Ross renews call for Postal Service reform

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 89 views 

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, used his Memorial Day to renew a call for passage of legislation he claims “will avoid drastic cuts” within the U.S. Postal Service.

Ross, a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark, have been some of the most vocal critics of an earlier USPS plan to cut costs.

On April 28, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service announced it would close the Fort Smith mail processing operation and move the work to Fayetteville. Other USPS announcements through the year also targeted numerous rural post office facilities in Arkansas.

The USPS on Sept. 15, 2011, announced a national plan that would include the study of about 250 processing facilities for possible consolidation or closure, reducing mail processing equipment by as much as 50%, decreasing the nationwide transportation network, cutting up to 35,000 jobs, and revising service standards for first-class mail and periodicals.

In the plan announced Sept. 15, the USPS said it would essentially move all mail processing in Arkansas to Little Rock and create lengthier mail delivery times and the loss of more than 200 jobs in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith.

Primarily because of pressure from Congress, the USPS said Dec. 13 it would delay closing or consolidation plans until May 15, 2012. And recently, the USPS unveiled a new five-year plan for profitability. USPS officials seek an end to Saturday mail delivery, close hundreds of letter-sorting facilities and thousands of post offices and consider breaking union contracts to fire employees. It also wants to set up an independent health plan, raise postal rates and enter lines of business such as delivering wine and liquor.

The USPS announced May 10 that its second quarter (Jan. 1 – March 31) net loss was $3.2 billion, worse than the $2.2 billion loss in the same quarter of 2011.

“The losses are due primarily to legislative mandates such as the unique mandated pre-funding of retiree health benefits, and prohibiting management from making the needed operational and human resource changes required to address these issues under current laws and contracts,” the USPS noted in its statement.

Excluding the pre-funding requirement, the quarterly loss would have been $486 million during the quarter, compared to a $469 million loss in the same quarter of 2011.

“We are aggressively pursuing new revenue streams and reducing costs in areas within our control,” Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe said in the earnings report. ”These actions are not enough to return the Postal Service to profitability. The legislative changes outlined in our business plan will enable us to reduce annual operational expenses by approximately $22.5 billion by 2016 and set the stage for long-term financial stability so we can continue to provide secure, reliable and economical universal service to the American public.”

The bill Ross supports, HR 1351, would essentially eliminate the pre-funding mandate.

“I have helped introduce a bill, H.R. 1351, to eliminate a requirement that the Postal Service pre-pay future retiree medical benefits, which is not required of any other federal agency.  This common sense bill would save the Postal Service so much money that repealing this one requirement would give the agency a profit over the last four years,” Ross reiterated in a statement released Monday (May 28.) “H.R. 1351 will help to strengthen the U.S. Postal Service for generations to come. Passing this legislation will avoid drastic cuts in service, layoffs, and the unnecessary closure of post offices and mail processing facilities in the future.”

U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock; and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, have not agreed to co-sponsor the bill. The legislation remains stuck in the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service, and Labor Policy.

Ross is not running for re-election to the 4th Congressional District. Although considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2014 Arkansas Gubernatorial race, Ross recently announced he will instead join Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool as senior vice president for government affairs and public relations.