The US mail is a vital communication channel for businesses and consumers and an integral part of our economy. It is a network that is universally accessible and affordable, reaching into living rooms and boardrooms across America via 135 million addresses. The 200 billion pieces of mail and packages that annually flow through this network help organizations and individuals build relationships, share information and record and complete transactions. In short, this network helps American businesses remain competitive and helps sustain the ties that bind us as family, community and country. The fact that this industry represents $900 billion in revenue, nine million jobs and eight percent of GNP underscores its significance to the health of the US economy.


That is why the Mailing Industry CEO Council, comprised of 17 companies which have a major stake in the future of the mail channel, was established. Formed just six months ago, the CEO Council's mission is to unify the industry, promote the value of mail and collectively lobby for public policies related to the mailing channel that will enable this critical industry to continue to thrive.


The CEO Council, which operates independently of the Mailing Industry Task Force, has begun to identify issues and activities that will support its mission to unify the fragmented mailing industry. Among its initial efforts will be the need to support legislative reform enabling the Postal Service transformation plan as it reflects the Task Force recommendations.


We must be able to raise awareness in Congress and elsewhere about the value and role of mail in commerce and the corollary need for a healthy postal system.


"People are looking back to mail for many reasons," comments Council member Charles D. Morgan, who is a company leader with Acxiom Corp. "E-mail responses have dropped dramatically for direct marketers. Telemarketing is facing redefinition. The future is in multi-channeled messaging and marketing. And mail is an important part of that future."


Our goal is to make sure Congress is aware of the vital role that the US mailing industry plays in the US economy and the steps that must be taken to keep the industry competitive, viable and vibrant.


The CEO Council's objective is to try to help legislators understand the process of postal reform and the regulatory structure and to make changes to this structure to ensure the viability of the postal service.


As secretary/treasurer of the CEO Council and chairman and CEO, ADVO, Gary M. Mulloy says, "The nation's commerce depends upon a strong, vibrant and efficient mail channel. The CEO Council will work to ensure our public policy makers understand the need for transformation of the postal system."


The challenges facing the Postal Service are substantial. For example, its operating costs are rising steadily due to factors such as escalating costs for equipment, fuel and salary increases as well as a demand for services that grow and evolve as our population increases and living patterns shift.


But the Postal Service is severely limited in its ability to respond to these and other changes because it must endure a lengthy and complex review every time it needs to raise rates or close unneeded or redundant offices; it faces negotiations with multiple labor unions over fundamental issues such as wages and staffing levels, which are subject to outside arbitration; and it must provide universal service throughout our vast nation, while it faces increasing competition from competitors with no such requirement.


Admittedly, these are serious and complex issues. But Congress can help immeasurably by enacting legislation that will make it easier for the Postal Service to respond to change and competitive challenges.


The CEO Council believes that the Postal Service faces a myriad of critical issues, which is the reason why we have called for a thorough review.  We enthusiastically support the recent formation of a Presidential Commission. We believe that this Commission is the best way to jump-start the legislative process and achieve meaningful postal reform. The CEO Council highly encourages the Presidential Com-mission to focus on all classes of mail including First Class mail, periodicals, magazines, advertising mail and packages.


We hope the Commission will see its clear mandate and bring forth its recommendations in a reasonable time frame. The Commission needs to be an impetus for legislative reform and not an excuse for Congressional delay. We need changes sooner, not later, if American businesses and the American public are going to have a viable and competitive mailing system in the 21st century. There are those in the postal world who seem content with the status quo of an ailing postal system. Those voices of inaction must not be allowed to drown out the chorus for reform.


"A vibrant 21st century economy requires a vibrant 21st century postal system," states CEO Council member William L. Davis, chairman, president and CEO of R.R. Donnelley. "That means fundamental change that makes the system as essential to growth in the new economy as it was in the old. There is reason to be optimistic because President Bush has named a diverse group of people who are familiar with large institutions, who understand the nation's economy and who, above all, know what it takes to effect change."


Following the Council's mission to focus on public policy, the CEO Council has also urged President Bush and his Administration to work with Congressional leadership to see that the proposed legislation to correct the existing statutory formula for the U.S. Postal Service deferred pension liability is addressed in the first 90 days of the 108th Congress.


This legislative proposal would adjust the current Postal Service pension-funding formula to reflect actual experience, reducing Postal Service overpayment and ensuring future retirement benefits are funded as they are earned.


Passage of this legislation will enable the Postal Service to pay down its outstanding debt to the Treasury, execute its Transformation Plan and keep rates steady through 2006.


The Administration must work with Congress to see that this legislation is passed in the near term to avoid the currently scheduled rate filing in early 2003. In the current economy, a rate increase will have a significant and negative impact on US citizens and the businesses that comprise the $900 billion mailing industry of which we are all a part.


The mission of the Mailing Industry CEO Council is to enhance the viability of the hard copy mail channel in the 21st century to the continued benefit of US business and consumers.


Michael J. Critelli is the president of the Mailing Industry CEO Council and Chairman and CEO of Pitney Bowes Inc.