Amid changes on Capitol Hill, Postal Service faces uncertain future

Rep. Jason Chaffetz opposes proposals to cut back to five-day delivery. Rep. Jason Chaffetz opposes proposals to cut back to five-day delivery. Douglas Graham/Newscom
The Republican takeover of the House has left the future of the U.S. Postal Service up in the air as the agency faces continued concerns over cutting jobs and meeting obligations to its retiree health and pension funds.

"It's highly uncertain as to how much [the next] Congress will accomplish," said Bruce Moyer, legislative counsel at the National Association of Postal Supervisors. "At the same time, on postal issues, the urgency of financial problems and the need to restructure the health and pension responsibilities could provide a significant incentive to getting a big fix done."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is slated to step up to chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has signaled that postal reform will be among the issues on his agenda.

"There are too many postal workers, too many distribution centers, too many post offices and a reluctance to make those changes," he told reporters last week. Issa also said USPS has too many supervisors and a total of 200,000 unnecessary positions.

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella declined to provide more detail about which provisions might be included in postal reform legislation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is a candidate to take over the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee tasked with overseeing the federal workforce and the Postal Service. Chaffetz has drawn criticism from the postal community for his opposition to USPS' proposal to limit mail delivery to five days a week. He has instead proposed legislation to declare 12 postal holidays every fiscal year when USPS would suspend mail delivery. According to postal officials, such a move would not save enough money.

Chaffetz said he is working with Issa on a comprehensive reform package, which could include a reduction in postal facilities, early retirement incentives for employees and postal holidays.

USPS spokeswoman Joanne Veto said last week that election results would not affect the Postal Service's legislative agenda. The agency has been pushing for changes outlined in its 10-year strategic plan, such as the flexibility to close post offices for economic reasons, reduce the number of weekly mail delivery days and adjust requirements to prefund its retiree health benefits.

According to Moyer, collective bargaining negotiations currently under way between the Postal Service and two of its unions also could color changes in USPS jobs and compensation. Union representatives have expressed concerns about how new committee leadership will affect the workforce.

"We face tough challenges, but the union will do everything possible to protect the interests of postal workers," said Myke Reid, legislative and political director of the American Postal Workers Union.

Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters, said the group will remain focused on financial stability issues. The first problem Congress should address, he said, is the Postal Service's overpayment to its Civil Service Retirement System fund. Excess contributions, he argued, could be used to meet the agency's obligation to pay for retiree health benefits.

"We're not asking to take [the overpayment] and use it as operating dollars," Strong said. "We're asking to put it in the retiree health fund. If that was done, we could clearly see what the future of the post office is."

On the Senate side, Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced a bill in September that would give the Postal Service the flexibilities requested in its strategic plan to eliminate Saturday delivery, adjust pension fund payments and close post offices. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, has expressed concern about perks granted to postal executives and the mismanagement of contracts issued to former agency employees. She is working on legislation she says would address those practices and revitalize the Postal Service.

"What's important as we move forward is to make sure we are addressing the post office issues with facts and not myths -- that when bills are introduced and looked at and debated that facts are used and that they truly look at what is important to all America," said Strong.

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