A necessary move

February 9, 2013

The much-recited motto of the United States Postal Service has it that “neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their rounds.”

And while snow, rain and nightfall may not be enough to keep postal workers from their duties, a staggering $15 billion annual deficit will apparently be sufficient to keep them at home on Saturdays, no matter what the weather.

To the chagrin of some and the indifference of most, the Postal Service announced last week that cutting Saturday delivery of all but packages will help it save an estimated $2 billion annually. It was the latest cost-trimming measure an increasingly desperate Postal Service has announced, following decisions to shutter some rural and little-trafficked post offices and consolidate many of its regional processing plants.

“Our financial condition is urgent,” said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. “This is too big of a cost savings for us to ignore.”

The Postal Service is suffering from a combination of changing times and unfortunate policy mandates inflicted on it by the U.S. Congress. Americans are paying more bills over the Internet, letter-writing has long been replaced by email and text messaging, and overall mail volume has dropped by 26 percent in the last six years. The Postal Service is also hobbled by a draconian congressional requirement that it pre-fund the health-care costs of its future retirees. It all adds up to losses reaching $25 million per day. You would need to sell an awful lot of collectible stamps to make up a shortfall of that size.

Of course, it should be noted that many congressional representatives have raised a stink about certain post offices being closed and Saturday delivery being eliminated while, at the same time, sitting on their hands as the Postal Service has pleaded to be relived of the health-care funding mandate. Figures. Speaker of the House John Boehner summed it up aptly: “Congress has tied their hands every which way.”

Though some have suggested that cutting Saturday delivery of all but packages would hurt small businesses and elderly, less Internet-savvy customers who still look for cards or letters, chances are that most of us will be able to go on living reasonably well without it. Making such a change would put us in sync with countries like Canada, Australia and Sweden, all of which have mail delivery on only five days. And, moreover, let’s be honest: When so much of our communication is now done by tapping on keyboards and clicking on mouses, can you really not wait a couple more days for what makes up most of the Saturday mail? More often than not, it’s a mundane collection of bills or unsolicited requests to subscribe to magazines, switch insurance providers or make charitable contributions. As one commentator pointed out this past week, you can imagine waiting at home to get a package on Saturday. A utility bill? Not so much. When asked in polls if they would support an end to Saturday delivery, an overwhelming majority of Americans have said yes.

Though there are some rabid privatizers on Capitol Hill who would probably love to see the Postal Service hit the shoals so its services can be handed over to companies like FedEx Corp. or the United Parcel Service, the Postal Service has served America well since the days when it was first mandated by the U.S. Constitution and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general. With some thoughtful adjustments to changing circumstances and better policies from its congressional overseers, we hope the Postal Service can survive for many more decades.



blog comments powered by Disqus