Administration aims to put its stamp on postal overhaul

The sponsors of legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service have yet to reach an agreement with the Bush administration, as the two sides argue about the cost and accounting procedures.

Administration officials recently outlined their position in a memo directed at legislation championed by the House Government Reform and Senate Governmental Affairs committees. The memo expressed concerns that the bills are too expensive and do not do enough to reduce labor costs.

Some bill proponents say the memo represents a starting point for negotiations rather than a line in the sand. Yet, the administration has not budged on sticking points that kept the legislation from moving to the floor of either chamber this year -- the handling of the postal services' escrow account and the accounting procedures for the pensions of military veterans working for the service.

Administration officials have met with congressional staff to discuss the issues, aides said.

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, in a statement, underlined the necessity of passing a bill soon. "I will continue to work with the administration to address its concerns. I disagree, however, that the postal service should bear the financial burden for military service retirement benefits owed to its workers."

According to the memo, the administration still is opposed to transferring the cost of military pensions for some postal workers to the Treasury Department, as provided by the House and Senate bills. Administration officials say it would add billions of dollars to the federal budget deficit, but Collins said it would be unfair to make the postal service the only federal agency responsible for those benefits.

She also disagreed with the administration's plan to limit the postal services' access to money in an escrow account, saying it was contrary to the recommendations of a presidential commission that studied the agency.

Collins said she plans to reintroduce legislation early in the 109th Congress. On the House floor last week, Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va.. referred to the administration's criticisms when urging support of the overhaul measure. "There are critics who will say the bill costs too much. I say the cost of not acting is what we really cannot afford."

The administration memo said "the bills lack meaningful reforms in the areas of transparency and flexibility -- especially with respect to cutting back the high cost of labor."

Ben Cooper, who tracks legislation for the Printing Industries of America, said some movement on this issue is possible, but he does not think the administration will get its way on most labor suggestions.

But a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union was less certain. "We're not taking anything for granted," she said.

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