WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government's Bureau of Engraving and Printing will be producing a declining share of the nation's stamps over the next few years.

The Postal Service announced Thursday that it has reached a five-year deal with the Treasury Department's bureau, which prints the nation's paper money and has printed most U.S. stamps over the last 100 years.

Under the new deal the bureau will produce at least 22 billion stamps next year, of the anticipated 38.5 billion expected to be sold.

The contract calls for the bureau to print at least 19 billion stamps in 1999 and 15 billion a year from 2000 through 2002.

The declining production at the bureau is expected to give the post office more flexibility in choosing its printers. Others who print stamps include the companies Stamp Venturers, Ashton-Potter and Avery-Dennison and the Government Printing Office.