PRC chairman says USPS can 'keep moving forward'
If anyone in Washington should be worried about the future of the United States Postal Service, it should be Robert Taub, acting chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission.
He is, after all, the government's chief postal watchdog as well as someone who has played a key role in drafting laws that affect the USPS.
In a May 1 interview with Direct Marketing News, a mail industry publication, Taub offered his views on the Postal Service's ongoing financial plight.
"While the situation is not optimal, the good net operating news demonstrates that the Postal Service has the capability to keep moving forward," Taub said.
"They may have to hold some of their vehicles together with Band Aids, but they're going to meet their basic mission: to deliver."
That's unlike the rhetoric that former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and his predecessor, John E. "Jack" Potter, used to share with lawmakers.
Both repeatedly warned Congress that the USPS needed "comprehensive" legislation if it was to continue to operate.
Direct Marketing News senior editor Al Urbanski said in the May 1 article that the chances of Congress answering that call are "about as likely to occur as an upturn in First-Class Mail volume."
Taub did acknowledge that the USPS "has a mess on its balance sheet and legislation is needed to fix it."
He said, however, that the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which he helped write as a Republican staffer for the House Oversight Committee, has worked despite the dramatic plunge in postal revenues that followed the 2008 recession.
That law also required the USPS to prepay the anticipated healthcare costs of its retirees, a burden that the cash-hungry USPS has been unable to meet.
Taub praised the law in the interview, saying, "It set a regulatory regime for prices and products, has generally worked well and is a stable foundation for us to work on."
In a May 4 interview with Linn's, Taub repeated many of those remarks.
He also made clear that he believes the USPS is "in such a deep hole" that it must have some financial help from Congress.
That could be something as simple as stretching out the time during which the USPS must make its retiree health plan fully funded, he said.
But Taub also recalled he spent 12 years as a congressional aide trying to fashion postal legislation that all parties could support.
Winning support for postal legislation in Congress isn't easy, he noted.
Taub did express confidence that Congress will move on postal legislation but only when the public lets enough of their elected members know that they are behind changes to their mail service.
Sadly, he said, one of the problems is that Congress has never defined what it means by the "universal service" mandate it has laid down for the Postal Service.
If the public could agree on that, it might be easier for Congress to come to resolve what it should do with the nation's mail service.
As for the Postal Service's current condition, "it ain't pretty," Taub said.
But the agency isn't likely to collapse, he said.
That reflects the strengths of a regulatory system that has been often criticized by postal officials, but has worked pretty well in difficult times, he said.
Taub's remarks are significant because they reflect at least a tacit acceptance of the Postal Service's current financial woes: Not good, but livable, he said.
His comments also seem to indicate a growing consensus that the Postal Service's problems may remain on the back burner as lawmakers continue to hesitate over the broad scope of postal reforms that Donahoe and Potter were seeking.
Megan Brennan, the new postmaster general, has yet to spell out what she wants in the way of legislation.
Only Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., seemed to be excited by postal issues in the last Congress, and he lost his chairmanship of the key Senate postal committee when Republicans took control of that chamber in January. He has been holding informal meetings over the agency's problems, a slow track solution at best.
If postal legislation seems moribund on Capitol Hill this year, it may be because the USPS is still showing a small profit. The looming postal crisis isn't looming.
That's just what the postal unions were saying last year.
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