Postal Service reports loss, while Senate delays action on bill

Agency suffers a total net loss of $4.7 billion so far for fiscal 2009.

The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday announced a loss of $2.4 billion in its third quarter, underscoring the financial woes of an agency already groaning under the weight of the recession.

USPS reported a $1.6 billion decrease in revenue between April and June, and a total net loss of $4.7 billion so far for fiscal 2009. It has now suffered net losses for all but one quarter in the last three fiscal years.

Some attribute the staggering net losses to a requirement, approved by Congress in 2006, that the Postal Service make advance payments to cover the costs of health benefits for retirees.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, wanted Senate leaders to bring to the floor this week legislation that would tweak the timing of those payments and give USPS more flexibility to borrow funds to cover costs.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is not expected to bring up the bill until after the August recess.

Carper and other sponsors of the bill are getting an earful from postal union workers furious about an amendment, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and tacked on to the bill during its July 29 markup by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The unions say the amendment, which won support from co-sponsors Carper and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., will harm their collective bargaining rights.

A competing bill to address the postal shortfall, sponsored by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., is pending in the House, but progress on the measure hit a snag when CBO estimated its cost at $2.5 billion.

CBO has not scored Carper's bill, but aides anticipate a similar price tag. Backers of the Senate's version say it provides a longer-term fix than the House bill.

Carper's subcommittee plans to hear from Postmaster General John Potter, as well as union officials, at a hearing on Thursday. The hearing, meant to address the agency's spiraling financial woes, was planned well before Wednesday's release of the postal service's quarterly financial report.

Potter has pointed to the plummeting volume of letter mail as businesses and individuals increasingly rely on the Web and other electronic means of communications.

Mail volume during the third quarter dropped by 7 billion pieces, or over 14 percent, compared to last year, according to Wednesday's financial report.

The gloomy figure comes on the heels of GAO's recent addition of the postal service's financial condition to its list of "high risk" areas of the federal government.

Earlier this week, USPS released a list of nearly 700 post offices that could be closed or consolidated to cut costs after the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.