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Will a Busy Fall Congressional Schedule Derail Postal Reform?

Oversight leaders say they are pressing ahead despite several potential roadblocks.

The top oversight leader in the House has vowed to move forward with his bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service, despite the full plate of high-priority issues Congress currently faces.

Both the House and Senate, which came back to Washington this week after a month-long recess, must vote on authorizing President Obama to use military force in Syria; a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown; and raising the looming debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department said the government will hit in mid-October.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and author of the 2013 Postal Reform Act, continues to work on a legislative fix to the mailing agency that is currently hemorrhaging millions of dollars daily.

Issa “continues to communicate” with USPS officials and other leaders in the House, according to his spokesman, Ali Ahmad, and is working with his “counterparts in the Senate and stakeholders” to advance reform legislation.

Issa’s bill cleared the oversight committee without Democratic support, and he “hopes to bring it to a vote [in the full House] in the near future,” Ahmad said.

Another potential roadblock to postal reform cropped up Monday when several federal employee groups announced their opposition to two major provisions included in the most significant Senate proposal to overhaul USPS.

The American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, and National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association expressed concern with provisions to reform the workers’ compensation program for all federal employees and remove postal workers from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The proposals were included in bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

USPS employees have their own unions -- which have been highly critical of the Carper-Coburn bill -- and groups like AFGE and NTEU do not typically wade into postal issues. They said, however, the bill would have a negative impact on the entire federal workforce -- not just postal employees.

The workers’ compensation portion of the bill would lower the benefits provided to employees injured on the job who reach retirement age. These employees would receive compensation in line with their retirement benefits, rather than the larger percentage of their full salary they currently earn.

“Forcing a worker at retirement age to give up regular [Federal Employees’ Compensation Act] benefits earned as a result of an on-the-job injury,” the groups said in a joint statement, “would cause grave economic hardship to many disabled workers.”

The Senate bill, which would allow but not require the Postal Service to opt of FEHBP in favor of its own health benefits system, would weaken insurance coverage for federal employees by lowering the number of people in the pool, the employee groups said. Currently, about 25 percent of FEHBP enrollees are postal workers or retirees.

“It would be not only unwise to dilute FEHBP in this way, it would be another enormously unfair blow to these dedicated public servants and their families,” said NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley.

The Government Accountability Office found in a recent report that USPS’ proposal to take its employees out of FEHBP would largely not affect non-postal enrollees, but said about 29,000 federal workers would have to select a new health plan, as some plans that primarily offer services to USPS workers would drop out of the program.

Carper also said he hoped to make progress quickly, despite the looming obstacles that could slow the momentum for reform.   

The Senate committee will hold two hearings later in September, and Carper is "eager to move forward" with his bill, according to a committee aide.