* Lawmakers skeptical of cutting Saturday delivery
* Changing retiree health benefit payments a possibility
By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON, April 15 Lawmakers discussing the
dire state of the U.S. Postal Service's finances voiced
concerns on Thursday over plans to cut Saturday delivery and
close post offices in certain areas.
The U.S. Postal Service faces a potential shortfall of $238
billion in the next 10 years because of the popularity of
e-mail online bill payment services and other factors,
Postmaster General John Potter told members of Congress.
"Today we stand at the brink of financial insolvency," said
Potter, who asked for legislation that would allow changes to
how the postal service calculates payments for retiree health
benefits, potentially to a "pay as you go system" rather than
the prepayments used at present.
"I urge you to take a close look at this issue as a first
step," Potter said.
While lawmakers appeared open to that shift, discussions of
cutting Saturday delivery or closing post offices prompted
concerns from both Democrats and Republicans about everything
from competitors stepping into the gap to Americans without
computers not receiving their bills quickly enough.
"Please, please, please -- I would strongly suggest that
you continue Saturday deliveries," said Rep. Diane Watson of
"Personally, I have deep concerns about moving from a
six-day delivery to a five-day delivery," said Rep. Jason
Chaffetz. "There are many unintended consequences for credit
card (bills) and medicines delivered through the mail."
Rep. Darrell Issa urged Potter to "right-size" the post
office, expressing concern about post office employees who are
underemployed but also about the prospect of the post office
taking what are now full-time jobs and making them part-time.
Potter said cutting Saturday delivery would be done without
cutting career employees -- by reducing overtime, letting
non-career employees go and by offering buyouts to people
approaching retirement age.
The USPS in February reported a loss of $297 million for
the first quarter of its fiscal year, blaming the recession and
the use of electronic mail. The USPS, which delivers nearly
half of the world's mail, has posted net losses since 2007.
In addition to the erosion of its business due to email,
the service also faces competition from FedEx Corp (FDX.N) and
United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N).
Chaffetz said that he planned to introduce legislation to
create a commission to consider closing post office facilities
in order to remove some of the politics from what can be a
hot-button local issue.
In a report released this month, the General Accountability
Office (GAO) urged Congress to form just such a panel of
independent experts to make recommendations that could include
removing the requirement that mail be delivered within six
days, reducing USPS's operations, and allowing it to do
business in new areas unrelated to mail.
The GAO also said Congress should consider providing
financial relief, including modifying its retiree health
benefit obligations and revising the law on collective
bargaining with its workers, to ensure that binding arbitration
takes its financial condition into account.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Matthew Lewis)