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With stamp prices set to rise, legal challenges filed

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The price of a first-class stamp rises from 46 to 49 cents tomorrow and the cost of a host of other mail products and services will also increase following regulators’ decision last month to grant the U.S. Postal Service a temporary emergency rate increase.

As FedLine noted a couple of days ago, both the U.S. Postal Service and a mailing industry coalition planned to contest (albeit for different reasons) the Postal Regulatory Commission’s ruling. In appeals Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, both camps followed through. You can read the USPS filing here and the industry’s here, but neither spells out the grounds for their respective appeals. They will have to do so by Feb. 24, under a schedule released Friday by the court clerk’s office.

In a news release, industry leaders called the PRC’s ruling mistaken and warned that it could boomerang on the Postal Service. “The evidence used to secure this increase, more than three times the rate of inflation, is fundamentally flawed, and thus inherently inaccurate,” said Mary Berner, president and CEO of MPA–The Association of Magazine Media. “Increased rates will only result in more lost volume for the Postal Service. . . . This counterproductive decision should be returned to sender.”

 

 

 

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Postal Service, mailers poised to challenge exigent rate decision

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In granting a emergency postal rate hike last month, the Postal Regulatory Commission left both sides unhappy: The mailing industry, represented by an umbrella group known as the Affordable Mail Alliance, was displeased that the five-member commission agreed to any increase above the inflation rate; U.S. Postal Service leaders were frustrated that the boost will be temporary, ending once $2.8 billion is raised.

Now, the two camps are both preparing to appeal the decision in court. The Postal Service will file its challenge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by Thursday’s deadline, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in a Wednesday email, while proceeding with implementation of the increase on Jan. 26 (this coming Sunday), as previously announced. Also on Thursday, the mailers alliance will file an intent to appeal the commission’s decision, an industry source said.

 

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D.C.-area federal offices open Wednesday under delayed arrival

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Federal offices in the Washington, D.C. region will be open Wednesday, but with employees allowed to arrive up to two hours later than usual, according to an Office of Personnel Management advisory. Workers will also have the option of unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework, OPM said.

Wednesday’s delayed opening comes after federal agencies in the area were closed Tuesday because of a winter storm.

Breaking: D.C.-area federal offices closed today

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With a major winter storm moving in, federal agencies in the Washington, D.C. region are closed today, the Office of Personnel Management has announced. As usual, emergency staff and telework-ready employees must follow their agencies’ policies. Here is the text of the official advisory.

In the area, snow is expected to begin falling around 7 a.m., with accumulations of 6 to 10 inches, according to this National Weather Service winter storm warning. For anyone who’s keeping track (FedLine always like to keep things in context), this is the second snow day of the season for several hundred thousand D.C.-area feds; the first was Dec. 10. Stay safe, everyone!

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Review faults Navy oversight of “audit-readiness” contractors

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Irony alert: In its quest to improve management of its finances, the Navy is having trouble managing the contractors who have received tens of millions of dollars to help the service meet congressionally imposed “audit-readiness” deadlines.

That’s the takeaway from a newly released review by the Defense Department’s inspector general. One finding: The Navy’s Fleet Logistics Center office in Philadelphia spent $12.6 million on two task orders, “but did not adequately track whether the contractor met the requirements.”

The report highlights other shortcomings in how Navy employees oversaw the contracting work, including failing to devise quality assurance plans for some task orders and not recording when “deliverables” were turned in. The findings appear to have gotten no serious argument from either Naval Supply Systems Command—which includes the Fleet Logistics Center—or the Navy’s Office of Financial Operations, which agreed to make improvements.

The IG review also serves as a reminder that there is some serious taxpayer money involved in meeting the audit-readiness mandate.  As of the end of fiscal 2012, the Navy had obligated about $123.3 million worth of contracts to four heavyweights of the consulting world—Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte and KPMG—with almost $51 million spent. The review does not say which firm’s task orders did not get adequate oversight.

