Postmaster general says USPS could cut its workforce

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

As Postmaster General John E. Potter met with lawmakers Thursday to discuss his plans for restructuring the U.S. Postal Service, he acknowledged that the mail agency could further reduce its workforce.

Asked by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) whether postal employees at all levels were being fully utilized, Potter said, "The answer is no, but are we operating in an optimum world? The answer is no."

Potter appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to defend his call for greater flexibility to cut Saturday mail delivery, raise postage rates and potentially close or consolidate thousands of post offices. The proposal also calls for cutting tens of thousands of jobs through attrition and layoffs. The Postal Service stands to lose about $238 billion in the next 10 years if Congress fails to act, Potter said.

"We do have a very aggressive plan that's been laid out and shared," Potter said, noting that he has tried to make other cuts but is "often constrained by folks getting involved and suggesting to us that we don't do it, including some of the folks in the Congress."

Though no lawmaker wholeheartedly endorsed all of Potter's ideas, as a group they seemed eager to address the impending financial shortfall.

"The one thing we believe we are all in agreement on is that doing nothing is no longer a viable option," said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.).

But how the Postal Service should change remains open to debate.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he would introduce legislation allowing Potter to establish a panel, similar to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, to independently assess which post offices should close. He has also proposed establishing at least eight postal holidays during slow periods instead of cutting Saturday deliveries.

"To say that we're going to eliminate 52 days of service is not necessarily going to drive volume forward," Chaffetz said. "I don't think eliminating Saturday delivery before the Christmas holiday is necessarily wise."

Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Y. Goldway, whose panel will issue a nonbinding opinion on Potter's plans later this year, criticized the idea of moving post offices into supermarkets or pharmacies.

"Ask the small towns of America if they think government business should be conducted in Wal-Marts," she said. "Why would any rational person compare the function of a post office to Wal-Mart, as the Postal Service consultants did?"

Goldway urged the Postal Service to convert its 220,000-vehicle fleet to run on electricity, provide more government services at post offices, open a 24-hour post office in every major city and partner with the Census Bureau to conduct the 2020 Census.

"Improvements that may seem small can create the incremental reinvigoration that begets real growth," Goldway said.

Chaffetz later criticized Goldway's "very subjective" comments, saying she improperly offered her personal opinions before the commission's final report had been completed.

Potter also asked lawmakers to address recent findings by the postal inspector general that the mail agency overpaid the Civil Service Retirement System by $75 billion. Refunding the entire overpayment would ease the agency's financial woes but would not fully close the gap, Potter said.

A Senate subcommittee is set to meet Thursday to consider Potter's plans.

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