The APWU, together with an organization representing a coalition of consumers and nonprofit mailers, has filed a suit challenging secret policy-making by a Postal Service advisory committee.

The panel, the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, is made up of trade associations that represent large business mailers. Co-chaired by major mailer representatives and postal officials, MTAC acting through work groups commissions studies and makes recommendations to senior USPS management on postal operations, postal rates, and postal regulations.

Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, government panels such as MTAC must open their meetings to all interested persons, and must make their reports and the minutes of their meetings public. MTAC has refused to comply with this law, holding its meetings in secret, and refusing to release any details, despite the APWUs repeated requests for access to the information. As an advisory committee to a federal agency, MTAC is not legally permitted to conduct its activities in such secrecy, the suit asserts.

MTAC also has refused to admit to its membership the Consumers Alliance for Postal Services (CAPS), which is made up of nonprofit associations, small mailers, and individual consumers that rely on the Postal Service to communicate with their members. CAPS is chaired by William Clay Sr., the former Chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee.

MTAC claims that its current members, in serving their respective constituencies, are already representing at the grass-roots level the millions of Americans which CAPS serves.

And while shutting out consumers and small mailers, MTAC apparently has no problem with secretly working with the government regulators that oversee the USPS. According to a publication that serves large mailers, the MTAC workgroup that is advising the Postal Service on service standards includes observers from the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Commenting on this recent development and on the lawsuit filed May 30 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia [PDF], APWU President William Burrus said,

It is unconscionable for the Postal Service to develop its most important policies in secret in consultation with a select group of business mailers, while excluding individual citizens and small businesses. CEOs of the largest mailers must not be permitted to decide the future of the U.S. Mail.

If it is true that the PRC is also now included in secret MTAC deliberations, this makes MTAC even more dangerous. It would mean large mailers are given a unique opportunity to provide input on service standards to government regulators, while differing and competing input is excluded. Postage rates for individuals and small business mailers will continue to go up, service will go down, and no explanation will be provided. This is wrong and illegal.

As Burrus noted a year ago in a column in the unions magazine, the nations mail system provided for in the Constitution as a public service has become increasingly co-opted by corporate and advertising mailers who are seeking to transform the USPS for their private gain.

In addition to the MTAC, he wrote, postal policy is being shaped by two other advisory panels comprised of mailing industry representatives: The Mailing Industry Task Force and the so-called Postal Customer Council. Members of these panels have been the driving force behind the Postal Services efforts to consolidate mail processing and distribution operations, even if it means service cuts for consumers.

In their view, this network should be limited to what is necessary to perform the services needed for the delivery of their mail, he wrote. An example is the fact that they do not use USPS collection boxes, so they rejected the costs associated with collections as too great a burden. Lo and behold, the number of collection boxes was drastically reduced across the country.