WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Postal Service reported a $1.9 billion loss for the first three months of this year and pleaded again Friday for reforms to its troubled financial system.

The agency said the loss for the quarter that ended March 31 matched the $1.9 billion in red ink in the same period last year and marked the 20th time of the last 22 quarters that it posted a loss.

It came despite continued cost-cutting efforts, a 2.3 percent rise in operating revenue, increased employee productivity and other improvements.

"We’re happy with the financial progress," Postmaster Patrick Donahoe told reporters on a conference call. "Bottom line: Unfortunately, we’re still in the red" because of congressionally-mandated retiree payments.

Postal officials have said repeatedly that they need comprehensive legislation that includes more control over its personnel and benefit costs and more flexibility in pricing and products. Though various legislative proposals have been advanced, Congress has not passed a bill with the requested changes.

The shipping and package business continued to rise and operating revenues were up $379 million over the same period last year -- the third straight quarter of revenue increase. But there were annual inflationary cost increases and there was a continued decline in first-class mail.

Details in the report for the second quarter of the budget year, compared to the same period last year, included:

--Operating revenue was $16.7 billion, an increase of $379 million or 2.3 percent.

--Operating expenses before non-cash workers’ compensation expenses were cut to $17.9 billion from $18.1 billion, a 1.1 percent improvement.

--Total mail volume fell to 38.1 billion pieces from 38.8 billion pieces.

--Volume in shipping and packages rose 7.3 percent.

--First-class mail declined 4.1 percent.

The Postal Service is an independent agency that receives no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control. It has asked to end most Saturday deliveries, a move it says could save about $2 billion annually. And it’s seeking to reduce its congressionally mandated $5.6 billion annual payment for future retiree health benefits.

The pre-funding requirement for future retiree health benefits accounts for the brunt of the agency’s red ink and the agency has defaulted on a number of the congressionally-mandated payments. Officials note the solution to their financial problems is much larger than just addressing the retiree issue.

"Some comments in recent news reports suggest that all we need from Congress is help with restructuring our retiree health benefit plan," chief financial officer Joseph Corbett said. "Nothing can be further from the truth. Our liabilities exceed our assets by $42 billion and we have a need for more than $10 billion to invest in new delivery vehicles, package sortation equipment, and other deferred investments.

"We haven’t been making the retiree health benefit prefunding payments because we can’t," Corbett said, adding that if the retiree requirement was reduced, it still wouldn’t give the agency any more cash to pay down its debt or put needed capital into the business.

"Only comprehensive postal legislation ... will provide the necessary cash flows," Corbett said.

Noting the positive trends that Donahoe also touted, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said "it would be irresponsible to degrade services to the public," a reference in part to the idea of curtailing Saturday delivery.