By law, the services and the Defense Department are supposed to have auditable financial statements in place by September 2017. While the Marine Corps recently received a clean opinion on its fiscal year 2012 schedule of budgetary activity, the Navy’s general fund financial statements for both FY12 and FY 2013 were—once again—unauditable, according to a separate review.

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Postal Service explains increase in headquarters staffing

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As FedLine recently reported, official U.S. Postal Service statistics showed that the career employee headcount fell in almost all segments of its workforce from 2009 through 2013, with USPS headquarters being the one exception. FedLine asked the Postal Service for comment on that point on Jan. 3; the agency responded this past Friday. Here is the full statement provided by USPS spokeswoman Patricia Licata; it has also been added to the original FedLine post.

“The Postal Service reductions in career employees were equally felt across both management and craft ranks. While the specific headquarters number has increased slightly, it cannot be viewed in isolation. Efficient management is about effectively allocating resources, and throughout this period, we have eliminated, shifted, streamlined and consolidated work across various functions, including human resources, customer relations, operations and finance, and across various levels, including local, district, area and headquarters.

“For example, the centralization of HR transactional work from the local and district level to the HQ level through an HR shared service center resulted in cost savings and operational efficiencies. Additionally, we have in-sourced work once performed by contractors in the form of three call centers, which has improved our customer service. Steps have been taken within the management ranks as in the craft ranks to efficiently allocate resources and cut costs while maintaining the highest level of service and customer satisfaction.

“Based on our integrated management approach, the appropriate way to view these career reductions is to look at the headquarters, headquarters field support, inspection service, area offices, and professional administration and technical personnel in total, which has been reduced by 17% over this period. The second level of management, including postmaster/installation heads and supervisors/managers was reduced by 21% over this period. In total, the management ranks over this period had a 21% reduction, which is commensurate with overall craft reductions.”

How many people at your agency are retirement-eligible?

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For all the talk of a looming “retirement tsumani” throughout  the federal workforce, the picture is actually a lot more nuanced. Some agencies–or agency components–have a ratio of retirement-eligibles well above the government-wide average of about 14 percent; some are so far below that the threat looks more like a ripple than a tidal wave, according to data provided by the Office of Personnel Management.

So where does your agency stand? Check out this nifty chart.

 

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Clerks hit hardest by USPS cuts, stats show. Headquarters grows.

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For career U.S. Postal Service employees, the last few years have brought an unrelenting wave of cutbacks. In its latest annual report, the agency furnishes some eye-opening numbers on how the downsizing has affected different segments of its workforce.

The overall career headcount declined by more than one-fifth from 2009 to 2013 (surely one of the sharpest drops in USPS history).  But the ranks of clerks and nurses plummeted by one-third and the number of employees classified as “professional, administration and technical” fell almost as steeply. Virtually all of the cuts, it should be noted, were accomplished without reductions-in-force.

The one sector to grow during that time was headquarters staff (not counting field support), which increased a little more than 5 percent. FedLine asked the Postal Service earlier this month what might account for the increase; the agency’s explanation has been added below the table.

2009 2013 Percentage change
Total career employees 623,128 491,017 -21.2
Headquarters 2,811 2,967 +5.5
HQ–field support units 4,455 3,870 -13.1
Inspection service–field 2,617 2,411 -7.9
Inspector general 1,155 1,135 -1.7
Area offices 1,047 807 -22.9
Postmasters/installation heads 23,672 17,804 -24.8
Supervisors/managers 28,812 22,940 -20.4
Professional, administration, technical 6,460 4,375 -32.3
Clerks/nurses 177,842 118,751 -33.2
Mail handlers 52,954 40,102 -24.3
City delivery carriers 200,658 167,388 -16.6
Motor vehicle operators 8,113 6,598 -18.7
Rural delivery carriers–full-time 67,749 66,099 -2.4
Vehicle maintenance employees 5,252 5,033 -4.1
Building and equipment maintenance personnel 39,531 30,737 -22.5

And here is the Postal Service’s explanation for the growth in headquarters’ workforce:

“The Postal Service reductions in career employees were equally felt across both management and craft ranks. While the specific headquarters number has increased slightly, it cannot be viewed in isolation. Efficient management is about effectively allocating resources, and throughout this period, we have eliminated, shifted, streamlined and consolidated work across various functions, including human resources, customer relations, operations and finance, and across various levels, including local, district, area and headquarters.

