“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed, rounds.—the unofficial motto of our U.S. Postal Service as inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York City.
Our United States Postal Service, (USPS), a quasi-public/private entity, with all the benefits and costs associated with being an agency of our federal government, ended the last year with an operating deficit of nearly $16.5 billion.
Declining mail volume, skyrocketing employee health care and pension benefit costs and an antiquated service delivery model have caused some to wonder if our Postal Service is heading the way of the Pony Express. However the USPS is still a very big business. Even with declining mail volume, its revenue in 2011 was $65.7 billion. Starting the week of Aug. 5, the Postal Service will curtail full scale Saturday mail delivery to every home and business. Parcel/package delivery will continue on Saturday, post offices with Saturday hours will remain open, and the Post Office will continue Saturday delivery to P.O. boxes. This service roll-back is projected to save more than $2 billion.
Get Congress out of the way
Our postmaster general wants to close several thousand smaller and rural community post offices, as well as redundant mail processing centers nationwide. Congress routinely blocks these changes, as it remains the gatekeeper and overseer of the USPS, while also requiring the unusual prefunding of pension benefits, based on the expected long term pension obligations of the service. As Congress has not been able to pass and produce a federal budget for years now, it should remove itself from this equation entirely. Ending the prefunding requirement would have saved the USPS more than $5 billion in 2011.
Give Postal Service the U.S. Census
During 2010 our federal government expended nearly $16 billion on the 2010 Census, hiring 400,000 temporary workers to canvas and count residents in their homes and communities. Excluding Saturdays in the near future, who already visits nearly every household and business in our nation every weekday? And who delivers the U.S. Census forms, post cards and reminder forms about compliance to these same households? Use some common sense and use the Post Office carriers to conduct our census, create a national holiday, or conduct the “Count Day” on an existing holiday such as Presidents’ Day or on a pre-selected Monday of a long holiday weekend. Pay the Postal Service $5 billion for the day, and save taxpayers $11 billion in the process.
Convert pension plan to 401-Ks
Cash out the pension accounts of existing workers, and convert those accounts to 401-Ks, putting each employee in charge of his or her future retirement, and capping the cost to taxpayers. Leave existing retiree benefits in place, reconfigure the package for new hires and slowly increase the co-pay of monthly healthcare premiums to a level commensurate with the private sector.
Open postal service product lines
Priority mail, express mail and a wide array of parcel and certified mail services remain growing business and product lines for the post office, despite steep declines in mail volume, supplanted by email, texting and the near death of the hand-written letter. Allow the postal service to create and offer new services, such as certified and secure email, for important and financial documents and information or a wide array of same day last mile courier services, to compete with the overnight carriers, but only offered within specific geographies. Customers will always pay a premium for a well-offered service, if the service is desired and the delivery is reliable.
Weekly publishers and newspapers, who occasionally deliver their weekend publication on Saturday, may feel the biggest pain of this service reduction. Those publications will either shift their schedules, or like the Saturday Evening Post, they may find that their readers have left the building. The Post is now only published six times per year, by a non-profit entity, primarily as a piece of nostalgia. Our postal service and mail carriers are made of hardier stuff, and they should survive and thrive, if Congress gets out of the way and the service is allowed to innovate, modernize and offer more of what consumers want, and less of what they have traditionally always been obligated to provide.
Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, Champion Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at email@example.com.