Earlier versions of this article incorrectly said that the inspectors general for the U.S. Postal Service and the Office of Personnel Management estimated that the Postal Service has overpaid the Civil Service Retirement System by $50 billion to $75 billion. The Postal Regulatory Commission estimated an overpayment of approximately $50 billion, and the Postal Service inspector general estimated $75 billion. The OPM inspector general has not yet made an estimate. This version has been corrected.
Freshman leader of key House panel says he'll focus on federal payroll cuts
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 8:02 PM
The new chairman of the House subcommittee responsible for federal workers and the U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday that he plans to focus first on potential cuts to the federal payroll.
Freshman Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), a former lawyer for Disney World, will serve as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on federal workers, the Postal Service and labor policy. The panel's chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), tapped Ross and another freshman, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), to lead the panel, placing two of Capitol Hill's newest faces at the center of emerging debates over proposed cutbacks in federal pay and benefits and an overhaul of the beleaguered USPS.
Ross, 51, who represents Florida's 12th District, served in the state legislature before coming to Washington and once handled workers' compensation and entertainment contract issues for Disney World. Amash, 30, is the House's second-youngest member, and party leaders credit him with being among the first politicians to post detailed explanations of his votes on Facebook during his two years in the Michigan House.
Though the full oversight committee is expected to spend the first few weeks of the new Congress holding hearings on corruption in Afghanistan, the release of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and the nation's recent economic downturn, Issa said he wants Ross to explore building "a 21st-century federal workforce that no longer grows itself at the expense of private-sector job creation, and gets more done with less." Preventing "a fiscal meltdown" at the USPS is also "one of the central priorities" of the new Congress, Issa said in a statement.
In an interview Tuesday, Ross noted that he proposed trimming the federal payroll through pay freezes or attrition during his campaign. His new role, he said, presents "an exciting opportunity to open up and look inside the workings of our federal workforce" and learn more on a topic about which he admits he knows little.
President Obama last year ordered a two-year pay freeze for all federal employees, but the bipartisan deficit commission and several GOP lawmakers want to use a three-year pay freeze, furloughs and attrition to cut the government's payroll by billions of dollars in the next decade.
Ross's subcommittee will focus first on those proposals by gathering facts and not pushing "a hidden agenda," he said. "We want to ask a lot of questions, we want to get a lot of experts testifying before us, and we want to find out what it's going to take" to deliver benefits to active and retired federal employees in a cost-effective manner, Ross said.
Federal worker union leaders reached Tuesday knew little about Ross. Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she hoped to have an "open and productive working relationship" with him.
Her union and others are preparing to fight proposed cuts to federal pay and benefits, an issue that could grow more contentious when Obama releases his proposed 2012 budget next month.
Though the U.S. Postal Service is seeking serious structural reforms, it is unclear how far Congress is willing to go to revamp it.
The USPS lost $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in September, and postal executives are seeking more freedom to set delivery routes, close post offices and adjust prices without congressional approval - a potentially tricky vote for lawmakers who would probably face criticism for allowing the service to close neighborhood post offices.
Other proposals call for using billions of dollars in overpayments by the Postal Service to the Civil Service Retirement System to prefund about $5.4 billion in annual payments for future retiree health benefits. The Postal Regulatory Commission and the inspector general for the USPS estimate that the mail agency has overpaid the system by $50 billion to $75 billion.
The USPS's $15 billion line of credit with the Treasury is also set to expire in the coming months, meaning the agency will almost certainly run out of money by the end of the year, officials said.
Ross said little when asked about the USPS. "It provides a hell of a service," he said, but added that it may need to consider adopting some of the practices used successfully by FedEx and UPS.
The subcommittee post is "going to be a tremendous educational opportunity for me, but it's a challenge I find rather inviting," he said.