US regulators to streamline reviews of major changes at USPS

US postal regulators are looking into streamlining the way they review major service changes at the US Postal Service, in the light of rapid changes in the communications arena. Facing criticism last year for taking 12 months to assess proposals by USPS to eliminate Saturday deliveries, the Postal Regulatory Commission has also faced pressure this year to speed up its review of big changes to US First Class Mail standards.

The ongoing Commission review of mail standards is likely to take until July, but warnings from postal unions claim that mail standards could start to change as early as next month.

The changes in mail service standards are associated with USPS plans to close more than 200 of its 461 mail processing plants in order to cut spiraling operating costs. Unions are staging nationwide protests against the plans today.

Congressmen and unions have expressed concern in recent weeks that the current Commission review may not come in time to influence USPS mail plant closure plans.

The Presidentially-appointed Postal Regulatory Commission cannot prevent USPS from going ahead with major policy changes through its Advisory Opinions, but can influence its plans and feed the views of stakeholders into the process. The opinion on Saturday deliveries was seen as influential in helping to sow the seeds of doubt over the idea among US Congressmen.

Four such Opinions have been requested since 2009, while previously just six were required between 1970 and 2009.

The Commission said on Tuesday that given the serious financial situation at the Postal Service, and the increasing frequency of major policy changes at USPS, it is interested in views from postal industry stakeholders on how it can streamline its advisory opinion process.

Greater relevance

Ruth Goldway, the Commission chairman, said she believed the ongoing changes in communication technology meant the frequency and complexity of USPS requests for Advisory Opinions were “likely to continue”.

“The Postal Service has expressed a desire for more expeditious responses from the Commission, and both the public and stakeholders have asked that our Advisory Opinions have a greater relevance to the Postal Service’s planning process,” said Goldway.

“Stakeholders have asked that our Opinions have a greater relevance to USPS planning”

“The Commission welcomes input as to how best to expedite the process, while ensuring due process for participants and a meaningful outcome.”

USPS has said it wants to see advisory opinions issued within 90 days of issuing its proposals, and a removal of requirements for evidence to be submitted via trial-type formal hearings.

The Commission said it is interested in views on whether its process, including requirements for a “hearing on the record”, can be improved.

Comments on the advisory opinion will now be accepted within a two-month window.

Any changes to the current system, based on rules last updated 20 years ago, could require legislation to implement, but similar streamlining of public hearings in the nuclear industry have been allowed by the US courts.

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