Senate Floor Statement on Postal Reform Amendment

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The bill before us would make some important changes to existing law. There is little doubt that change is necessary; the Postal Service faces an extraordinary financial challenge, and it must make changes to take into account a new reality in which physical mail has in many cases been replaced by electronic communication.

But in making these necessary reforms, we must ensure that all the American people can continue to rely on the United States Postal Service to provide universal service, as it has since our nation’s founding. And we must ensure that in making changes, any reduction in facilities and personnel yields real cost savings to the Postal Service that outweigh the loss in service. One of the things we can do to assure that is to require that there be a real, objective way to test and challenge Postal Service proposals to close facilities. In an effort to meet those goals, I have joined with Senators Tester and Franken and others to propose an amendment that would make some important changes to the substitute amendment before us.

Here are some of the provisions of out amendment. Under current law, any interested party can appeal a proposed closure of a community’s main post office to the PRC, the Postal Regulatory Commission. The substitute before us extends that opportunity for appeal to branches of a post office. The substitute does not, however, extend that same appeal right to postal processing facilities. While the substitute acknowledges the need for some oversight over the closure of processing facilities, it is important to provide a meaningful chance to appeal a proposed closure of a mail processing facility. Our amendment does that.

The importance of providing a meaningful appeal process was reinforced by a recent experience of mine. In February, I wrote to Postmaster General Donahoe about the decision to close six processing facilities in Michigan. In my letter, I asked four questions: How many jobs would be affected at each facility? Of those, how many would be transferred to other facilities? How far would each transferred worker have to transfer? And what were the projected cost savings or additional costs at each affected facility? It seems to me that information is crucial to making informed decisions about whether to close a facility. But when the Postal Service responded to my letter nearly eight weeks later, the response did not answer any of these questions satisfactorily. An inability to provide that kind of basic information indicates to me that a fair opportunity to appeal is crucial.

Our amendment also clarifies that during the appeal process for post offices, branches, and processing facilities, the proposed closure shall be suspended – not just that it “may be” suspended, as is the case under current law. If the Postal Service can close a post office, branch or processing facility while the closure is under appeal, the appeal would be a sham.

Also, under current law and the substitute before us, the PRC has the authority to affirm a proposed closing or order that the matter be returned to the Postal Service for further consideration. Our amendment would grant the PRC the additional authority to reverse a closure decision.

Our amendment would also require that the Postal Service consider whether a proposed closing or consolidation is consistent with new retail service standards that the bill requires, and whether the proposed action achieves real and substantial cost savings.  And our amendment provides that the PRC set aside Postal Service decisions to close post offices and branches that do not achieve substantial economic savings. If our goal is to help save the postal service money, surely it is important that we do not allow actions that degrade service to our communities without actually saving money.

Postal reform is among the most significant issues we will consider this year. It touches every town and village, every person and every business across our nation. The Postal Service’s universal service obligation – the obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to an affordable, efficient postal system in order to communicate with one another – is among the most important obligations any agency or department has. It sets the Postal Service apart from private-sector firms that are under no obligation to serve all markets. The Postal Service’s first obligation is not profit. It is service.

Historically, the United States Postal Service has played a vital role in uniting Americans across the vast expanse of this continent, in connecting Americans far from home with their loved ones, in helping businesses reach customers across the nation and the globe. Establishing a postal service was among the first acts of the Continental Congress, an act that predates even the Declaration of Independence. The need to establish an efficient postal system for the colonies was deemed so important that Benjamin Franklin, one of the most respected leaders not just in America, but the world, was named our first postmaster general.

I have heard from many of my constituents on this issue, as I am sure all of us have. They recognize the need to reform the Postal Service and find efficiencies so that it can continue to serve all Americans. But they also want us to do this the right way – to ensure that any changes we make, in fact, put the Postal Service on a sound financial footing, and that we carefully balance the need for savings with the need to maintain service for all people and in every community across the nation. I believe our amendment will help us meet those goals, and I urge the bill’s managers and all our colleagues to support its adoption.