Postal reform commission delivers final report

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Mailing industry executives applauded the reform proposals contained in the final report of the President’s Commission on the U.S. Postal Service, a nine-member bipartisan committee of private enterprise executives who spent eight months studying the problems plaguing the USPS.

"We are really pleased," said Nina Link, president-CEO of the Magazine Publishers of America. "They focused on the key areas that would bring some [financial] stability to the postal service, hold them accountable and bring them some flexibility where they need it."

The commission delivered its final report, titled "Embracing the Future: Making the Tough Choices to Preserve Universal Mail Service," to President Bush on July 31. It contains recommendations for both legislative and administrative reforms of the USPS’ business model to avoid a significant taxpayer bailout or large postage increases.

Replacing Rate Commission

Among the key proposals is replacing the five-member Postal Rate Commission with a Postal Regulatory Board, comprising three people appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, with broader flexibility in setting rates.

That would be a big improvement, say many mailers. "You’d have a ceiling for rates and some predictability both in terms of the size and the timing of rate increases," said Ed Gleiman, principal at EJG Consulting and consultant to the Direct Marketing Association on postal matters. Gleiman formerly was chairman of the Postal Rate Commission.

Another recommendation is that the USPS’ current board of governors be changed to a corporate-style board of directors to help mirror best practices of private sector companies.

Link said that now that the report has been presented to the president, the industry needs to remain vigilant in order to garner continued support for the recommendations. "We have to really push to keep this on the front burner; and where it requires legislation, we have to make our case in front of members of Congress," she said. "We need to ensure the administration supports it."

Bob Krakoff, chairman-CEO of publisher Advanstar Communications Inc., called the delivery of the final report "round one of a multi-round fight."

He cautioned: "The ABM [American Business Media] and MPA and everyone else have a big job to do to make sure Congress really understands the importance and validity of decisions that were made [regarding operational changes]."

The Mailing Industry CEO Council, a lobbying group, also endorsed the proposals. "We now hope that the administration and Congress will take timely action to put these critical recommendations into effect," said Michael J. Critelli, chairman of the trade group and chairman-CEO of Pitney Bowes Inc.

Many in the mailing industry expressed optimism that the report would make postal reform legislation a priority. "It’s hard to predict, but I believe a number of the changes that have been recommended over time will be adopted," Link said.

Others were more cautious in their assessment. "It’s not going to be a slam dunk," Gleiman said. "Hopefully, the administration will support the recommendations and encourage the House and Senate to make some effort to get some of these recommendations enacted into law."

The commission was established in part to de-politicize the reform process. "For the last seven years, we’ve been crying out for a presidential commission," said Gordon Hughes, president-CEO of American Business Media.

Closing a number of post offices and reducing the USPS payroll to an "appropriately sized work force" are among the recommendations of the commission. The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

American Postal Workers Union President William Burrus issued a strongly worded statement denouncing the report, calling it "seriously flawed" and vowing a "vigorous campaign to ensure that its recommendations do not become law." He said the recommendations serve "only the needs of the big advertising mailers at the expense of the American people."

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