Issa: USPS must shave labor costs

Issa’s talk comes as policymakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing to make reforms to USPS, which has seen mail traffic decline in recent years and posted up to a $10 billion deficit during the recently ended 2011 fiscal year.

The Postal Service had also said that it would not make a scheduled $5.5 billion prepayment for retiree healthcare costs by its Sept. 30 deadline. The deal struck by lawmakers to fund the government through mid-November pushes back the due date for that USPS payment.

Issa’s bill passed a House Oversight subcommittee on a party-line vote last month, sending it to the full panel. Democrats in the chamber also have their own plan to give the Postal Service a makeover.

Across the Capitol Rotunda, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced the Senate version of Issa’s legislation, while Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have USPS reform bills.

Senate aides are hopeful that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on which both Collins and Carper are senior members, would mark up a Postal Service bill this month.

Even with all the competing proposals to help the agency — the White House has released a plan on the matter as well — Issa, Collins, Carper and other lawmakers have expressed hope that officials from the two parties can work together on a USPS plan.

But unions for postal workers have been sharply critical of Issa’s plan, saying it would end the Postal Service in its current form and takes the wrong approach to fixing the agency’s cash problem.

Issa’s bill would, among other steps, empower a new oversight board to recommend post office closures and try to shave costs by moving away from to-the-door delivery.

At Monday’s Heritage event, the California Republican also laid out several reasons why he believed there would be a place for USPS in the years to come.

Issa said he believed that the Postal Service plays a crucial role in delivering prescription drugs to rural addresses, and that it could work more closely with FedEx and UPS.

“UPS doesn’t want to deliver an ounce to an island in northern Alaska,” Issa said, saying it could make more sense for one carrier instead of three to deliver to more isolated locations.

Issa also envisioned using postal workers to help out with the decennial Census, which currently relies heavily on temporary workers, and making it easier for retired employees to help USPS out during the holiday rush.

But Issa also signaled that the military’s personnel practices might be a good guide for the Postal Service, which has negotiated labor contracts with layoff protections.

“The Army tells you: ‘You’ve got your 20 years. Goodbye,’ ” Issa said. “The Army doesn’t let you stay until you’re ready to retire.”

The Postal Service did signal over the summer that it was considering asking Congress to allow it to lay off 20 percent of its workforce, which would require scrapping some layoff protections. That proposal was slammed by postal unions.