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5-day delivery: The Web site

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The Postal Service launched a new Web site today to sell its vision for 5-day mail delivery (which lawmakers may be slowly warming to). Many of you probably know the highlights already: USPS thinks 5-day will save $3 billion per year, post offices and other facilities will remain open on Saturdays, etc.

One thing that’s not posted yet, which I know is of great interest to the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Government Accountability Office, and other analysts: An official estimate of how much mail volume will suffer from switching to 5-day.

As I said on Monday, I’m skeptical of the most dire claims — but mail volume will undoubtedly take a hit. How much? USPS isn’t saying yet — not until March 30, at least, when a detailed study on 5-day is expected to go online.

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Harding on collective bargaining: Noncommittal

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Not much news out of this morning’s confirmation hearing for Gen. Robert Harding, President Obama’s second nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, asked him whether he’d commit to pursuing collective bargaining rights for TSA employees. Harding said he hadn’t reached a decision, and said he would talk with “TSA employees and stakeholders” before deciding whether to press the issue.

Obama’s first nominee, Erroll Southers, took a similar stance during his confirmation hearing in November, saying only that he would study the issue. But that noncommittal stance was enough to earn him a hold from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Southers eventually withdrew his nomination.

Too early to tell whether the same will happen to Harding, who has another confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs commitee.

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Alternatives to the Postal Service, like…?

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If you haven’t seen it yet: We reported on Friday that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., proposed allowing the Postal Service to “pilot” 5-day mail delivery in a few areas around the country. Polls usually indicate that the public is okay with 5-day delivery; Durbin wants to see if those poll numbers hold up when the idea becomes a reality.

One other item I wanted to highlight from that hearing (at which John Potter, the Postmaster General, was one of the witnesses). Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said several times that she’s worried 5-day delivery will reduce mail volume. At one point, she cited the example of weekly newspaper publishers in Maine. Their papers are usually delivered on Saturdays, so switching to 5-day delivery would cause problems; Collins said many will look for “alternatives to the mail.”

Like what, though? UPS and FedEx don’t deliver on Saturdays, nor would they be cost-effective alternatives to the mail.

5-day delivery will undoubtedly reduce volume, and it will make life more complicated for some businesses that rely on the Postal Service. But many of those businesses have no real alternative, so they can’t exactly stop using the mail.

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Joe Stack, Janet Napolitano and the definition of terrorism

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Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano was on the Diane Rehm show earlier this week. Part of the interview focused on Joe Stack, the man who flew his small plane into the IRS building Austin, and Napolitano — who clearly wanted to avoid calling Stack a terrorist — offered a slightly odd definition of terrorism.

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Cass Sunstein on the limits of open government

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Cass Sunstein, the Obama administration’s “regulatory czar,” gave a speech at the Brookings Institution this afternoon. Regular readers are probably familiar with most of its content — the open government directive, OMB’s dashboards for transparency and  IT projects. But Sunstein made a couple of interesting points on the limits of open government initiatives.

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Federal furloughs

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(Updated below) After years of a stagnant economy, furloughs are nothing new to private-sector workers — including newspaper reporters! — and even many state and local employees. But now they’re affecting the federal government.

It’s not because of the economy, though. The Senate needed to pass legislation last week to extend federal highway and transit programs — and the legislation was blocked by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who said he objected to the bill because it wasn’t deficit-neutral. The legislation stalled.

The result? The Transportation Department has to furlough nearly 2,000 employees, starting today, and ending… whenever the bill gets passed. Furloughs affect employees in four DOT divisions: The Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

A full statement on the furloughs, from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is pasted after the jump.

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How many contractors does DHS actually have? ctd.

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We’ve explored this question before on the blog: At a December Senate hearing, Elaine Duke, the department’s undersecretary for management, admitted DHS doesn’t really know how many contractors it has.

The question came up again this week: In a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, DHS secretary Janet Napolitano said the department had roughly 200,000 contractors — more than the 188,000 civilian employees who work for the department. That number prompted an outraged reaction from senators on the committee; as I mentioned in my story yesterday, they questioned whether contractors or federal employees are “actually making critical decisions” at DHS.

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More bargaining over TSA collective bargaining

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Seems the American Federation of Government Employees wants to win the right to represent the TSA’s screening workforce: The union filed a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority calling for a TSA-wide election on the subject. That would be a substantial step towards collective bargaining rights for TSA employees.

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The Texas plane crash: A symbol of a bigger problem?

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Here’s a question for the readership: Does yesterday’s plane crash in Texas tap into any broader concerns you have about anti-government hostility, which seems to be mounting? Or do you view it as an isolated incident?

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Four in a row

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Federal agencies in the DC area are closed again tomorrow, according to OPM. Emergency employees are still expected to show up for work, and teleworkers may have to work, too.

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