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Hostage situation resolved at post office

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Walter “Gator” Taylor of Tennessee surrendered Wednesday night after holding three people hostage in a Virginia post office for nine hours, reported The Associated Press.

Taylor, who was armed, asked only for pizza during the hostage situation. Police don’t yet know his motives, and no one was injured during the standoff.

EARLIER: An armed man has taken hostages at a Wytheville, Va., post office, television station WDBJ reports.

The man is holding five hostages, has fired gunshots out the windows and claims to be armed with explosives, the local television station reports. Mayor Trent Crewe told the Associated Press that three employees and two customers are being held hostage but no injuries have been reported.

Police have asked everyone within a three or four block radius of the Main Street post office to evacuate, and SWAT personnel are on the scene, the station reports.

Wytheville is about 79 miles southwest of Roanoke, Va.

We’ll keep you updated.


House (finally) approves H.R. 22

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The House of Representatives finally voted to approve H.R. 22, 388-32, more than eight months after it was introduced.

The bill allows the Postal Service to pay health benefits for its current retirees out of a trust fund earmarked for future retirees. As Rebecca noted earlier, postal managers describe H.R. 22 as a necessity given their $7 billion budget deficit this year. The Postal Service needed to make a $5.4 billion payment into the retiree trust fund by Sept. 30, but the agency doesn’t have enough cash to make the payment. Without H.R. 22, it will be forced to default on that payment.

The bill drew some criticism from Republican legislators earlier today, so it’s worth clarifying a few points. H.R. 22 is not a “bailout”; it doesn’t appropriate any money for the Postal Service. It simply reduces the amount the agency has to pay into the trust fund — by more than $3 billion this year — giving the Postal Service some relief from what is a rather exceptional pre-funding requirement. (No other federal agency is required to pre-fund health benefits for its retirees.)

H.R. 22 has been widely supported by postal management and postal labor unions. Its companion legislation in the Senate, S. 1507, is not so popular.


House to vote on postal service relief

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Within the next few hours, the House of Representatives may make a crucial decision regarding the fiscal future of the U.S. Postal Service.

Due to a $7 billion deficit, the Postal Service can’t make its scheduled Sept. 30 payment to its retiree health benefits fund. HR 22, which the House debated Tuesday afternoon, would reduce this payment from roughly $5.4 billion to slightly more than $1 billion.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., praised the bill as a necessary move to protect retirees while Congress debates the future of the Postal Service. Towns is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees Postal Service issues.

We owe it to our postal workers to try to find a solution to this problem.”

A vote on HR 22 is likely this afternoon after the House finishes debate on a resolution chastising Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for calling President Barack Obama a liar during Obama’s address to Congress last week.

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White House doesn't back down from postal dig

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8/21 UPDATE: U.S. Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan just dropped me a line disputing Peter Roff’s take on the post office’s tax exemption. First, the Postal Service doesn’t own any planes on which it could pay taxes. Secondly, the Postal Service for many years was not allowed to run profits as a corporation does, meaning it had no income on which it would pay taxes, even without the exemption. (A 2006 reform allowed the Postal Service to turn a profit on competitive products like Priority Mail and package services, but in lieu of taxes, the post office uses some of that money to help cover the costs of first-class mail and other universal service obligations.)

Finally, while the Postal Service’s quasi-governmental status does yield some benefits (such as tax exemption on property), McKiernan pointed me towards a January 2008 Federal Trade Commission study that said the Postal Service’s obligations — primarily its requirement to deliver universal mail service to every household and business in the country — far outweigh those benefits. Those obligations, FTC said, actually leave the Postal Service at a disadvantage when compared to its private-sector counterparts.

ORIGINAL POST: At a White House press briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the National Association of Postal Supervisors’ pushback against President Barack Obama negatively comparing the U.S. Postal Service to FedEx and UPS:

Q: In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a “collective disappointment that you — meaning the President — showed the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example of inefficiency.”  Does the President — has the President seen that letter?  Has he responded?  Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?

MR. GIBBS:  I doubt he’s seen that letter and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.

(Just for the record, NAPS isn’t a union. It’s a management association that does not collectively bargain. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Also, I wanted to clarify a point I made slightly inelegantly in Monday’s blog entry, which U.S. News and World Report picked up on.  Read the rest of this entry »

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We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

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Our apologies if you were unable to read FedLine last night. We had an unexpected deluge of traffic after the Drudge Report linked to our blog about the National Association of Postal Supervisors taking offense at Obama’s dig against the U.S. Postal Service, which pretty much crashed our site. The crack Web staff at Army Times Publishing Co. and Gannett were on the case, however, and got us back up and running that evening.

And to all of our new readers who found us via Drudge, welcome! We hope you stick around and explore FedLine, as well as our award-winning newspaper, Federal Times. We offer a unique look inside the inner workings of the federal government — everything from mismanagement of government contracts to the ongoing woes of the Postal Service to exposing potential racial discrimination in pay raises at the Defense Department — that you won’t find elsewhere.

