August 3, 2013
Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have introduced their version of postal reform legislation, the Postal Reform Act of 2013, a.k.a. PRA and S.1486. A summary is here, and the whole bill is here.
The new bill contains several changes from the earlier Senate bill, S.1789, that should bring the House and Senate closer together and make the passage of legislation more likely. In that sense, there’s been some progress, but unfortunately, it’s mostly in the wrong direction.
Comparing S.1789 and the PRA
A look at the earlier S.1789 and the new S.1486 suggests that several changes have been made to align the Senate bill with Issa's bill in the House. Here are a few of them:
S.1789 had a section (201) that would have maintained overnight delivery standards for three years, which would have prevented the closure of many processing plants. The PRA has deleted that section.
S.1789 had a section (203) that would have established retail service standards to help guarantee access to a post office. One such standard, for example, would have put a limit on how far and how long you should need to travel to your post office. That provision has been removed from the PRA.
The earlier bill had a section that would have helped protect historic post office buildings by giving federal, state, and local governments the opportunity to lease excess space rather than seeing the Postal Service close the post office and sell the building. That section has also been deleted from S.1486.
Section 207 of S.1789, on “delivery point modernization,” would have authorized the Postal Service to convert how you get your mail — at the door, curbside, or centralized cluster box — even without your permission (which is now required). The new PRA has a similar section. But S.1789 said only that the Postal Service “may” change your mode of delivery. The new bill requires the Postal Service to change your mode of delivery to the one “that is most cost-effective and is in the best long-term interest of the Postal Service.” That’s much closer to Issa’s bill, which mandates 30 million conversions to save $4 billion.
The earlier Senate bill would have maintained Saturday delivery for two years. S.1486 maintains it for just one year, and then in the second year permits the Postal Service to switch over to delivering just packages on Saturday. In the third year, Saturday delivery could be ended completely.
July 21 2013
The Greeting Card Association (GCA) has produced a long report describing what it calls "commonsense solutions" to put the Postal Service on "a path to solvency." It includes more than 100 deficit reduction proposals.
The main one is simple: "The Postal Service should immediately implement cluster boxes on a widespread national scale using its existing management authority to do so, and drop politically divisive plans for Congress to end Saturday mail delivery."
The report suggests that ending Saturday delivery is highly unpopular, while replacing delivery to the door or curb with cluster boxes would be fine with most customers.
That's a highly dubious proposition. The Postal Service has generally resisted mass conversions to cluster boxes, especially for existing customers, because it knows they will anger customers, and it's been pushing five-day delivery in the belief that customers prefer it to other ways for saving money or to raising rates. When the OIG did a report on the cost savings of switching modes of delivery, the Postal Service responded, "when surveyed, our customers indicated that they would rather lose a day of delivery service than have their mailbox moved from a door or curbside locations to a centralized delivery.”
The GCA's proposals are often contradictory, and there are many numbers mentioned without a citation to check them. For example, the report says, "The cost of modifying the Postal Service’s original proposal [to end Saturday delivery] was to add back $500 million to Saturday delivery costs for packages and medicines." There's no source cited for this figure. The Postal Service, to our knowledge, has never provided such an estimate, nor has the Postal Regulatory Commission, the agency which has done the most work on analyzing cost savings for ending Saturday delivery.
The GCA suggests that selling the Postal Service's real estate portfolio — valued at $85 billion by the OIG — would be a viable way to cover the remaining obligation ($46 billion) in the Retiree Health Benefit Fund. There's no discussion, however, of how much it would cost to replace these facilities with leased spaces. Over the long run, leasing usually costs more than owning, so what good would it do to sell off all this real estate?
The report makes some good proposals for putting the excess space in post offices to better use, such as leasing out the extra space to other government agencies and using post offices as "centers of continuous democracy" and to help people interface with other federal agencies. But such ideas are not exactly consistent with the proposal to sell off the Postal Service's real estate holdings.
Despite its problems, the GCA's report is worth reading. If nothing else, it shows how self-serving each stakeholder's solution for rescuing the Postal Service can be. Read the report.
Moving toward the End-Game: A moratorium maybe, a Goldway dissent, a PMG promise to hold off on closing post offices and DUOs too
November 9, 2011
A moratorium on post office closings came a step closer today, the Postmaster General has apparently promised to hold off on closing post offices until the first of the year, and the Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission dissented on an appeals decision again. A big day in postal world (and don't even mention the stock market).
Earlier in the day, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was considering S. 1789, the “21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011,” and the “markup” of the bill included an amendment that would suspend the closing of post offices until some retail “service standards” are established. The amendment actually passed, with a 12-4 vote, and if it becomes part of the postal reform law Congress is working on, it might mean a moratorium on post office closings.
According to a message from Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters, to League members, the committee also mentioned during its discussions that the Postmaster General “has agreed to back off of current closing until the legislative process has a chance to work its way to fruition, and the setting of standards is complete.”
