Cummings: Save the Postal Service Through Innovation

During the last Congressional recess, dozens of postal workers and everyday Americans took to the streets across the country to protest legislative efforts to dismantle the Postal Service.

At a rally in my district, my constituents said they are fed up with the nonstop partisanship in Washington, D.C., that continues to lead to stalemates on issues of national importance. They fear that postal reform will be next.

Without a comprehensive, bipartisan proposal that overhauls the Postal Service’s business model, one of our nation’s most visible and trusted institutions will continue to struggle in today’s digital age.

Americans are no longer going to the post office to mail bills or birthday cards by the hundreds. Electronic cards and online bill paying are now a mouse-click away.

Mail volume has declined from 212 billion pieces of mail in 2008 to a projected 167 billion pieces this year. Today’s sluggish economy only makes matters worse, and this decline will likely continue.

Congress also shares some of the blame. The Postal Service would be in the black today if a law passed in 2006 did not require it to prepay medical costs for future retirees at an accelerated rate. Because of this mandate, the Postal Service has paid more than $42 billion to the U.S. Treasury to prefund future retiree health care benefits. No other federal agency or private-sector company faces this burdensome requirement.

The Postal Service can no longer remain a viable public service simply by selling stamps and renting post office boxes. Congress must provide the Postal Service with options to innovate and the latitude needed to return to profitability. This process will succeed only if it is bipartisan.

The Senate has taken some promising steps to find a bipartisan way forward. Unfortunately, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has chosen a different approach. Rather than working together on a consensus bill that could garner wide bipartisan and bicameral support, our committee will consider a bill (H.R. 2309) that was muscled out of subcommittee with no amendments from any other Members.

The bill, authored by Issa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy, would essentially dismantle the Postal Service by slashing services, personnel and facilities.

The bill would set an artificial tripwire for the Postal Service to come under the authority of a new control board. This board could abrogate contracts that workers negotiated in good faith with Postal Service management, and the board could terminate workers without even giving them severance payments.

It is our committee’s responsibility to develop legislation that actually has a chance of being passed by Congress and signed into law. This bill does not meet that test.

In contrast, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and I recently introduced the Innovate to Deliver Act, or the I2D Act (H.R. 2967). This bill would enable the Postal Service to meet its financial challenges by implementing reforms in three core areas: profitability, personnel and performance.

Unlike other proposals, the I2D Act would empower the Postal Service to function more like a business by focusing on profitability and accountability to stakeholders — in this case, the American people.

It authorizes the Postal Service to enter into new lines of business, such as check-cashing, facility leasing and retail services, that leverage its unprecedented presence in communities across the country. 

The I2D Act will also create a new chief innovation officer to drive the development of these innovative products and services, as well as new core mailing services.

The I2D Act would correct the overpayments made by the Postal Service to its retirement system and allow the right-sizing of its workforce by enabling the Postal Service to provide incentives for voluntary separation and early retirement. The bill would streamline Postal Service procedures to ensure that its excellent performance record is preserved and improved.

One thing the I2D Act would not do is deny workers the rights that they are guaranteed in contracts negotiated with Postal Service management — a step that is counterproductive and unnecessary.

The Postal Service reaches every corner of every state, touches the lives of millions Americans and truly binds our nation together. We must work together in a bipartisan manner to transform one of America’s most treasured and trusted public institutions into a healthy and profitable enterprise for the next century.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.