New Hope for Reform in 2004

Alexander Pope could have been referring to postal reform when he wrote that “hope springs eternal.” But activity on Capital Hill this spring gives postal customers reason to think that 2004 could be the year that Congress at last passes a postal reform bill.

In the eight years since the first bill seeking to rewrite the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act came out of the House, numerous postal reform bills have died far short of the president’s desk. But this year, in the face of shrinking mail volume and a sizable rate hike looming for 2006, there’s greater urgency for the laws that govern the U.S. Postal Service to be rewritten.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on May 20 introduced the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2004 (S.2468). Eight days earlier, the House passed a similar bill, H.R. 4341. Then on June 2, the Senate unanimously agreed on a mark-up of its bill to the full Senate.

Among other similarities, both bills call for replacing the nine-month-long postal ratemaking process with a simpler one enabling the USPS to react to market conditions more quickly. Both bills would allow the USPS to enter into negotiated service agreements with larger mailers to enable mailers to gain greater worksharing discounts. And both would repeal a provision in which money owed to the USPS due to an overpayment into the Civil Service Retirement Service for military service of retired postal workers would be held in an escrow fund, effectively freeing up $78 billion over a 60-year period.

The chairs of the House and Senate committees might try to reconcile the bills without going through the formal conference process, says Gene Del Polito, president of mailers organization the Association for Postal Commerce in Arlington, VA. “That means there will be a lot of behind-doors work by staffs on both sides to make sure they come out with identical bills,” he says. “Or they may concentrate on one bill that they’d all agree to be made part of a conference package and simply say, ‘I’ll pass it on my side first, then you take the same bill and pass it on your side.’ Then they’ll have something ready for the president to sign.”

APPROVAL BY JULY 4? The two sides of Congress still have a number of issues to iron out, says Ed Gleiman, a former congressional staffer and Postal Rate Commission chairman and now a postal consultant for the Direct Marketing Association. For instance, a provision in the House bill calls for the secretary of the Treasury to be involved in making some decisions on accounting principles and allocations of postal costs.

“Chances are, the House bill will go to the floor with some amendments,” Gleiman says. “And if the leadership in the House is willing to carve out some floor time, they’ll ultimately support final passage of the bill in the House.” He thinks that the House could approve the bill by the July 4 Congressional break.

“The bottom line is, we’ve never gotten this far” with postal reform, Gleiman continues. “We have a lot of momentum, we have two chairpersons [Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA] who’ve reached out in a partisan manner, bringing in both sides of the aisle, both Republicans and Democrats who’ve worked across Capital Hill. They’ve gotten bipartisan support for moving ahead, and certainly not in my experience in dealing with postal issues have we had anything that has approached this.”

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