Postal Reform: What’s Next?

Mailers shouldn’t expect the 107th Congress to pick up where the 106th left off with regard to postal reform legislation, according to Deborah Wilhite, the U.S. Postal Service’s senior vice president of public policy. “We’re presuming that the slate has been wiped clean,” Wilhite said during the Jan. 31 Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) meeting in Washington.

For one thing, Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), the former House Postal Subcommittee leader, has moved over to the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel under the Committee on Armed Services. McHugh introduced the first postal reform bill in 1996 and pushed the bill along through various stages, though it failed to make it to the floor of the 106th Congress.

For another, “we’re still unsure if there will be a Postal Subcommittee,” Wilhite said. Neal Denton, executive director of trade association the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, says it’s likely that the functions of the House Postal Subcommittee will be moved over to the full Government Reform Committee. If the subcommittee is folded into the full committee, postal reform would have to fight for attention, so to speak, with many more legislative issues. (McHugh, incidentally, remains on the Government Reform Committee, so he may still have some say in postal reform matters.) Regardless, Wilhite doesn’t believe that any new movements for reform will use McHugh’s failed Postal Modernization Act (H.R. 22) as a launching point.

PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION NEEDED? Then there’s the fact that the new presidential administration hasn’t expressed any particular interest in the fate of the U.S. Postal Service. Or as Wilhite told MTAC attendees, “The new administration has limited knowledge of postal issues.”

The USPS was last reorganized in 1970, when a Nixon Administration commission pushed through the Postal Reorganization Act. At the time, the old Post Office Department was on the verge of collapse. More than 30 years later, with first class mail volume sinking and losses growing, another presidential commission may be needed to redefine the USPS’s role and give it more flexibility in rate-making and service implementation.

Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce, an Alexandria, VA-based trade association, believes that postal reform “is doable within two years.” It may help President Bush appointed former Horchow Collection catalog executive Clay Johnson to director of presidential personnel. Even though Johnson may have no involvement with USPS legislation, Del Polito says, he will at least “have some understanding of postal issues.”

Del Polito adds that mailers will need to get more involved to make postal reform a reality: “Nothing will happen until members of this industry make this a local problem and lobby their own local congressmen.”

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