Posted on April 26, 2012
The Senate approved a bipartisan bill Wednesday aiming to restructure the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, clearing the way for a massive reduction in the agency’s workforce.
The final bill, passed by the Senate in a 62-37 vote, refunds to USPS overpayments it made to the federal retirement system. That will allow the agency to pay for buyouts for some 100,000 retirement-eligible employees. The bill also allows USPS to negotiate with its unions about moving postal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan and into a separate insurance program. The bill also allows USPS to move toward ending Saturday mail delivery. However, a number of amendments to the bill create hurdles in the Postal Service’s path toward closing facilities, including post offices and mail-processing facilities. As originally written, the 21st Century Postal Service Act requires USPS to conduct cost analyses and to gather “rigorous public comment” before closing facilities.
But over the course of two days of voting on dozens of amendments, lawmakers introduced several provisions weakening the agency’s ability to close postal facilities. While that may allow lawmakers to avoid the wrath of constituents, as the Associated Press reported, it significantly undercuts some of the proposed cost-savings in the original bill. Senators introduced some 39 amendments to the legislation, some of them only tangentially related to the Postal Service’s financial woes. All told, 20 of the amendments, including caps to agency conference spending and changes to the federal workers’ compensation program, were rolled into the final bill.
Closing facilities made more difficult
The bill bars the closing of rural post offices for at least one year and creates more stringent criteria for doing so. In order to shutter facilities, the next closest post office must be no more than 10 miles away.
No postal facilities could be closed before the November elections in states that offer voting by mail.
If a facility was previously certified efficient, before it can be closed, USPS would be required to conduct a new efficiency review.
About the only place senators agreed on closing postal facilities was in their own backyard, so to speak. The bill includes an amendment, introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that consolidates the seven congressional post offices to two — one for each chamber.
Not a done deal
Despite passage in the Senate, the bill still faces a gloomy future in the House. Postal legislation championed by Rep. Darell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was reported out of the oversight committee in January but has not yet been scheduled for a vote. Among other provisions, the House bill would allow USPS to more quickly move to a five-day delivery week and sets up an independent commission for closing postal facilities modeled on the process for shuttering military bases. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), introduced an amendment to the Senate bill essentially adopting the House’s approach. The Senate handily rejected that amendment in a roll-call vote Tuesday.
Source: Federal News Radio