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Postal Legislation—Languishing in Legislative Limbo?
By Bob Levi
Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
Three confusing observations are percolating about the U.S. Postal Service. First, the agency has retained its historic position as the nation’s most valued federal agency. Second, the organization has failed to meet its self-declared service standards for all but one of its products and services. Third, the agency will run out of funds in 2024 absent postal legislation.
Indeed, protecting the Postal Service’s cherished position of public affection and reinvigorating the agency will hinge on improving its service performance; generating the revenue to support a universal, accessible and viable communications and logistics network; and being relieved of the onerous retiree health liability imposed on the agency through the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PL 109-435). The lynchpin for ac-complishing these goals is enactment of meaningful, constructive and realistic postal legislation.
In mid-May, the Gallup Organization released the results of an April 2019 poll that evaluated the public views of eight “high-profile” federal agencies. To the surprise of no one who is involved with the Postal Service, the agency retained its top spot, with a 74 percent approval rating. The 2019 poll reflects the same USPS approval rating as the poll conducted in December 2017.
The 2019 number-two spot was secured by the Secret Service, which trailed the Postal Service by 5 percent. Furthermore, Gallup illustrated that the Postal Service commands bipartisan support: 69 percent approval from registered Republicans and 76 percent from registered Democrats. The paradox is how the agency can preserve its broad public support in light of its financial and operational challenges, which are formidable.
It is beyond question that frontline managers and rank-and-file postal employees are doing the best they can with the dwindling resources provided by upper-management. However, the seams are showing.
On the same day Gallup unveiled its poll, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) issued its analysis of the USPS Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Performance Report and Fiscal Year 2019 Performance Plan. The PRC reviewed the agency’s performance goals, evaluated whether the agency achieved those goals and offered policy objectives.
In part, the commission concluded that the USPS failed to meet the “high-performance quality goal” for market-dominant products. Generally, the PRC evaluated on-time delivery of First-Class and marketing mail and periodicals. In addition, the PRC reported that the USPS met only one of nine targets for “excellent customer experience.” This composite score includes delivery, retail experience, customer care centers, usps.com and business mail entry units. The only metric that met or exceeded the target was the business mail entry unit.
In late April, before the Gallup and PRC reports, the House Oversight and Reform Committee conducted a hearing on the financial status of the Postal Service. At the hearing, Postmaster General Megan Brennan testified that, without much-needed legislation, the Postal Service will run out of funds in 2024. In part, the five-year window is attributable to the fact the Postal Service is paying for retiree health benefits—both its annual premium costs and its amortized future retiree liability—from the Postal Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, not from the operational budget.
If the Postal Service would comply with current law and make its annual payments into the Trust Fund, the agency would be insolvent next year. This stark warning should have been the unadulterated message of the hearing. However, a dispute between the Postmaster General and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) derailed the hearings and may have jeopardized the timing of postal legislation.
Meadows, the leading Republican advocate for bipartisan postal legislation, complained that he was misled by the Postal Service about when the agency would share its 10-year business plan with the committee. Meadows argued he was promised a January 2019 delivery date and that there was a subsequent communication breakdown with the Postal Service, including the inability of the agency to deliver on its promise of a business plan. Meadows cautioned the Postal Service that the controversy endangered his past advocacy in support of the agency.
Furthermore, he got Brennan to concede that the pending business plan likely would include a reduction in delivery frequency for letter mail. Full committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) sought to calm the controversy by acknowledging the necessity of Meadow’s constructive participation in postal legislation and directing the Postal Service to deliver its business plan to the committee in early July.
It’s unlikely that legislation will be introduced before the submission of the business plan. Regrettably, as Meadows commented, time is fleeting this year. The delay has broad implications for the success of a 2019 postal bill.
Indeed, many in the postal community had hoped for the expeditious introduction and prompt committee approval of postal legislation. This would have enabled the other committees of likely jurisdiction to have had the opportunity to review the measure before July and bring the bill to the House floor before the summer recess. Presently, meeting this timeline would be heroic.
Nevertheless, postal advocates must not be dispirited by the trials and tribulations of enacting comprehensive postal legislation. We must work together to lift reform from legislative limbo. We also must urge our members of Congress to join with their constituents to safeguard America’s most cherished government service, equip the agency with the resources to improve its performance and divest the organization of a punitive and unfair liability.