“For example, the centralization of HR transactional work from the local and district level to the HQ level through an HR shared service center resulted in cost savings and operational efficiencies. Additionally, we have in-sourced work once performed by contractors in the form of three call centers, which has improved our customer service. Steps have been taken within the management ranks as in the craft ranks to efficiently allocate resources and cut costs while maintaining the highest level of service and customer satisfaction.

“Based on our integrated management approach, the appropriate way to view these career reductions is to look at the headquarters, headquarters field support, inspection service, area offices, and professional administration and technical personnel in total, which has been reduced by 17% over this period. The second level of management, including postmaster/installation heads and supervisors/managers was reduced by 21% over this period. In total, the management ranks over this period had a 21% reduction, which is commensurate with overall craft reductions.”

[Updated on Jan. 21 to include the Postal Service's explanation for the increase in headquarters employment.]

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Postal Service again restrained on top executives’ pay in ’12

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The U.S. Postal Service continued to keep a comparatively tight lid in 2012 on senior executive salaries, according to its recently released annual report to Congress. By law, the Postal Service has to list all employees whose pay exceeded that of a Cabinet secretary. For calendar 2012, that threshold was $199,700; a dozen USPS executives and officers made more than that, down from 13 in 2011 and 38 in 2010, according to the official rundown.

Here’s the 2012 list (found on p. 66 of the annual report):

Paul Vogel, president, digital solutions, $312,175* **

Pat Donahoe, postmaster general and chief executive officer: $276,840

David C. Williams, inspector general: $263,684**

Ron Stroman, deputy postmaster general: $245,000

Anthony Vegliante, chief human resources officer and executive vice president: $240,000*

Joseph Corbett, chief financial officer and executive VP: $239,000

Megan Brennan, chief operating officer and executive VP: $235,000

Mary Anne Gibbons, general counsel and executive VP: $230,000*

Ellis Burgoyne, chief information officer and executive VP: $230,000*

Jo Ann Feindt, VP, Southern area operations: $224,300

Dean Granholm, VP, Pacific area operations: $219,116

Drew Aliperto, VP, Western area operations: $219,000

For fiscal 2013, incidentally, pay and bonuses for non-bargaining unit employees remained frozen, the report says, adding that this was the six straight year that compensation for executive officers was affected “by either a freeze in salary and/or a non-payment of performance lump sums.”

*Now holds a different position, is no longer with the Postal Service or was not in this position for the entire 2012 calendar year

**Includes annuity paid by the Office of Personnel Management

Seen as offensive, “defective” label for the mentally ill lives on in the federal code

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Whatever the federal government’s pluses and minuses, it is usually pretty good at avoiding language that will offend a particular group’s sensibilities.

So some Federal Register readers may find it jarring to find two agencies using the term, “mental defective,” in notices set for publication this week. The term, considered useless and derogatory by advocates for the mentally ill, surfaces in a Justice Department filing seeking to clarify definitions of people prohibited from “receiving, possessing, shipping or transporting firearms” under the 1968 Gun Control Act.

“The Department recognizes that the term ‘mental defective’ is outdated, but it is included in the statute and cannot be amended by regulation,” the notice of proposed rulemaking says.

The label also turns up in a Health and Human Services Department notice on the background check system for would-be gun buyers. Both can be found on a website that provides an advance look at Federal Register notices. They are scheduled for publication Tuesday.

The issue is not new; at a May 2007 congressional hearing, a top official with the National Alliance on Mental Illness called use of “mental defective” stigmatizing and incompatible with modern terminology employed in diagnosing and treating the mentally ill.

“We have received emails and other communications in the last few weeks from people who are incredulous that such a term would still be used in federal law,” Ronald Honberg, the alliance’s director of policy and legal affairs, said in prepared testimony at the hearing.

However defective the language may be, it remains on the federal lawbooks almost seven years later.

The two notices can be found here: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

 

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