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Is the Postal Service owed $50B or $75B?

By Ed O'Keefe

As the U.S. Postal Service looks for ways to close a nine-figure budget gap, it may have just found $50 billion. Or maybe $75 billion. It depends on who you ask.

This much we know: Over the course of many years, USPS and its predecessor, the U.S. Post Office Department, overpaid the Civil Service Retirement System by billions of dollars. The Postal Service inspector general said in January that the mail agency forked over about $75 billion extra, while the Postal Regulatory Commission -- an independent, government-backed body -- said Wednesday that the figure is closer to $50 billion.

Either way, the news delights postal bosses and sympathetic lawmakers by providing more proof that the agency has overpaid its obligations to retirees and should be spared future payments.

"We hope Congress takes this report into consideration as it continues to debate our request to restructure prepayment for retiree health benefits," said USPS spokeswoman Joanne Veto.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a leading advocate of postal reform, called the new estimate "a helpful development."

"It is my hope that it can also provide some momentum to efforts to remove the roadblocks that often prevent the Postal Service from streamlining its operations," Carper said.

One of the roadblocks is a 2006 law requiring USPS to pay between $4 billion and $6 billion annually to pre-fund retiree health benefits. The Postal Service is the only entity in the world that makes such payments in advance, and Carper is pushing legislation to end the payments. But he faces a host of other Congressional priorities, midterm elections and colleagues wary of appearing to bail out the nation's mail system.

Congress won't move on the issue until the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees CSRS, determines how pensions were impacted by salary increases that occurred when the Post Office Department was abolished in 1971. The decision will either help or derail this year's attempts at postal reform.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 1, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Budget, Congress  
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Comments

Take the (maybe) $75B refund & admitted $250B lie to Congress and that is close to a $300 BILLION budget misstatement by current Postal officials. How can anyone know what is happening at the USPS when there is a $300,000,000,000 uncertainty in their books?
Why aren't these government officials fired or in jail?

Posted by: twoguns | July 1, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The Post Office does not calculate the amount that has to be paid to prefund the CSRS Health fund for retires. The OPM calculates the amount and whatever that number is the USPS has to pay it. This is not the first time that the amount was miscalculated and thus overpaid. Not the USPS fault.

Posted by: PostalEmployee | July 2, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

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