What the decision means for a plan to drop Saturday mail in August remains unclear.
A requirement the U.S. Postal Service deliver mail six days a week still applies to the agency under current law, according to a Government Accountability Office decision. Argument to the contrary “rests upon a faulty USPS premise,” GAO said.
What this decision will mean for the Postal Service’s plan to end Saturday mail delivery remained in dispute.
USPS announced in February that beginning Aug. 5, it would end Saturday mail delivery for the first time in Postal Service history. Since 1983, Congress has included a rider in every spending bill requiring the Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week, and the continuing resolution passed Thursday was no exception.
USPS had argued the rider language is not valid in a continuing resolution. GAO disagreed.
“Absent specific legislative language, a continuing resolution maintains the status quo regarding government funding and operations,” GAO wrote in its decision. “Although the provision at issue here is an operational directive, not an appropriation, we see no language in the continuing resolution to indicate that Congress did not expect the provision to continue to apply during the continuing resolution.”
GAO did not, however, make a ruling on whether USPS’ plan to end Saturday mail delivery would be in breach of the provision. Supporters of the change have noted because the Postal Service will continue six-day delivery of packages and just cut back letter delivery, the agency is not defying the Congressional order.
“In this opinion,” the auditors wrote, “we consider only whether USPS continues to be bound by the provision in the 2012 Appropriations Act. We do not consider whether the planned service changes USPS has announced would comport with the provision.”
In a statement, the Postal Service said it “strongly disagrees” with GAO’s decision, claiming the auditors address only the current continuing resolution -- set to expire March 27 -- and not the August timeframe in which the change is scheduled to take place.
“Congress must act to restore financial stability to the Postal Service,” the Postal Service said. “Establishing a new delivery schedule is an important element of a larger strategy to close a $20 billion budget gap by 2016, and to avoid the potential that the Postal Service may eventually become a significant burden to the American taxpayer.”
In February, at the time of the announcement, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the Postal Service was not exploiting a continuing resolution loophole but was instead “on good footing” with the decision. Donahoe pleaded with Congress not to stand in the way of the schedule change.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said GAO’s decision should not stop the Postal Service from eliminating Saturday delivery.
“The GAO released a report today that ONLY addressed whether or not the postal rider is still in effect under the now-defunct partial year continuing resolution,” Ali Ahmad, an Issa spokesman, said in a statement. “In fact, GAO notes explicitly that it does not address whether or not USPS can move forward with its modified six-day delivery plan as USPS indicated that it could and would on February 6th.”
Issa has argued the Postal Service’s plan is a “modified six-day schedule delivery,” rather than the elimination of it. He has also said if the matter is ultimately brought to court and ruled in favor of the six-day mail mandate, USPS could simply reject its appropriations, clearing the way to move ahead with its schedule.
Though the Postal Service generally relies on sales from its own business to generate revenue, it receives about $90 million annually from the federal government to reimburse the agency for free services such as overseas voting and mail for the blind. The postmaster general has said the delivery change will save USPS $2 billion each year.
Issa co-authored a letter with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to the USPS Board of Governors chairman, urging him to continue with the schedule change as planned.
Most Democratic lawmakers have met the Postal Service’s plan with lukewarm-to-negative reaction, saying the agency should not circumvent Congress and any schedule changes should be part of a comprehensive postal overhaul. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., applauded GAO’s decision.
“This impartial and definitive GAO legal opinion makes it crystal clear that USPS cannot operate outside the legislative authority of Congress and unilaterally implement a change in delivery service that many believe will not only disrupt mail service,” Connolly said in a statement, “but also exacerbate USPS revenue losses and contribute to the decline of this constitutionally mandated service to all Americans.”
Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Rep. Gerry Connolly's state. He is a Democrat from Virginia.