Postal Service cost-saving initiatives fast-tracked under new rule

Tuesday - 6/11/2013, 7:21pm EDT

The Postal Regulatory Commission wants to set a 90-day deadline for reviewing major U.S. Postal Service proposals that have a nationwide impact.

The cash-strapped Postal Service has proposed a number of service and delivery changes to right its financial ship and says it needs more timely decisions from the commission to implement them.

The commission has now agreed to streamline its procedures and is moving toward adopting a hard deadline, according to proposed rules it issued May 31.

"Due to changes in technology, the Postal Service must respond to rapid changes in mail patterns," PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway said in a release. The proposed streamlining aims to ensure the commission's recommendations "are both helpful and timely," she stated.

Under current law, PRC is required to review and issue an advisory opinion on USPS proposals that would result in a "change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide, or substantially nationwide basis."

The review process is based around a set of often lengthy trial-type proceedings, complete with "evidence" discovery and cross examinations.

But the commission has been criticized in the past for taking too long to issue its opinions. Of the five major cases brought before the commission since 2006, three took more than eight months to complete and one took nearly a year.

PRC said the number of cases USPS asks it to review have escalated in recent years and grown more complex, requiring more time to review.

Employee groups skeptical of sped-up time-frame

USPS employee groups and commercial mailers generally oppose the expedited time frame, fearing it will impose a "rigid and unrealistic time frame" on the existing legal process, which gives opponents of USPS proposals a chance to voice their concerns.

The commission, however, stated it would be able to fast-track the process — but only by making "fundamental changes" to way hearings are conducted.

Among the most critical changes is expanding the pre-filing process, PRC said — the period of time before USPS has formally requested that PRC study an issue.

"Participants will be able to voice their concerns at an earlier point in time, which the commission expects will aid the Postal Service in development of its formal proposal," the commission's notice stated. "The information obtained prior to the initial filing will also expedite the review of the Postal Service's formal proposal when it is filed and therefore reduce the need for extensive discovery while still allowing for issuance of an informed advisory opinion. "

Initial comments on the proposed PRC streamlining are due within 45 days after the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register.

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