Even before he was officially in a position to do much about it, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was adamant that the U.S. Postal Service needed to cut costs faster and deeper. After Issa became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this January, the looming question was just how he would push that agenda.
The answer: Treat America’s biggest mail carrier like the District of Columbia.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled Congress set up a “board of control” that essentially stripped the district of home rule with the goal of putting its problematic finances in order. Now, Issa wants to do something similar for the Postal Service, with the creation of a panel that could override the postmaster general, void union contracts, and basically prod the mail carrier to do whatever it takes to return to solvency, according to a newly introduced 132-page bill.
Here’s how it would work: If the Postal Service defaults on any obligations to the federal government (and an oversight committee spokesman confirmed that this would include the billions of dollars in prepayments into the USPS retiree health care fund due each September), it would quickly slide into what the bill delicately labels as a “control period.”
The President would then name a five-member commission (officially known as the Postal Service Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority) that would assume overall management responsibility. Among other powers, the authority would approve the Postal Service’s budget and hire and fire top managers. Its tour of duty would end only when the Postal Service made it through two consecutive fiscal years in the black.
The bill would also give the Postal Service a green light to go to five-day-a-week delivery. But from the perspective of current USPS management, which desperately wants such authority, that appears to to be its only major positive. In a news release, agency leaders expressed disappointment that the legislation wouldn’t eliminate the prepayment requirement and that it “would create more government bureaucracy and slow our progress on streamlining our operations.”
The agency adds that it’s not really interested in another $10 billion in Treasury borrowing authority that the legislation would provide. While the expanded line of credit would be available only during the control period subject to the authority’s approval, “the Postal Service does not need to incur additional debt–we need the money back that is already owed to us,” the release says in an allusion to overpayments into its pension program identified by the USPS inspector general and an outside actuarial firm.
In case anyone’s forgotten, incidentally, the Postal Service stopped paying employer contributions into the Federal Employees Retirement System last Friday as a way of holding on to more of its fast evaporating cash.
No hearing or markup on Issa’s legislation has been scheduled at this point.