GAO: Postal processing network unwieldy

USPS has already proposed closing more than 200 processing centers in a restructuring that would largely eliminate overnight delivery of first-class mail. The agency, which is also seeking to shut down perhaps thousands of local post offices, currently projects that it is on track to lose north of $20 billion by 2016.

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But the Postal Service has also delayed shuttering any facilities until at least May 15, under a deal to allow Congress time to hash out postal reform bills. 

The Senate is expected to again try to take up a bipartisan postal reform measure after lawmakers return to Washington next week, after a previous procedural vote on that bill fell short. 

A House Republican measure is also awaiting floor consideration. 

In its report, GAO noted that the Postal Service had said it had saved some $2.4 billion through facility closures and other consolidation efforts since 2006. In all, first-class mail volume fell by roughly 30 billion pieces — or 29 percent — from fiscal 2001 to 2011. 

But USPS, which is looking to cut $22.5 billion in annual costs by 2016, needs congressional approval to move forward with other proposals, like switching to five-day delivery and increasing postal rates more swiftly than inflation. 

The Senate bill — which was introduced by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities More than 30 million families to lose child tax credit checks starting this weekend MORE (R-Maine), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks GOP senator blocks Biden EPA nominees over coal plant decision Biden raises vehicle mileage standards, reversing Trump rollback MORE (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) — would allow USPS to scrap six-day delivery after two years, while the House GOP bill would permit that move after six months. 

Carper said in a Thursday statement that the GAO report confirmed what lawmakers already knew — that USPS had already made serious efforts to cut costs, and that policymakers needed to continue to examine the agency’s processing network.

“I've long maintained that if something is worth having, it is worth paying for,” the Delaware Democrat said. “If Congress wants to require the Postal Service to maintain additional mail processing facilities, we have to figure out a way to reduce costs elsewhere or raise revenues.” 

The report also noted that the GAO had said in 2010 that Congress might want to consider an independent commission to approve a consolidation plan, much like the government has used the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to downsize military installations.

That sort of proposal is included in the House bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), though it also has its share of critics. 

“We cannot allow political interests to trump our responsibility to restore the Postal Service to solvency and protect the taxpayer from picking up the tab for surplus facilities,” Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in response to the new GAO report. 

Still, some lawmakers in both parties have criticized the current postal reform proposals in both chambers, and have also lashed out at USPS for proposing to close processing facilities in their states or districts.

Postal unions have joined some of those officials in calling on the USPS to find more solid fiscal footing by expanding their services, not consolidating them. And groups like the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service — which represents, among others, magazines and newspapers — have said they would oppose proposals that raise postage rates.

Roughly 100 House members, from both parties, sent a letter last month urging their chamber to take up legislation that would preserve six-day delivery and rural post offices. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersShame on Biden for his Atlanta remarks — but are we surprised? Overnight Health Care — Biden faces pressure from Democrats on COVID-19 Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE (I-Vt.) and other members of the Democratic Conference have tried to work with sponsors of the Senate bill to protect rural post offices. Sanders is also looking to protect current delivery standards.

Sanders and the signers of the House letter have also maintained that Congress should roll back a requirement that USPS prefund retiree healthcare benefits.