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‘History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes’
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
As the winter holiday season approaches, it’s important to note one important rule of holiday regifting: Don’t regift something no one wants. NAPS’ legislative operation is working to ensure the House of Representatives does not drop the same piece of coal in the Christmas stocking that has been left in the past. In addition, there is growing realization in the halls of Congress that, as has been periodically attempted in the past, postal facility realignment fails to deliver—that is, deliver on time.
First, let’s talk about the resurrected attempt to gut postal and federal employee benefits. NAPS is working diligently with many of our federal and postal employee colleagues to deter creation of a “fiscal commission” whose purpose would be, in part, to reduce federal pensions, health benefits, Social Security and Medicare. As part of this collaborative federal and postal employee effort, NAPS was among 19 signatories of a Federal-Postal Coalition letter to all members of the House urging representatives to oppose creation of the fiscal commission. We’ve been down this road before.
The fiscal commission is contemplated to be one element of a FY24 budget deal. The commission would consist of 16 members, including 12 members of Congress and four “experts” tasked with providing Congress a list of benefit and budget cuts. The report would be submitted in late 2024—after the 2024 general election.
The report’s proposals would be unamendable and be subject to an up or down vote at a post-election, lame-duck session of Congress. As a result, Congress would be shielded from political pressure to oppose any or all of the recommendations. Historically, these types of commissions have been unpredictable and dangerous to public employees. In my recent memory, two such commissions were established.
In 1994, the “Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform” was jointly chaired by Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and John Danforth (R-MO). And in 2010, the “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Tax Reform” was chaired by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
Both commissions considered recommendations that would have cut postal retirement and health benefits. Fortunately, neither commission could muster the necessary number of votes to forward their recommendations to Congress for a vote. Nevertheless, the proposals and the resonance those proposals have along some corridors of the House, Senate and White House raise a red flag.
The current failure of the House to pass all the necessary appropriation bills, combined with the removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker and the protracted process to replace him, brought us to this point. The political environment for benefit cuts is ripe. Furthermore, as this column went to press, our country, once again, was being confronted with a House-inspired government shutdown. We all are attentive to the danger signs.
Second, let’s talk about the growing congressional awareness of the apparent decline of on-time First-Class Mail performance. Not long ago, Americans seeking to communicate with their elected leaders and get their attention on important matters would affix a postage stamp to a letter and send it to the U.S. Capitol office of their representative or senator. It took about three days to transit the continental United States from San Francisco to Washington, DC.
As this column went to press, the most recent information posted to the USPS Service Performance Dashboard shows that such a letter from a California constituent to their member of Congress would take almost six days. The on-time performance for First-Class Mail between San Francisco and the Capitol was an abysmal 43.40% for the week of Oct. 21-27; for the same week in 2022, the on-time performance was 92.80%.
I was curious, so I explored some other key areas of our nation where constituents seek to write their elected leaders. Let’s say a constituent of Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee, needed to write the postal subcommittee chairman a letter. That letter would arrive on time only 62.65% of the time during that week of October; the previous year it arrived 92.60% on time.
What about a constituent of Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs? The Michigan constituent’s letter arrived only 61.27% on time, compared with 93.27% of the time the same week last year.
Finally, I wanted to examine the mail service provided to Rep. James Comer’s (R-KY) constituents who need to contact him. As you may recall, Comer is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, co-sponsor of the Postal Reform Act of 2022 and author of the act’s provision that required a publicly available USPS Performance Dashboard.
Well, for the week of Oct. 21, mail sent by Comer’s constituents to his Washington office arrived on time only 66.75% of the time. The previous year, the same week, 89.41% of the mail arrived on time. You do the math on the performance slippage.
Time and time again, the Postal Service has tried to reengineer its network. As we know from history, such realignments have had an opportunity for success when employees, stakeholders and communities are engaged in the process and provided the data justifying the wisdom of the effort.
Regrettably, thus far, the performance facts aptly demonstrate that past attempts were simply prologue for the service declines. As NAPS has stated, responsible and comprehensive congressional and regulatory oversight is the best means of ensuring the Postal Service delivers service to the American public our citizens deserve, expect and demand.