Federal Times Blogs
Two federal employee unions, along with the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, are wading into the fight over postal legislation.
In a joint letter to members of a Senate committee released yesterday, NARFE, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the National Treasury Employees Union objected to provisions in a Senate bill pertaining to the federal workers’ compensation program and the U.S. Postal Service’s hopes of revamping its participation in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
You can read the letter here; whatever the merits of the arguments, it’s safe to say that the opposition of three organizations that normally don’t focus on postal issues is likely to lengthen the already long odds of any major postal legislation winning congressional approval this year.
The bill was introduced last month by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Carper chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service; Coburn is its top Republican.
“As I’ve said before, our bill isn’t perfect and I expect it to improve as our conversations continue,” Carper said in a statement. “It is my hope that in the coming weeks, Congress, the Obama administration and stakeholders can come together to enhance this plan in order to save the Postal Service before it’s too late.”
To that end, the committee plans two hearings later this month, Carper said in the statement. While a committee spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on specific dates, FedLine is told by one source that the sessions are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19 and Sept. 26. Possible witnesses include Postmaster General Pat Donahoe; Postal Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway; officials from the Government Accountability Office and USPS inspector general; and union and mailing industry representatives.
What happens at the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily stay at the Postal Service.
The latest example: A federal workers’ compensation fund could run out of money within three months if the cash-strapped mail carrier skips a $1.2 billion payment due in mid-October, according to the Labor Department.
The department runs the fund under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Should the Postal Service miss the October “chargeback” for past claims, officials estimate that the program would have no money to pay any benefits during the last four months of fiscal 2012, running from next June through September, according to a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
BUT, the fund could have to halt benefits by late this November if the Postal Service misses its required payment and—as is considered extremely possible—the government begins fiscal 2012 under a continuing resolution. The reason is that Congress generally doesn’t appropriate enough money under a short-term CR to cover the cost of annual lump sum benefits, Brian Kennedy, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said in the letter. On top of that, the workers’ comp fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay the vendor that processes medical claims under the compensation act, Kennedy wrote. His letter, dated Aug. 1, was first reported by Reuters news service.
So, will the Postal Service, which describes itself as effectively bankrupt, be able to ante up? At this point, the answer is yes, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email. But in its third-quarter report released earlier this month, the Postal Service suggested it could have “insufficient cash” to meet all of its federal obligations this fall, including the workers’ comp component.
The moral? To rewrite a famous line from English poet John Donne, no agency is an island. And for thousands of federal workers’ comp beneficiaries out there . . . keep your fingers crossed.