The Fort Smith City Wire confirms that news with a report that U.S. Rep. Mike Ross (D-Prescott) announced on his Twitter feed that the U.S. Postal Service will “temporarily suspend” all post office closings nationwide from November 19 to January 2.
UPDATE 11/10/11: The Congressman's Tweet was about a letter USPS VP Dean Granholm sent to VPs of Area Operations, indicating that "in an effort to avoid unnecessary service interruptions or logistical challenges, all Delivery Unit Optimization (DUO) implementations and post office closures will be temporarily suspended beginning November 19, 2011 and continuing through January 2, 2012." The letter also says, however, that all districts may proceed with the discontinuance process, including community meetings and final determination postings. "Only the actual physical closing of a post office or the physical relocation of routes from one facilty to another (DUO) will be termporary suspended." Granholm's letter is here.
The suspension of closings during the holiday season won't help at least one post office. The Pimmit branch post office in Falls Church, Virginia, near Tyson's Corner outside Washington, DC, was told in September that it would be closed this Friday — a decision currently being appealed to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). The appellant, attorney Elaine Mittleman, a devoted patron of the Pimmit post office, also applied for a “suspension” that would have kept the post office open while the appeal was being heard. The PRC turned down the request today, and the post office will apparently close on Friday.
The Chairman of the PRC, Ruth Goldway, dissented from her colleagues on today’s Pimmit decision. It’s her fourth dissent on appeals cases since July. In her dissenting opinion, Goldway wrote, “For many years, the Postal Service has kept post offices open during the pendency of a post office closing appeal. In this case, involving a branch office, the Postal Service chose to proceed with closing despite the appeal underway. In my opinion, the Postal Service should, as a matter of course, suspend the closure of branches and stations, in addition to post offices, where a post office closing appeal is underway.”
If you’re not into the lingo, that’s a reference to the fact that “stations” and “branches” — post offices that are “secondary” to the main post office of a city — are, according to the Postal Service, not entitled to the same closing process as a main post office. The PRC has long disputed this, but the disagreement continues to fester, and Pimmit is now another victim of the unresolved debate. Today the majority of the PRC commissioners chose to side with the Postal Service, so the Pimmit branch will not get the benefit of the doubt and stay open while the appeal goes forward. That will make it even more difficult to win an affirmative decision from the PRC, and it could seal the fate of Pimmit.
Today’s markup of S.1789 provided better news, at least in part, by moving us closer to a moratorium on post office closings and the implementation of “service standards” that could make it more difficult to close small rural post offices, perhaps others as well. These service standards involve issues like the maximum time and distance a postal customer should reasonably be expected to travel to a post office, as well as demographic matters, like how seniors or other “vulnerable” populations might be impacted by a post office closing. (More on the service standards is here, and for more on the background to how the amendment came to be, see the NAPUS website.)
It could take a while to work out the details of the service standards, and the moratorium would presumably stop all closings during that time. The postal reform act might not prevent thousands and thousands of post offices from eventually closing, but it would certainly slow down the Postal Service in its effort to close post offices as fast as possible.
September 24, 2011
Remember Nader's Raiders, the group of young activists who went to Washington in the 60s and 70s (and beyond) to work with Ralph Nader in his fight for consumer protection, a clean environment, and accountable government? Among the hundreds of publications that came out of Nader's Center for Responsive Law are two of the best books written about the post office and the struggle between those who would privatize it and those fighting to maintain it as a public institution.
The first was The Postal Precipice: Can the U.S. Postal Service Be Saved? by Kathleen Conkey (1983), and it was followed by Preserving the People's Post Office by Christopher W. Shaw (2006). These two books are required reading for anyone who wants to understand the push to privatize the post office and why it needs to be resisted.
Nader has been a long-time advocate for the “people’s post office,” and he wrote the prefaces for both books (an excerpt is here). For years now, Nader has been advocating for the creation of a postal consumer action group that would represent the interests of citizens at the table of postal stakeholders.
This past August, Nader’s Center for Responsive Law entered the postal fray yet again by joining the Advisory Opinion process being conducted by the Postal Regulatory Commission on the USPS plan to close thousands of post offices. You can see their “interrogatories” posed to the Postal Service, along with the USPS responses, in the PRC docket, here.
This week Nader wrote a letter to Senator Joseph Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The letter explains how the “crisis” we’re hearing so much about has been totally manufactured and could be easily corrected by Congressional action. Readers of “Save the Post Office” are familiar with the story, but Nader’s letter does a very good job going over the numbers and explaining the details about how postal workers have overpaid billions of dollars into pension plans and their retiree health care plan.
Nader explains how the Postal Service has overpaid into the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) by as much as $75 billion, as well as overpaying into the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) by about $6.8 billion (as of FY 2009). Combined, these overpayments amount to about $82 billion. If a significant portion of these overpayments were returned to the Postal Service, the crisis would vanish in a flash.