T he ubiquity of email and social-networking websites has caused a steady decline in the number of people using the services of the 236-year-old U.S. Postal Service. With the online presence of banks and credit card and utility companies, relying on the USPS to pay bills often has become unnecessary. The result is a decrease in first-class mail volume from 104 billion in 2001 to 73.5 billion in 2010 and an estimated 47 percent drop expected over the next decade.
Many, including the National Association of Letter Carriers, urge Congress to take action to save the USPS from an impending demise. In 2006, Congress acted by passing the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) to inhibit the USPS' ability to increase rates and to obligate it to pre-fund 75 years' worth of future health care benefits to retirees over a 10-year period. How an organization with a $5 billion (and growing) budget shortfall is expected to fund such benefits is beyond me and apparently beyond the USPS.
It recently announced a $2.1 billion cost-savings proposal - calling for the closure of more than half of its mail-processing centers, the initial elimination of 28,000 jobs and the end of overnight first-class mail. This is on top of plans to cease Saturday delivery and increase first-class mail delivery times. However, these are mere Band-Aids on a hemorrhaging quasi-government institution. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, recommended "this so-called postmaster general should be fired because of a lack of any imagination or initiative." Congress should look in the mirror, as the initiative it should undertake is the elimination of government interference with the USPS - allowing it to function like other (private) businesses.
Congress should consider repealing the PAEA - giving the USPS the freedom to determine adequate postal rates and a sustainable level of funding of retiree benefits. Next, eliminate the USPS' monopoly status by nullifying the Private Express Statutes - federal laws that, with few exceptions, make it illegal for anyone other than the USPS to deliver letters for less than what the USPS charges. Regulating postage pricing and pensions and protecting its monopoly status has failed to save the USPS from a slow and painful death. Meanwhile, companies such as UPS and FedEx demonstrate the ability to provide postal services sans government interference.
More government interference and/or using taxpayer money won't return the USPS to its former glory. The focus should be on the thousands of USPS employees rather than giving a fading institution life support. What would better serve those employees would be the availability of competition to provide postal services at market-driven prices based on basic economic principles of supply and demand - leading to new jobs and better services outside of the USPS. In short, government needs to step aside and let the marketplace handle what the USPS cannot.
Sean Turner is a freelance writer.
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