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Few surprises in first of two hearings on S. 1486

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has Postal Service oversight, held the first of two hearings today on the flawed postal bill, S. 1486, introduced by committee chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and ranking member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

“If passed, this bill would set the Postal Service on downward spiral,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said, “by calling for the slow dismantling of Postal Service’s retail, mail processing and last-mile delivery networks that are crucial for the booming e-commerce sector, while maintaining the misguided 2006 postal reform law mandate to pre-fund future retiree health benefit costs decades in advance.”

Today’s 2½-hour hearing focused mainly on rates and revenue. Among those called to testify before today’s hearing were Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway, USPS Inspector General David Williams, American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey and National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association President Jeanette Dwyer.

During today’s hearing, the postmaster general told the committee that the Postal Service’s package business continues to grow dramatically and substantially, even as first-class mail revenue has declined.

But it’s probably no surprise, though, that even armed with this information, Donahoe said he still fully supports S. 1486.

Meanwhile, Inspector General Williams noted that first-class mail declines are slowing as the economy continues to gradually recover, adding that USPS needs to embrace technology and better leverage its unique universal network.

On the question of whether the Postal Service should be allowed to reduce the number of days of delivery as proscribed by S. 1468, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a staunch supporter of the Postal Service who serves on the committee, strongly disagreed with such a notion, saying that she believes six-day delivery is USPS’ competitive advantage.

“Package delivery is key,” she said. And she should know: “I spend a lot more time clicking, rather than driving, for shopping,” she added with a laugh.

PRC Chairman Goldway noted that the Postal Service is the address-master for America, with a database relied upon my first-responders as well as online markers.

“It’s a vital network,” she said, committed to providing universal service to all Americans, especially the one-third of postal customers who lack access to broadband Internet.

Perhaps most surprising were comments toward the end of the hearing from Sen. Coburn, who hasn’t exactly been seen as the biggest fan of the Postal Service’s employee unions. “We can make USPS viable,” he said, “but we can’t do it on the backs of the people who work for USPS.

“The Postal Service can’t shrink to survive,” he said.