News & information

NALC Legislative Update: Dec. 19, 2014

113th Congress adjourns

Following passage of the Fiscal Year 2015 funding bill (H.R. 83) and a $41.6 billion temporary tax extenders package, and ending with Senate consideration of some pending nominations, both the House and Senate adjourned this week and will not return to Washington until Jan. 6, when the 114th Congress will be sworn in.

With regard to USPS, all of the major postal reform bills—both the good (H.R. 961 and S. 316) and the bad (H.R. 2748 and S. 1486)—failed to pass during the 113th Congress. This means that, in 2015, letter carriers will have to start the conversation all over again regarding the Postal Service and to push for postal reforms that protect workers and the postal networks. NALC’s preparations are underway to build new relationships and alliances on issues of importance to letter carriers.

As far as the returning members of Congress are concerned, we will to continue to focus on educating them and promoting good legislation that protects letter carriers’ interest and the postal networks.

Concerning pending nominations for postal-related postions, the Senate was able to confirm the two Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) nominations: Nanci Langley and Tony Hammond. For the Postal Board of Governors (BOG), which no longer has a working quorum, none of the five pending nominations were approved in the final hours of Senate business (when the bulk of the other pending nominations were approved). The BOG nominees included Jim Miller, Mickey Barnett, Vikki Kennedy, Stephen Crawford and David Bennett. Miller’s nomination raised some objections due to his previous calls for privatizing USPS. Additionally, Barnett, whose term expired in early December, faced objections from civil rights groups because of his payday-lending background. Since none of the BOG nominations were approved by the end of the 113th Congress, they must be resubmitted during the 114th.

During the 114th Congress, postal issues will almost certainly be prominently debated in the crafting of new postal reform bills, in the annual appropriations process and in ongoing funding debates. Just as we do with each Congress, the NALC in 2015 will get another bite at the apple when shaping policy surrounding our core issues, including protecting six-day mail delivery, addressing the onerous pre-funding mandate, preserving existing service standards and using the Postal Service’s valuable infrastructure and networks to innovate and grow. Protecting the USPS’ viability and future is entirely dependent on letter carrier activists continuing to educate Congress regarding the invaluable services that we provide and our importance to communities around the country.

Our mobilization efforts will be paramount in getting lawmakers to embrace the right postal reform. Please monitor the Government Affairs web page in the coming weeks for news and updates regarding the 114th Congress and NALC’s legislative and political efforts.

House leaders released that chamber’s calendar for the 114th Congress (click here). The Senate has yet to release its calendar. Regarding Congress’ most immediate priorities, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that he will focus on passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, on discussion of filibuster rules and on a plan to counter President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. House leaders have signaled that they, too, will explore options to block the president’s immigration action, in addition to looking at other avenues to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Cromni-cromnibus-omnibus: FY 2015 government funding approved

Following weeks of post-election debate regarding the funding of the government beyond Dec. 12, when the last government-funding continuing resolution (CR) was set to expire, House and Senate lawmakers approved the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 83) to fund government operations through Fiscal Year 2015, which ends on Sept. 30, 2015. The House passed the legislation on Dec. 11, the Senate passed it on Dec. 13 and President Obama signed the measure on Dec. 17.

As a part of the funding deal, 11 out of 12 individual appropriations measures were rolled in to an omnibus appropriations bill, which sets total FY 2015 spending at $1.1 trillion. For the 12th appropriation, for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Republicans insisted on a CR lasting through February only, to use that deadline to try to defund the White House’s recent immigration action (see the Nov. 21 Legislative Update), actions that resulted in the so-called “cromnibus” appropriations package and set the stage for battles early in 2015 on funding for DHS.

DHS funding became a source of contention between House and Senate Republicans, who are angry over Obama’s recently announced executive order that protects nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation by deferring for three years action on some categories of children and parents.

With regard to USPS, the NALC along with the other three postal worker unions lobbied successfully to retain and preserve our long-standing appropriations language that mandates six-day mail delivery. In addition, the four unions worked with lawmakers to put an end to outgoing Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to close and/or consolidate 82 mail processing plants in 37 states, a plan slated to begin in January. In the end, appropriators failed to act after determining that, to keep those plants open, an offsetting budget cut had to be made to satisfy the House’s “PAYGO” rules. However, lawmakers did include language indicating how the USPS Office of Inspector General concluded that USPS had not completed all of the impact analyses (that is, the Area Mail Processing feasibility studies) required by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.

The appropriations text goes on to encourage USPS to “complete the required analysis in advance of the proposed closings, with sufficient outreach and communication to the affected communities.”

In addition, appropriators inserted language in the cromnibus regarding letter carrier safety, specifically directing the postmaster general to report to the Committee on Appropriations of the House and Senate the steps that the Postal Service will take in FY2015 to improve postal worker safety.

