“The time for real postal reform is now”

Pt 918

The time for real postal reform is now @ The Washington Post.

FOR ANYONE who still does not quite grasp the technologically obsolescent U.S. Postal Service’s calamitous financial situation, here are a few facts from Thursday’s Government Accountability Office report.

First-class mail, the source of half of USPS’s revenue, has declined from 104 billion pieces per year to 74 billion pieces over the last decade. Estimates are that volume will shrink by 34 billion more pieces by 2020. Meanwhile, the postal service calculates that almost half of its 461 mail-processing facilities are redundant. The USPS’s $25 billion in losses over the last five fiscal years have left it within $2 billion of exhausting its $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury, which is the only thing standing between the postal service and total collapse.

In February, USPS projected that annual losses would rise to $21 billion by 2016 and proposed a plan to cut costs by an offsetting amount. This would involve dramatic reductions in the USPS infrastructure and workforce. But there appears to be no alternative. “The Postmaster General has stated that maintaining a vast national postal infrastructure is no longer realistic,” the GAO notes.

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  1. Those of us who use USPS regularly have been telling them this for years. PT had a big article about it on Makezine a while ago: http://blog.makezine.com/2012/01/17/soapbox-how-makers-hackers-and-entrepreneurs-can-save-the-us-postal-service/

    Instead, they run expensive national ads talking about how a paper bank statement has never been hacked…suggesting that storing sensitive documents in an unlocked box outside while you’re away at work is somehow more secure than encrypted websites.

    But maybe the future of the USPS isn’t to be saved. After all, it has a government mandated and strictly enforced monopoly on mail delivery; private companies are only allowed to provide express services or parcel services, and they are not allowed to compete with the USPS on pricing. So those high FedEx prices are arbitrarily jacked higher by our own government’s laws.

    Such a sweet deal for the USPS, and they’re still managing to fail…maybe they deserve to fail, and have someone else pick up the pieces. Their infrastructure and coverage is truly enviable. It seems impossible to have that handed to you on a silver platter and still lose money.

  2. You are making an error by assuming the purpose of the post office is to deliver mail. It has become an employment/retirement provider in the fine tradition of bureaucratic entities throughout the world and history.

    True story: Moved to a new place. Went to the local PO to mail a package. Long slow line with various signs telling me how to behave (“Wait behind line” “Wait until called” etc.).

    I get to the clerk and ask why there is no package mailing machine like where I used to live (available 24/7, self-service, intuitive and easy and quick). The clerk says, “Well if we had those I would not have a job.”

    There you have it. Customer service is not the point of the exercise any more, in general, though my rural carrier is very nice and helpful but still labors in a depressing environment.

  3. If it wasn’t for the deliberate sabotage of the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006” the USPS would be $1.5 Billion in the black:

    Think about it, the USPS is being forced to pay healthcare and pensions 75 years in advance. They are being forced to pay for employees who haven’t been born yet.

    No private company could be solvent under such requirements.

    This is simply a ruse to break the unions and push through privatization.

  4. I have a lot of cracked CDs and damaged boxes from the postal service. Their employees are highly paid for the work they do and the service is appreciated but for expensive items, I’d rather send my package via UPS and UPS automatically insures my package for the first $100 automatically. The other problem with the USPS is that their tracking system is based on the honor system. In other words, they drop the box off on the porch with no one around to sign for it and they call it delivered with no verification process and the package can be stolen by anyone in bad neighborhoods.

    The reason postal service jobs are most sought after is because they are highly paid and I’m not sure that .45 cent stamps pay for the postman’s hourly rate. The price of gas and insurance has made the postal service less profitable.

    I am a cheap person and I do try to use the postal service and I think it is a good service and I understand that people have to eat but I think that the postal service needs to become more self sufficient.

  5. monopole is exactly correct — the post office is working just fine and is totally solvent if not for the bogus requirement to prefund their benefits structure 75 years in advance. I know we live in an age where the private sector is held up as the model and inspiration for everything under the sun, but there are many things the “free” market is just not set up to handle. Without the USPS most rural locations would not have access to any mail services at a price people could afford. 45 cents to mail a letter anywhere in the nation is an incredible value, and given that Postal workers earn a decent living with benefits and retirement benefits (remember — they aren’t covered under social security), its astounding how cheap their services are.

    Additionally, many poorer Americans do not have bank accounts and use the post office to pay bills and for many other services they would otherwise not have access to.

    Most of the complaints in this comment section are petty grievances or just reiterate corporate, anti-union, anti-government propaganda:

    If you don’t want the mailman to leave your package at your doorstep just fill out the signature form and they won’t leave it.

    The private sector is utterly opposed to paying a living wage, or providing services to areas that are unprofitable. The reason UPS pays a decent wage is they are unionized.

    Government regulation and government services protect us from mass exploitation and set a bar for employee compensation and treatment that gives the lie to the corporate efficiency meme. Given that the post office is actually quite profitable (sans the ridiculously destructive legislation mentioned above) shows that in certain areas government is much more efficient than the private sector. I know that is sacrilege to the kool-aid drinking corporate worshipers but its the truth. If you don’t believe it answer me this: we live in an era when effective corporate taxes are lower than any time in the last 75 years, when regulation of corporate behavior is being slashed to the bone, and many of the regs on the books are simply no longer enforced. So why is the REAL unemployment rate around 20%, why hasn’t the middle class received a real wage raise in 40 years, and why does our country have massive trade deficits and some of the worst corporate and financial corruption in the world? Why is our healthcare system falling apart and failing 50 million Americans every day? The “magic” of markets is destroying us, and those who continue to pontificate on their behalf are puppets supporting a plutocratic takeover that will leave us poverty-stricken, starving, and living in a toxic waste dump of a country.

    Gutting the USPS will further that downward spiral in a big way, and will lead to all of us being worse off. Except for the 1% of course.

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