Postal Service Board's Criticism of Bills Could Hamper Agency Overhaul

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 15, 2005

The board of governors at the U.S. Postal Service muddled the outlook for a post office overhaul yesterday, saying House and Senate bills would give postal regulators too much power over the agency's internal operations.

"Regrettably, despite the intentions of all parties, it is our considered opinion that the bills provide neither the requisite flexibility nor the authority to accomplish our mission," the board said in a letter to members of Congress who oversee postal issues.

Postal analysts said the letter threw cold water over a decade of legislative effort to make the Postal Service more competitive and help it offset the loss of first-class mail revenue because of the growing use of e-mail.

Tom Day , senior vice president for government relations at the Postal Service, said the board was not undercutting the effort but trying to make clear where key changes need to be made in the House and Senate bills.

"We would still like to see legislative reform. It is a question of what form it takes," Day said.

Large and small mailers, postal unions and dozens of companies, including postal competitors, have had a voice in shaping the bills. Over the past year, Reps. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have worked to balance provisions to gain the support of the industry and members of Congress.

"The Postal Service has assured us that the letter is not an attempt to stop movement of the bill. Rather, it is meant as an attempt to maintain a constructive dialogue going towards conference," said Jen Burita , a spokeswoman for Collins.

The House approved its version 410 to 20 in July, and a Senate committee has approved a bill. Under typical procedures, House and Senate members resolve differences in their bills in a conference committee.

A spokesman for McHugh said the congressman was studying the Postal Service board's letter.

One congressional aide called the letter "disappointing" and suggested that the concerns raised should have been put on the table before the House voted to overhaul the agency. "You don't wake up in September 2005 and complain about things in the bill since June 1996," the aide said.

Among those signing the letter were James C. Miller III , chairman of the board of governors, John E. Potter , the postmaster general, and Patrick R. Donahoe , deputy postmaster general.

The postal board agreed that federal regulators should have enhanced and final authority over setting mail rates but objected to provisions that the board said would permit regulators to hold sway over the agency's business operations. The board also raised questions about whether rate-setting would be fair and manageable under the bills.

The board expressed support for financial relief proposals that have drawn the ire of the White House. The bills would divert several billion dollars from a special escrow account for retiree health care to cover operational costs and would transfer responsibility for paying military pension costs of postal employees to the Treasury Department.

The board began its letter by pointing out that the Postal Service has increased productivity for five consecutive years, resulting in cost savings of more than $1 billion each year, and has cut staffing to pre-1985 levels without layoffs.

Day said yesterday that the agency has developed plans to manage effectively, even within what many consider an obsolete business model, for the next two years.

If changes in the bills cannot be made, he said, "we would rather stay with current law."

OPM Staff Changes

Nancy Kichak has been named associate director for strategic human resources policy at the Office of Personnel Management.

She succeeds Ronald P. Sanders , who became chief human capital officer for the intelligence community, reporting to John D. Negroponte , the director of national intelligence.

Kichak has served as OPM's chief actuary and as deputy associate director for OPM's center for workforce planning and policy analysis. Her appointment was announced by Linda M. Springer , the OPM director.

Springer also named Tricia Hollis as chief of staff and director of external affairs and Robert J. Batson III as executive director and senior counselor.

barrs@washpost.com

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