With Senate Bill, Postal Reform Looking Possible This Year

The Senate on May 20 introduced a bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2004 was released as a discussion draft on May 12, the same day the House passed its similar postal reform bill, H.R. 4341.

Postal reform “really may happen this year,” says Gene Del Polito, president of Arlington, VA-based mailers organization the Association for Postal Commerce. “When you look at the two bills, there are differences but not huge gulfs between them.”

Introduced by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the Senate bill–like the House bill–contains many of the provisions of past postal reform bills. These include replacing the current nine-month-long rate-making process with a simpler one that would enable the USPS to react to market conditions more quickly.

Other reforms include maintaining universal postal service and the formation of a postal regulatory commission to replace the independent Postal Rate Commission. The bill also calls for the USPS to be able to enter into negotiated service agreements with larger mailers to enable mailers to gain greater worksharing discounts.

Like the House bill, the Senate legislation would repeal a provision in which money owed to the USPS due to an overpayment in to the Civil Service Retirement Service for military service of retired postal workers is held in an escrow fund. This would free up $78 billion over a 60-year period. The Senate bill is scheduled for committee markup next month.

Del Polito says that the chairs of both the House and Senate committees might try to reconcile the bills without going through the formal conference process. “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 in order to avoid conference,” he explains. “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.”

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