Postal Service officials keep pressing for their own reform plan

They emphasize that rural post office closures would be phased in gradually.

The U.S. Postal Service continued its plea Friday for lawmakers to pass a comprehensive postal reform measure in the coming months -- preferably legislation that does not include some of the provisions in a bill the Senate passed in April.

“The bottom line is the Senate bill does not provide the Postal Service with the flexibility and speed that it needs to have a sustainable business model,” Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Thurgood Marshall Jr. said Friday at a board meeting.

“We therefore strongly encourage the enactment of legislation that enables the Postal Service to avoid a default and return to long-term profitability,” he said.

Differences between the Senate plan and the five-year plan to profitability USPS is offering include the Senate’s hesitation to switch to a five-day delivery schedule and its resistance to moving forward on postal facility and office closures. USPS wants to shutter more than 200 mail processing plants and 3,700 post offices beginning this year. It also wants the flexibility to leave the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and develop its own health care program for USPS employees.

Both Marshall and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe placed specific emphasis on rural post offices in their remarks Friday. USPS and its oversight panels often criticize lawmakers for protecting postal facilities located in their districts. Marshall told meeting attendees that USPS plans to further define its strategy for helping to protect rural post offices in the coming weeks, while still aiming for flexibility in decisions about shuttering facilities. The agency expects to generate $22.6 billion in cost savings by 2016.

“In consultation with members of the House and the Senate, we have continued to refine our approach with regard to rural post offices,” Marshall said. “We have done so as a result of listening carefully to the views of our customers and the communities we serve.”

He added: “We are committed to pursuing cost reduction strategies in a thoughtful way, and we believe these announcements will lay to rest many of the concerns about our path going forward.”

The agency is slated to release its earnings report for the second quarter of fiscal 2012 next week. In a recent appearance on C-Span, Donahoe alluded to an improvement in figures, suggesting revenues are slightly ahead of projections and the agency’s cash flow is healthy.

The Senate bill would continue a moratorium on potential closures of offices and facilities that is slated to end on May 15. Postal officials have said they will not make drastic changes immediately after the moratorium is lifted, and will proceed slowly and methodically with any closures.

Earlier this week, the Postal Regulatory Commission said it plans to keep an eye on how USPS plans to proceed with the closures. PRC chairwoman Ruth Goldway said she believes USPS will “stagger” changes in the operations of thousands of post offices being evaluated as part of its cost cutting efforts.

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