Elaine Thompson/AP file photo

Lawmakers Call Postal Reform a Priority, But Familiar Battle Lines Are Already Being Drawn

Just two weeks into the new Congress, resistance is mounting to steps such as eliminating six-day delivery.

Oversight leaders in the new Congress have promised a renewed focus on reforming the U.S. Postal Service, but the usual obstacles are already taking shape.  

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Sam Graves, R-Mo., have introduced a resolution calling on the Postal Service to “take all appropriate measures” to continue to deliver mail six days each week. Eliminating Saturday mail delivery -- while continuing six-day package delivery -- has been perhaps the most significant hurdle preventing an agreement on postal reform.

Postal reform bills in both the House and Senate during the last Congress would have, eventually, allowed USPS to stop delivering mail on Saturday, but neither advanced further than their respective committees. USPS management attempted to move to five-day delivery unilaterally in 2012, but that effort was stymied by the Government Accountability Office, which cited a rider requiring six-day delivery included in every spending bill since 1983.

Connolly and Graves’ measure was put forward with 91 cosponsors, including members of both parties. A similar resolution in the last Congress eventually amassed 221 signatures of support.

“In attempting to stem revenue losses that result from declining first class mail volume by proposing to accelerate service cuts that will only exacerbate volume loss, the postmaster general is acting like a doctor from a prior century who wrongly believed that bleeding patients could save them,” Connolly said.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced a separate measure calling on USPS to ensure the “continuation of door delivery for all business and residential customers.” Another major sticking point is that postal management has advocated the phasing out of to-the-door delivery in favor of curbside or “cluster box” distribution, which would give mail recipients their own locked boxes organized together at a common spot on their block or street.  Unions and other stakeholders have voiced significant displeasure with this proposal, which was also included in last year’s legislative efforts. President Obama has endorsed both five-day and cluster box delivery.

New committee chairs are undeterred despite the resistance, however, and have listed a comprehensive postal overhaul atop their agendas for the 114th Congress.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations -- which has the Postal Service under its purview now -- called reforming the cash-strapped agency a priority.

The committee must “find consensus to move it forward,” Meadows told Government Executive. “We need to deal with it sooner than later.”

The second term congressman conceded there are a number of issues that have the “potential to divide,” but promised to listen to the perspectives of all the relevant stakeholders. The oversight committee’s previous chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., led the charge on postal reform in each of the last two Congresses, but Meadows wants to start with a “clean canvas on which to paint the picture.”

“I am optimistic about at least finding some common ground,” Meadows said. “Certainly there will be those areas that divide us, but it’s critical for the future of our postal workers as well as the postal system that we address the reform and do it in a manner that provides long-term success.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has advocated taking the Postal Service through bankruptcy. He previously told Government Executive he would push to do exactly that if he had his “druthers,” but recognizes the political resistance such a move would encounter.  

Prior postal reform efforts “couldn’t get through the Senate because the Democrats are protective of union contracts,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest impediment.”

Johnson has indicated he is open to compromise, but has not yet elaborated on what that will look like. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., ranking member of the Senate oversight panel and a champion of multiple efforts to legislatively restructure the Postal Service, has said he will continue searching for a way to finally deliver on reform.

The Senate’s first postal task is much simpler than passing a bill that has eluded congressional negotiators since 2006: confirm another member of the board of governors, so it can regain its quorum. Obama has nominated just one candidate, though the board has five vacancies.

Charles S. Clark contributed to this report