Lawmakers hope that it will at least prompt legislative action on their favored reforms.
The Trump administration’s long-anticipated and significantly delayed task force recommendations for saving the U.S. Postal Service were more moderate that some of its sharpest critics had anticipated, but many in the mailing community wasted no time in pointing to what they saw as flaws in the report.
Absent from the findings, released on Tuesday after President Trump created the task force by executive order earlier this year, were any broad calls for privatization or dramatic changes to the agency’s obligation to deliver mail to every address in the United States. Still, large-scale mailers, labor unions representing USPS employees and lawmakers took issue with many of the recommendations and declined to endorse the report overall.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., long the top postal point person on Capitol Hill and author of a current piece of reform legislation, said he appreciated the renewed focus on postal issues but criticized the task force’s process. Carper has introduced postal overhaul bills in several consecutive congresses and voiced guarded optimism that the administration’s proposals would lead to prompt legislative action.
“I am always glad to have more people involved and working to solve this imminently fixable problem, and presidential leadership could help us finally enact meaningful legislation to bolster the Postal Service,” Carper said. “But I believe we need to be working together in a transparent way and building off legislation that is the result of years of hard work and scrutiny to address the Postal Service’s immediate challenges.”
He once again endorsed his own bill, and a similar measure approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, rather than the recommendations in the task force report. With the 115th Congress unlikely to take up postal reform in its waning days, lawmakers will again have to start over to move legislation next year. Some of the bipartisan provisions included in legislative proposals were also recommended by the task force, such as reamortizing the agency’s liabilities for the health care costs of future retirees and enabling it to pursue new lines of business. The task force did not recommend what the Postal Service and lawmakers consider the key piece of their legislative overhaul, namely to require most eligible employees and retirees to use Medicare as their primary provider.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who co-authored the House version of postal reform, also thanked Trump for recognizing “the precarious financial situation of the Postal Service,” but cast doubt that the task force’s proposals would alleviate the situation. Cummings will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee come January, the panel that will spearhead any legislative efforts aimed at addressing the mailing agency's problems.
“The task force report offers some suggestions that are worth considering, such as finally addressing the requirement that Congress imposed on the Postal Service to pre-fund health benefits for retirees,” Cummings said. “I hope we can work together, as we did last Congress, to advance a bipartisan reform bill to place the Postal Service on sound long-term financial footing without limiting employee benefits, collective bargaining rights, or the universal service the Postal Service provides our nation.”
The Postal Service itself said it was still reviewing the recommendations, but also called for the task force report to be considered only in conjunction with other measures it favors.
“The recommendations contained in the report should be evaluated together with legislative and regulatory reforms to address our urgent financial challenges,” said Postmaster General Megan Brennan. “Reforms are necessary to enable the Postal Service to further reduce costs, grow revenue, compete more effectively, function with greater flexibility to adapt to a dynamic marketplace, and to prudently invest in our future.”
The task force proposed to increase revenues for the Postal Service by developing a new two-tiered pricing model, maintaining existing methodology for “essential services”—a term used to include, among other things, person-to-person mail and packages, bills, government documents—and charge more for commercial deliveries, which senior administration officials said on Tuesday would include e-commerce packages, as well as marketing and advertising mail.
The group also suggested ending the postal workers’ authority to negotiate over pay. Unlike other federal employee unions, postal groups bargain over salaries and benefits. In addition, the task force said USPS should turn to the private sector for some processing and sorting. The American Postal Workers Union blasted the report as a whole, saying it would actually damage USPS’ ability to return to profitability.
“This poorly conceived report makes many of its recommendations based on myth and misinformation that instead of improving mail services, would deliver higher prices and less service for the public,” said Mark Dimondstein, the union’s president. “Most of the report’s recommendations, if implemented, would hurt business and individuals alike.”
Businesses were also skeptical about the proposals, saying any large price increases could end up backfiring on the Postal Service.
“By raising prices and depriving Americans of affordable delivery services, the Postal Task Force’s package delivery recommendations would harm consumers, large and small businesses, and especially rural communities,” said John McHugh, president of the Package Coalition, a recently formed group made up of large-scale mailers such as Amazon and Express Scripts. McHugh added that USPS’ package business has continued to soar, while its traditional first-class mail volume continues to plummet.
Right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups praised the proposals, saying they would preserve a public mailing agency while putting it on a firmer financial footing. Paul Steidler, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, called the report a “clearly pro-taxpayer document” that took a much more holistic approach than many critics feared. Those who consulted with the task force while it was putting together its recommendations praised its members for taking their work seriously. Steidler, like those more critical of the findings, also cautioned the Postal Service to tread carefully if it receives the new authorities called for in the report.
“Raise prices too much, at the wrong time or on the wrong products and things could backfire with revenues falling,” he said.