For Postal Reform, It’s Hurry Up and Wait

Just one week after the Postal Board of Governors proclaimed its opposition to reform bill S.662 (see “USPS ‘Officially’ Opposes Senate Reform Bill–but Does That Matter?”), word around Washington is that the Senate will likely pass the bill by Friday. But it could still take months for the bill to become law–not that that’s a sure thing.

Bob McLean, executive director of Arlington, VA-based industry group the Mailers Council, says that in the week since each U.S. senator received a draft of the postal board’s letter protesting the bill, his staff has been hard at work addressing any lingering questions. “We were able to speak to every senator, discussing individual concerns about the bill,” says McLean. “And the good news is that none we spoke with simply said, ‘I don’t want this.’”

But assuming that the Senate passes the bill, a conference committee must convene to consolidate S.622 and sister bill H.R.22, which the House of Representatives passed in the summer. And consolidation could take months.

What’s more, getting a committee to convene won’t happen right away. “Right now we’re focused on ‘making nice’ with the White House on both the escrow and military pensions and hoping for the best from there,” McLean says.

Currently the USPS pays for the military service portion of postal employees’ retirement payments. P.L.108-18, the Postal Civil Service Retirement System Funding Reform Act of 2003, lowered the Postal Service’s annual payment for its CSRS obligation by more than $2.5 billion, beginning in fiscal 2003. But it also required the USPS to begin making payments into an escrow account in fiscal 2006. Both the House and Senate reform bills called for shifting liability for military service time of postal employees’ retirement payments from the USPS to the U.S. Treasury and for eliminating the escrow account. The Bush administration, however, opposes the provision because it would add to the budget deficit.

“Trying to predict how many months it will take to resolve the overall situation might be tougher than handicapping a horse race,” McLean says.

Kate Muth, vice president of the Association for Postal Commerce, encourages mailers to see the big picture. “We have never gotten this far [with reform] before, so it’s really uncharted territory,” she says. “It’s not a matter of anyone being coy, not telling when a committee might meet. Committees just have higher-profile things on their plate. Conference committee matters tend to come up towards the end of session,” says Muth. “Now that we’re at the start of session, there’s not that sense of urgency.”