WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on Wednesday questioned the legal opinion that Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe has relied upon to end Saturday mail delivery.
"You said you are satisfied but I’m not," Pryor told Donahoe, who appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Congress has included language in recent annual appropriations bills that prohibits the U.S. Postal Service from reducing mail delivery from six-days a week. That provision was also included in a "continuing resolution" that is now funding the federal government into March.
After reciting the legislative history, Pryor asked Donahoe to articulate the legal authority that would allow him to end Saturday delivery beginning August 5 as was announced last week.
Donahoe defended the move to five-day delivery of flat mail as necessary because mail volume has shrunk 27 percent as more and more customers pay bills electronically.
As to the legal authority, Donahoe said it was based on an interpretation from Postal Service lawyers. He noted that the committee had a copy of the nine-page legal opinion.
The document basically pointed out that the continuing resolution expires in March, long before the August date for curtailing Saturday delivery. It also said that there is nothing in the existing prohibition that prevents postal officials from preparing for five-day delivery at a future time.
Donahoe implored Congress not to include the prohibition in future appropriation bills that govern the Postal Service.
"Please do not force us back into six day delivery. We will make sure we deliver what people want and that is packages," Donahoe said.
The Postal Service will continue to deliver packages – a growth market – on Saturdays. Letters, however, will be delivered Monday through Friday.
The change would save $2 billion a year largely by reducing manpower needs by 45 million hours a year – roughly equivalent to 22,550 full-time employees. Donahoe said much of the savings would come by reducing overtime.
Pryor said that he is committed to working with his colleagues to find a long-term solution to the serious financial challenges facing the Postal Service. However, he believes that eliminating Saturday delivery would harm rural communities in Arkansas who depend on it.
Donahoe said that there is broad support among postal customers – rural and urban – for eliminating six-day delivery. The Postal Service plans to release its internal polling on the subject later this week.
"Customers are accepting it. Customers know we have to be responsible," Donahoe told reporters after appearing before the committee.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who also sits on the committee, endorsed the reduction in Saturday delivery services.
"I fully support five-day delivery. I think it is an absolute must," Coburn said.