The cromnibus also included alarming calls to significantly cut pension benefits for current recipients who are covered under a multi-employer pension plan if that plan is in jeopardy of failure within 15 years and is less than 80 percent funded. Multi-employer pension plans are labor-management retirement plans that together provide coverage to 10 million workers and retirees through more than 1,400 different pension plans.

Senate committee assignments announced

When the House and Senate convene on Jan. 6, both bodies will be under Republican-majority leadership, with the Senate having 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents and the House having 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats.

This week, Senate Democrats announced that their committee leadership assignments will remain unchanged for the committees of particular importance to letter carriers. For the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) will move from chairman to ranking member, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will move from chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations to ranking member. As this was prepared, Senate Republicans had only announced committee assignments but not committee leaders. Republican assignments and chairmanships are subject to ratification first by the Republican conference and then by a vote of each respective panel.

For the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the following senators were named to the committee: Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Boozman (R-AR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

For the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs: John McCain (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Lankford (R-OK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mike Enzi,(R-WY), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tom Carper (D-DE), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI).

Complete details and announcements regarding final House committee and subcommittee assignments are not expected to be made official until the House reconvenes in January. As previously reported, the House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee chairman will be Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who takes over for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will continue to serve as ranking member.

With regards to the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and the Postal Service, Chaffetz has announced that Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) will replace Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) to lead the revamped and renamed Subcommittee on Government Operations.

Additional announcements regarding committee assignments, size and leadership are expected in the coming weeks.

Finally, while no official announcements have been made, that subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), is not expected to remain in that role. Stay tuned for official announcements…

2015 will see numerous discussions on Capitol Hill about the Postal Service, primarily postal reform. It will not be long before the chairmen of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee begin the postal conversation. OGR Chairman Chaffetz and Ranking Member Cummings will have to work together to advance a new bill. Similarly, HSGAC Ranking Member Carper will begin discussions with the expected incoming chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). Stay tuned…

Senate introduces companion ‘wounded warriors’ act

On Dec. 11, Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced S. 3001, the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, which seeks to provide first-year federal workers with service-related disabilities 104 hours of sick leave to use for medical visits. Currently, first-year government workers accrue only four hours of sick leave each pay period, forcing many veterans with disabilities to take unpaid leave because they have not yet built up enough leave time.

While the legislation is similar to the House’s H.R. 5229, which was introduced this summer (see the Aug. 1 Legislative Update), there are a couple of small differences between the two versions. The Senate bill includes specific language ensuring coverage of postal employees who are not under Title V and allows the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) a year to finalize its regulations, as opposed to the six months proposed in the House version.

“Men and women who serve our country in battle and again for a federal agency shouldn’t be reaching into their own pockets to treat service-related injuries,” Tester said. “Many of these injuries require time-consuming care, and this common-sense bill makes sure veterans can get the care they need while better honoring our commitment to those who wear the uniform.”

“Service-disabled veterans who have served our nation with duty and honor deserve peace of mind when transitioning into the federal workforce and civilian life,” Moran said. “The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act will help make sure certain veterans can pursue a career in the federal government and support their families while also addressing their medical treatment needs.”

Unfortunately, given the constraints of the House and Senate calendars, the legislation did not receive full consideration in the 113th Congress. Tester and Moran plan to reintroduce their bill in the 114th Congress.

House holds hearing on pension processing

Last Friday, the House subcommittee with USPS oversight held a hearing to follow up on the backlog in the federal employee retirement process. Witnesses included OPM Associate Director of Retirement Services Kenneth Zawodny, OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour, Government Accountability Office (GAO) Director of Information Management and Technology Resources Issues Valerie Melvin, and National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) President Richard Thissen.

During the hearing, the subcommittee reviewed the backlog of claims from recent annuitants. The committee acknowledged that progress has been made as the OPM reached its 2012 goal in reducing the overall backlog of claims. According to OPM, in January 2012, 60,000 claims were backlogged and that number had been reduced to 14,000 by last month. Hearing discussion was also devoted to the impact of sequestration cuts along with an increased volume of annuitants from the Postal Service’s early retirement offers, factors that made the OPM’s overall backlog processing-reduction goals harder to achieve. OPM representatives testified that the agency is working to eliminate 75 percent of backlogged claims. Currently, 84 percent of annuitants are processed within 60 days. This is 6 percent shy of OPM’s goal that needs to be met to demonstrate sustainable progress.

The committee also devoted significant discussion and questions to the new influx of retirees that is on the horizon. Subcommittee Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA) encouraged a more swift transition to an electronic-based system to quickly process future annuitants.

“I want to commend OPM for successfully achieving its 2012 strategic plan goal of reducing retirement claims backlog to a manageable level, which was earlier 60,000 claims backlogged in January 2012 to just 14,000 claims at the beginning of this month,” Lynch said. “I know the sequestration made that accomplishment harder to achieve and the large increase in retirement applications resulting from the early retirement and buyout offers from the Postal Service.”