Congress

New USPS legislation won't touch tech, probably

United States Postal Service logo.

The money-losing U.S. Postal Service needs help, but it won't be getting any technology prescriptions in planned legislation.

"The status quo is not sustainable," said Lori Rectanus, director of physical infrastructure issues at the Government Accountability Office. "It's harder and harder for them to get ahead of their costs."

USPS had a net loss of $5.1 billion in fiscal 2015, its ninth straight year of losses amid a perfect storm of declining mail volume, an aging fleet and employee benefit obligations.

Package delivery growth has helped stanch the bleeding, but watchdogs noted that as major players such as Amazon continue to explore alternative delivery models, USPS' revenue stream could dry up.

In a May 11 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lawmakers said legislation might address some of the problems.

Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he plans to issue a discussion draft of USPS reform legislation soon and would move quickly thereafter to introduce the legislation. He said he was optimistic that the bill would garner bipartisan support.

Without reform, "our net losses will continue to grow," Postmaster General Megan Brennan said. "We need legislation now."

Although the legislation is still being hashed out, Brennan and multiple lawmakers endorsed one potential element: forcing all USPS retirees to enroll in Medicare along with their federal employee health plans. That single requirement could save USPS close to $18 billion over five years, Brennan said, while other requested tweaks could bring the five-year savings to $32 billion.

During the hearing, several Democrats endorsed the creation of a chief innovation officer position at USPS, which could include the development of new products. Brennan touted USPS' Irresistible Mail website, which showcases QR codes, video-enhanced print and other technology-enabled USPS products.

Some Republicans, however, said USPS ought to stick to its core competencies.

Chaffetz told FCW that technology likely won't specifically be addressed in his planned legislation, but USPS needs to consider drone delivery, autonomous vehicles and other technology in its efforts to modernize its infrastructure and cut costs.

"It's not something we're going to mandate with legislation," he said. "Obviously, to be competitive long-term, they're going to have to look at alternative methods."

In the past, USPS leaders have expressed little interest in drone deliveries and a desire to embrace modern technology without shedding jobs.

"Who knows what transportation's going to look like [in the near future]?" Chaffetz said. "But I don't think it's wise to commit to 30 years of old trucks that run on diesel gas."

Note: This article was updated on May 12 to correct the estimated cost savings.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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