Alex Washburn/Associated Press

USPS Opposes Latest Postal Reform Bill

Lawmaker’s more inclusive approach yields mixed results.

The biggest advocate in Congress for reforming the U.S. Postal Service is taking yet another shot at fixing the struggling agency, and his latest effort is receiving mixed reviews from the key players involved in postal operations.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the 2015 iPOST Act this week after months of roundtables and meetings with postal stakeholders to weigh various priorities. The lawmaker vowed to take a more inclusive approach to drafting the bill this time around after previous, more insular efforts fell short. The initial results failed to produce unanimous support, though Carper aides have warned a true compromise would likely make all parties somewhat unhappy.

USPS itself rejected elements of the measure, saying it did not do enough to improve the agency’s troubled finances.

“We cannot support those elements of [Carper’s] recently introduced proposal that would expand regulatory bureaucracy and hinder our ability to control costs and respond to a rapidly changing marketplace,” Sarah Ninivaggi, a Postal Service spokeswoman, told Government Executive.

She added there were some elements of the bill the Postal Service supported, including the integration of postal retirees into Medicare and relief for the agency’s requirement to prefund health benefits.

“We will continue to work with Sen. Carper, Congress and other key stakeholders to develop legislation that results in meaningful, beneficial reforms to improve the long-term financial stability of the Postal Service,” Ninivaggi said.

The 2015 iPOST Act would place severe restrictions on USPS’ plans to consolidate more of its vast distribution and post office network, and would prohibit the agency from further slowing the delivery of mail. It would add requirements for tracking USPS performance and does not address the agency’s plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, which has been repeatedly stymied by Congress.

Carper’s measure would, however, enable the Postal Service to leverage its network to find new revenue streams from non-postal products.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who criticized Carper’s postal reform effort in the last Congress, praised the senator’s latest effort. She particularly appreciated proposals to preserve standards for rural mail delivery, and that Carper’s new bill included some of her focus on improving morale among the postal workforce.

“For too long, Americans living in rural areas have had their ties to outside communities severed or weakened due to unreliable mail delivery -- and that’s unacceptable,” Heitkamp said. “I appreciate Sen. Carper’s willingness to work with me on these provisions to make sure the voices of rural America are represented.”

While Carper has won over some of his previous detractors, he has, for now, lost one important description on his bill: bipartisan. His last measure was co-sponsored by now retired Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (of which Carper is the ranking member) Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has not yet taken a position on the legislation.

Postal unions were united in staunch opposition to Carper’s 2013 Postal Reform Act and would not embrace his latest effort either. They expressed support for Carper’s efforts, however, and vowed to continue to work toward a common solution.

“While Sen. Carper’s new bill contains several provisions we cannot support and raises a number of serious concerns for letter carriers and the larger federal employee community,” National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Roland said, “we believe it is a good place to begin the conversation about how to preserve and strengthen the Postal Service for the American people, while protecting the legitimate interests of all the key stakeholders.”

Rolando indicated NALC has been working with other postal unions, mailing industry groups and USPS management to draft a proposal of their own. The American Postal Workers Union declined to take a stance on Carper’s bill, while the National Association of Postmasters gave a tepid endorsement to the first draft of the legislation.

“We commend Sen. Carper’s transparency and inclusiveness in crafting the bill,” the group said in a statement. “The bill is a constructive start to a challenging legislative process; we greatly appreciate Sen. Carper’s efforts and leadership.”

In the last Congress, Democrats and Republicans in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee each released their own postal reform proposals. Carper's aides said they could again pursue their own paths.

Robert Taub, the Postal Regulatory Commission’s acting chairman, said his oversight body is still reviewing Carper’s legislation.

“I certainly acknowledge and appreciate Senator Carper's longstanding and dedicated efforts at ensuring we have a vital and efficient universal mail system,” Taub said.