Authors: Jeanette Torres
(WASHINGTON) -- For months, the Senate has attempted to pass a reform bill that would help the nation's ailing postal service. And now, it looks like Tuesday could be the day lawmakers move forward with the legislation.
The U.S. Postal Service sorely needs help -- it's $12 billion in debt and faces the potential to run out of money as soon as the fall, agency officials have said. The agency has had a 21 percent drop in mail over the last five years, faced with declining volume due to changing technology like email and bill payments online that has meant new challenges.
The Postmaster General has agreed to delay necessary closings of the anticipated 3,600 post offices nationwide until May 15 in order to give Congress the opportunity to help with legislation. With that deadline less than a month away, the changes Congress make will change the face of the USPS and will directly impact how customers get their mail and how much they pay to send snail mail.
The bill up for consideration in the Senate, by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-ME., is a major but measured piece of legislation.
It preserves overnight delivery and importantly maintains a six-day delivery for mail, widely seen by some as one of the simplest reforms to save the postal service. The bill requires two more years of studies to determine whether to switch to five-day delivery would be viable. It would help the institution modernize to meet the technological challenges they have been facing by calling for the appointment of a “chief innovation officer” to find new ways to bring in postal revenue.
The bill would cut in half the number of mail processing centers the USPS currently wants to close -- from 252 to 125.
The bill would also slow, if not stop, many post office closings by forcing the agency to consider the special needs of rural communities and undergo additional layers of regulatory approval. For instance, the Postal Service might have to downsize rather than close facilities, or factor in whether rural residents might have poor Internet service or have to travel longer road distances should a post office close.
In the meantime, the Postal Service would get a cash infusion of roughly $11 billion, basically a refund of overpayments it made in previous years to a federal retirement fund. The agency could use the money to pay down debt and offer buyouts to 100,000 postal employees.
On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on a slew of amendments, including one that would limit government conference spending and calls for more transparency for conference spending. Aides believe that the final vote on the post office bill could come as early as Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is pursuing their own legislation, as well. The House committee on Oversight and Government Reform is currently crafting its own bill. The GOP’s edition would block no-layoff clauses in labor agreements, and create an appointed commission to help the USPS scale back costs and move towards a five-day delivery week.
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