Clock ticking on U.S. Postal Service default

Thu Sep 1, 2011 5:49pm EDT

* Countdown to USPS Sept. default on health payment

* Senate panel meets on Tuesday, USPS official to testify

* USPS plan would change service standards, infrastructure

By Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Republican Representative Darrell Issa is pressuring Congress to act on his controversial plan to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service by ticking down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the beleaguered mail agency defaults on its obligations.

SavingthePostalService.com, launched on Thursday to detail problems dogging the agency and tout Issa's bill, is the latest indication that lawmakers plan to tackle the mail agency's financial straits, which are set to come to a head in late September.

That's when the Post Service is due to make a $5.5 billion retiree health payment that officials say the agency can't afford.

The Postal Service, which delivers almost half the world's mail and employs more than half a million Americans, is relying on relief from a Congress absorbed by partisan fighting and a nasty debate on how to cut the federal deficit.

The agency lost $3.1 billion in the last quarter and has asked Congress to cut Saturday mail delivery and allow it to dip into an estimated retirement fund surplus to pay other obligations. Two proposals in the Senate and two in the House take different approaches to solving the problem. [ID:nN1E77I0WT]

A Senate committee on government affairs will meet on Tuesday, the day senators return from recess, to hear from Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, postal union leaders and others to craft a strategy for rescuing the agency.

The Postal Service plans to unveil on Sept. 15 a plan it says would save up to $3 billion per year by "dramatically decreasing the network of processing facilities and adjusting service standards."

A report by the Postal Service's inspector general in August determined that relaxing First Class Mail standards from guaranteeing delivery in 1-3 days to 2-4 days could reduce premium pay for overnight workers and trim processing costs.

(Read the report here: r.reuters.com/saq53s)

The Postal Service has said it could streamline its network by eliminating more than 300 mail processing facilities. (Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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