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Panel calls on Postal Service to change

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2003

WASHINGTON - Personalized postage stamps - featuring the kids, the dog, the company logo - may be in Americans' future.

Such special issue stamps, sold at a premium, were among the recommendations issued Wednesday by the President's Commission on the Future of the Postal Service.

The panel also called on the post office to cut its work force while increasing automation; to establish a bonus, or pay-for-performance, system for managers and union members; to set up a security system to track mail; and to make changes in its collective bargaining process.

Established in January by President Bush, the commission is scheduled to issue its final report by the end of the month. The major recommendations were approved at meetings Wednesday and last week.

Allowing mailers to personalize stamps would add value to sending materials by mail, said Harry J. Pearce, co-chairman of the commission.

Personalized stamps were introduced in Canada in 2001 and have proven very popular, Canada Post spokesman Tim McGurrin said.

Customers send in a picture and Canada Post reduces it to a sticker that can be placed in a postage stamp with a blank center. The Picture Post stamps sell for $1, compared with the 48-cent regular price for Canadian stamps.

Pictures of friends, babies and pets are most common, McGurrin said, as well as logos.

The customer must own the copyright to the image, McGurrin said, and the agency reserves the right to refuse any it deems in bad taste.

The commission recommendations most likely to draw controversy were those dealing with its work force and collective bargaining. These were the only recommendations not approved unanimously.

Commission member Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers Association, was the lone dissenter on recommendations to speed up collective bargaining, to add pension and post-retirement health coverage to collective bargaining and to set up a pay-for-performance system for management and union workers.

Pay-for-performance leads to establishment of a "good ol' boy" network in which managers simply reward workers they like, he charged.

Other commission members argued that such a system can be made to work if it is carefully managed and the standards for winning extra pay are clear to everyone.

There is no greater disincentive than to be paid the same as someone you know isn't pulling his weight, said Pearce, chairman of the Hughes Electronics Corp.

William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, charged that the commission wants to shred the collective bargaining process.

"We'll be talking to Congress ... to ensure that none of this sees the light of day," Burrus said.

Noting that 47 percent of the postal work force will reach retirement age by 2010, the commission urged the agency to take this "unique attrition opportunity" to reduce its staff and increase automation.

Another proposal likely to attract concern focused on security, and suggested that the post office set up a system to track mail and obtain sender identification for every piece of mail.

If that had been available at the time of the anthrax-by-mail attacks it would have been invaluable, Pearce said. The commission didn't detail how such a system would work.

That idea drew a quick blast from the private Consumer Alliance for Postal Services, which charged it would infringe on mailers' privacy.

Last week the commission recommended that the Postal Service, a quasi-independent government agency, be given more flexibility to raise rates and close local post offices that are deemed unnecessary.

Many of the recommendations will need approval from Congress and the president.

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