By: Todd Shields

Waiting For Stamps Of Approval In Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – A new Congress and a new presidential administration
bring changes across Washington, generating headlines as controversy erupts over
Cabinet nominees. Yet even as front pages reflect power struggles on high,
newspaper executives are monitoring a less-publicized stratum consisting of those
who affect postal rates.

The incoming administration of President Bush has at least three important
appointments to make among those who set or review postal rates. On Capitol
Hill, the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on postal service is losing a
chairman who tried – albeit unsuccessfully – for major postal reform
favored by newspaper companies. And the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
itself may be gearing up to ask again this year for increases in postage it was
denied late last year.

Altogether, it makes for an unsettled time for businesses, including newspapers,
that count postage among their major costs. Newspapers also fear the USPS might
seek to offer special low rates to direct-mail advertisers who already offer keen
competition for advertising revenue.

Newspapers counted Edward J. Gleiman, chairman of the Postal Rate
Commission (PRC), as a bulwark against such developments. The independent
review agency in November slashed a
requested USPS rate hike. Minutes after that action was announced, Gleiman, 58,
said he would leave the post he has held since 1994.

“We sure hate to see him go. He’s been magnificent,” said Max Heath, a
Landmark Community Newspapers vice president. Heath chairs a postal
committee for the National Newspaper Association, which counts as its members
smaller newspapers that rely on mail distribution.

Gleiman “made sure we weren’t run over” by direct mailers who dwarf
newspapers in postal volume, Heath said.

The USPS has asked the rate commission to reconsider its action, a process that is
expected to be completed within weeks. Whether that can be accomplished before
Gleiman’s Feb. 2 departure is not clear, said PRC staffers.

At the same time, postal-affairs watchers say the USPS may approach the rate
commission with a new request late this year. If it does, the mailing community
will hope to stave off any fresh rate increases until 2003, said Heath.

Another postal rate commissioner, W.H. “Trey” LeBlanc, his term over, is to
leave the five-member body once Bush’s administration names a replacement.
And the postmaster general, William J. Henderson, has announced he will step

On Capitol Hill, term-limit rules force Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., to step down
from chairmanship
of the postal service subcommittee. His replacement has yet to be chosen.

McHugh sponsored, but could not move, a complex bill to reform the USPS,
which critics say is hobbled by outmoded mail-handling techniques and pricey
labor contracts. Reform advocates, including newspaper leaders, say that without
McHugh’s attention to the issue, it likely will be harder to bring legislative
attention to bear upon a postal service that is losing money, but is not yet in
severe crisis.

Todd Shields ( is the Washington editor for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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