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Lawmakers Blast Post Office Over Cuts

April 05, 2001|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers came down hard Wednesday on the U.S. Postal Service's plan to explore eliminating Saturday mail delivery, with one House member calling it a "fatal mistake" that could destroy the agency.

"This is one of the most self-defeating proposals I've heard in my life," Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said. "If there's one thing the postal service could do that would guarantee its demise, it's eliminate service on Saturday."

Facing $2 billion to $3 billion in projected losses, the postal service has announced numerous cutbacks over the last months. Agency officials said Tuesday they would investigate the possibility of ending Saturday mail delivery and closing some post offices and facilities. The changes would require congressional approval.

Postmaster General William J. Henderson told the House Government Reform Committee that the poor economy and declining mail volume had hit the agency hard.

He urged changes in the law to give the post office more flexibility in setting rates and services to contend with rising costs. It now takes almost a year to change rates. Postal managers are preparing to apply this summer to postal overseers for a rate increase, to take effect in 2002; in January, the price of first class mail went up a penny to 34 cents.

"If we take the necessary steps now to fix the problems, maybe we can avoid a full-blown crisis in the next few years," said the committee chairman, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

Although most committee members agreed that overhauling the postal service is long overdue, several criticized the idea of ending Saturday delivery.

"Reducing the number of delivery days will have a devastating impact on our economy," said Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.).

Henderson, who is leaving the postal service next month, said his agency is studying the feasibility of possible savings from a five-day delivery schedule.

"A decision to curtail Saturday delivery has not been made," he said.

Even the study was a bad idea, Barr said.

Sam Parmelee, a vice president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Assn., said reduced service could cause other problems.

"The day you don't deliver mail, it stacks up," said Parmelee, whose group represents about 100,000 rural and suburban carriers. "Then you've got this huge volume of mail that some carriers won't be able to fit in their vehicles when they go out on Monday."

The 366,000-member American Postal Workers Union also said it would oppose such changes.

Problems cited by the postal service are wage increases higher than the rate of inflation, rising fuel costs, greater competition and increasing use of electronic alternatives such as the Internet.

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