S. Postal Service in more than 30 years. It now goes to the full House.

The reform is needed, proponents say, because of increased competition from e-mail and competitive package delivery services.

"The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act seeks to streamline the Postal Service by permitting it to engage in completive activities in a manner similar to private firms while protecting private industry from unfair competition," said Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

The bill would apply market disciplines to the postal service but allow it more freedom to adjust prices. International mail delivery also would be revamped under the bill and the Postal Rate Commission would be strengthened.

The Postal Service would save millions of dollars under the bill by requiring the costs of military pay for its employees called to active duty to be paid by the Treasury, not out of postal funds.

An amendment by Sensenbrenner and Ranking Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, was approved by voice vote. It struck a provision of the bill that provided that the Postal Service to the extent it engages in competitive activities be considered a "person" for purpose of the bankruptcy laws. Sensenbrenner cited "problems" with the provision, but did not elaborate.

Another amendment by Rep. Howard Coble,. R-N.C., was approved by voice vote. It added language to the bill spelling out powers of arrest and other law enforcement functions for postal police officers.

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