The House probably won't take up the measure this session, but the senate is now on record as far as making sweeping changes to the way the Postal Service is run, including the possible elimination of Saturday delivery in 2 years, and early retirement for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Congress moved one step closer Wednesday to overhauling the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service by approving sweeping reforms to rebalance the mail agency's finances and help cut the size of its delivery network.
The bipartisan measure passed 62 to 37 and would give the Postal Service nearly $11 billion to offer buyouts and early retirement incentives to hundreds of thousands of postal workers and to pay off its debts. Revised estimates on how much USPS owes to federal worker pension accounts have determined that the agency has overpaid its obligations to the fund over several years.
The measure also would permit the end of Saturday mail deliveries in two years, only after USPS determines it is financially necessary. The Postal Service also could move forward with plans to shutter thousands of post offices and hundreds of mail distribution centers - but senators placed several restrictions on when, where and how outposts in rural communities could be closed.
The bill also modifies mail service standards to ensure that the Postal Service preserves the overnight delivery of mail sent to nearby communities, but allows USPS to slow the delivery of mail destined for destinations farther away.
The Postal Service has warned for years that it is on the verge of financial collapse and can no longer sustain operating a delivery network that still processes 554 million pieces of mail a day. It hopes to cut more than $22 billion in costs by 2015 as the popularity of snail mail declines. Letter carriers delivered just 168 billion pieces of mail last year, down from 202.8 billion delivered a decade ago, according to postal figures.
In effect, the bill partially deregulates the Postal Service. The USPS will now be able to close unprofitable and little used rural post offices and mail centers, cut a day of delivery that only costs the USPS, and reduce a work force in a business that is believed to be too labor intensive. Easing regulations passed by Congress on next day delivery for some mail will also help the USPS achieve a break even point.
There is still some use for a national postal service - at least for the time being. But these changes will be opposed by many. Still, it's hard to see how a privatized Postal Service can continue on the path it has been going without constantly seeking taxpayer bail outs.