Postal reform stumbles again

Apr 3, 2012

WASHINGTON—Senate leaders prepared in late March to bring the 21st Century Postal Service Act, S1789, to the floor for a vote before Congress recessed for Easter. But opposition to parts of the bill threatened to bring reform to a halt again.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, put a hold on the bill to protest the closing of a mail processing plant in Easton, MD. Seven Democratic senators demanded explanations for executive bonuses, plans to remove postal workers from the federal government’s heavily-subsidized health plan and work-sharing discounts that some unions consider mailer subsidies.

Rumors of a proposal from Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-WV, to hit Periodicals Mail with a 5 percent surcharge a year until USPS declares that Periodicals postage covers estimated costs, put newspaper and magazine mailers into motion to counter the move.

But the revelation by Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, of a 2011 study by USPS projecting deep losses from mailer reaction to the panoply of service cuts surprised many senators who had been sympathetic to the Postal Service’s call for power to end Saturday mail delivery and close many processing plants. The study, conducted by Opinion Research Corp., to provide findings for the Postal Regulatory Commission during examination of the service cuts, initially showed the Postal Service could lose $5.2 billion a year and up to 7.7 percent of mail volume, had been kept secret until March 23. The PRC ordered disclosure of the study, which had been filed by USPS under seal. Connolly had requested release of parts of the study, and the PRC agreed the conclusions should be released.

USPS in defense said the study showed a reaction to the totality of service cuts, when it was seeking data about losses simply from the processing plant consolidations. It killed the study after the negative results were indicated and retooled the questions asked in polling to try to isolate the single impact.

If the bill clears the Senate, it faces hurdles in the House where a much-different proposal, HR 2309, has yet to reach the floor. USPS is hoping for legislative relief before the end of the congressional session.