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Postal supervisors: Obama swipe "a kick to the chest"

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The National Association of Postal Supervisors has fired back at President Barack Obama for dragging the U.S. Postal Service further into the health care debate. In an Aug. 14 letter, NAPS President Ted Keating accused Obama of using the Postal Service as a “scapegoat” and unfairly painting it as “an example of inefficiency” during a health care town hall meeting last week. Obama told a crowd in Portsmouth, N.H., Aug. 11 that private health care insurance providers should be able to compete with a government-run public option because “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

Keating pointed out that UPS and FedEx revenues are falling faster than Postal Service revenues, and reiterated the overtime, management and work hour reductions the Postal Service has made over the last year:

With all of these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.

Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year. For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.

What Obama also ignored last week was that the Postal Service isn’t on the same playing field as FedEx or UPS. The Postal Service has to contend with unions, lawmakers and the Postal Regulatory Commission and as a result, can’t raise prices or close facilities on a whim the way its private-sector counterparts can when mail volume plunges.

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Postal Service: Whipping boy of the health care debate

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Postmaster General John Potter

Postmaster General John Potter

As the debate over health care reform boils over, both sides are now using the U.S. Postal Service to score points. House Minority Leader John Boehner, June 11:

If you like going to the DMV and think they do a great job, or you like going to the post office and think it’s the most efficient thing you’ve run into, then you’ll love the government-run health care system.

And President Barack Obama at this afternoon’s health care town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., as reported by the Associated Press:

[Obama] also disputed the notion that adding a government-run insurance plan into a menu of options from which people could pick would drive private insurers out of business, in effect making the system single-payer by default.

As long as they have a good product and the government plan has to sustain itself through premiums and other non-tax revenue, private insurers should be able to compete with the government plan, Obama said.

“They do it all the time,” he said. “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

That sound you just heard was Postmaster General John Potter’s head hitting his desk.

There’s one man, however, who will stick up for the embattled Postal Service: Jon Stewart. Video after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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A more "green" Postal Service?

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Rep. Stephen Lynch, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Postal Service, Postal Service and the District Columbia, wants to “green” the Postal Service.

During a speech on the National Mall Thursday to celebrate Public Service Recognition Week, Lynch said he plans to hold a hearing this summer looking at making the Postal Service and other agencies more “green” and energy efficient.

With the world’s largest fleet of vehicles, the Postal Service has already converted 20 percent of its fleet to alternate fuel capable vehicles. Our hearing will examine how best to increase that number and how best to expand environmentally-friendly practices throughout the federal government.

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Breaking: Postal Service cuts more than 1,400 jobs

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The U.S. Postal Service is slashing its administrative ranks by 15 percent and cutting 1,400 mail processing supervisors and management positions at 400 facilities across the country, the economically imperiled organization announced today.

In addition, the Postal Service is closing six of its 80 district offices, a move that will eliminate another 500 positions. USPS is also offering early retirement opportunity to 150,000 postal employees nationwide.

The actions are expected to save the Postal Service more than $100 million a year.

Affected employees will have four months to find work elsewhere in the Postal Service, at an equal or lower pay grade, USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said. The employees will be offered “saved grade” for two years followed by indefinite “saved salary,” meaning they won’t be given a pay cut, but also will not receive pay increases.

Brennan said there are a number of vacancies nationally that affected employees can fill. Those employees also have early retirement options, she said.

The Postal Service has been struggling to stay afloat in recent years due to declining mail volumes and growing competition. First class, single piece mail volume has declined to levels not seen since 1964. Conditions have been made worse by the national financial crisis. 

Previous cost cutting actions taken over the last year were simply not enough to make up for the shortfall. In the last year, USPS has:

  • Cut 50 million work hours.
  • Halted construction on new facilities.
  • Adjusted letter carrier routes. 
  • Froze salaries for executives.
  • Instituted a hiring freeze.
  • Sold underused facilities.
  • Cut operating hours at some facilities.
  • Consolidated mail processing centers.

In today’s news release, the Postal Service said the “bold actions” were taken because there are “no signs of economic recovery in sight.”

The National Association of Postal Supervisors, which represents the affected employees has this document breaking down the job losses. I was told that none of the union’s officers were available for comment today.

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Postal benefits change not part of stimulus

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We reported last week that Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced an amendment to the stimulus bill that would allow the Postal Service to pay its current retiree health benefits out of the trust fund earmarked for future retiree benefits. That change would help the Postal Service plug its budget deficit, expected to top $3 billion this year.

Well, Carper introduced the amendment four times — but it doesn’t seem to be part of the final stimulus bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday. The bil doesn’t mention the Postal Service at all.

Obviously, Congress can still pass separate legislation; H.R. 22, introduced by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., would give the Postal Service the relief it’s looking for.