By Erin Drushel
What’s Keeping the U.S. from Going ‘Postal’ on Rates and Services?
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has been trying for the past two years to get Congress to help make it more financially stable. As of 2012, the USPS was $16 billion in the hole, mainly due to the legislative requirement that they pre-fund their future retiree’s healthcare plans. Although this may make sense, the projected burden will continue to worsen while the postal service has little flexibility to manage its own finances as they are beholden to Congress.
Last week House Republicans introduced legislation designed to help bring the postal service closer to financial solvency.
I’m obviously not a part of the Congressional discussions or the legislative process, but there are a few things that could easily be done to help with the postal service’s financial woes. And when I say “easily,” that’s not to say there won’t be an outcry.
Two items right off: (1) eliminate Saturday service, and (2) increase the cost of stamps. Let the screaming begin.
As a Canadian, I don’t understand the outrage over eliminating Saturday service. I’ve read arguments that it is essential, for example, for receiving medication by mail. However, if that’s a serious problem, then medications need to be ordered a day sooner. It’s not the postal service’s fault that people wait until the last possible second to do things. But realistically, that wouldn’t be an issue under the USPS’s plan. A few months ago when they proposed eliminating Saturday post they fully intended on keeping Saturday package delivery (package delivery being a growing business for the USPS). So what’s the problem?
(I’ve also heard silly arguments such as ‘with one less day of delivery, the mail would back up.’ Yeah, well what about Sunday?)
I do understand that people aren’t happy when prices go up on anything, but seriously, take a look at other countries and the cost of delivering first class mail: U.S. $0.46, Canada $0.61 (in USD), UK $0.92 (in USD). If the concern is that raising prices will send more people online for regular correspondence, then it’s already too late because that’s allegedly what has contributed to the postal service’s financial problems.
What it seems to come down to are two things: (1) people don’t like change, and (2) Congressional interference.
Congress needs to allow for more autonomy of the USPS. The USPS needs to be able to make business decisions without having to wait for an ineffective Congress – who doesn’t fund them – but who has the authority to tell them what to do. A set-up like that just cannot work. It either needs greater autonomy in some operational areas, or it needs to be a body not only governed – but also administered – by the government.
That would then make it completely Congress’ responsibility (fault) when their legislation leads the agency into financial difficulties.
Realistically, Postmaster General has got to be one of the worst appointments in government, ‘hey, here’s this plum upper-level position! Oh, and by the way you have virtually no control over how the business is run…good luck!’
– Erin Drushel