Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress on Wednesday to drop a requirement to deliver mail six days a week.
In testimony before a Senate oversight committee, Mr. Potter said the average number of pieces of mail the U.S. Postal Service delivers per stop declined from 5.9 in 2000 to 4.8 in 2008. The decline is particularly large in the summer months, Mr. Potter said.
Dropping one day per week during the months of June, July and August is “what we’re proposing for this summer and probably 2010,” Mr. Potter told Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat.
That doesn’t necessarily mean an end to Saturday mail delivery. Previous post office studies have looked at skipping another day when mail flow is light, such as Tuesday.
For now, the USPS is proposing a two-year test period during which delivery days could be cut, but Mr. Potter said he could ask for authority to make the change permanent.
“In the long term, that’s where we’re headed anyway,” he said.
Dropping six-day delivery would bring U.S. postal operations in line with those of other nations that have reduced delivery schedules in recent years. However, it would trim an element of service that stretches back to at least 1863, when urban home delivery was established.
USPS, the country’s third-largest employer behind Wal-Mart and the Pentagon, is an integral part of the U.S. economy, said Jerry Cerasale, a senior vice president of the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group for the nation’s mail-order industry.
The USPS reported a $2.8 billion loss last year.
While conceding that “we have to look at reality of the American economic situation,” Mr. Cerasale said it would be a mistake to see reduced delivery as a simple solution to the Postal Service’s chronic deficits.
Deleting one delivery day will not result in a one-sixth reduction in costs, Mr. Cerasale said. “The only thing changed is the time the letter carriers are on the street,” which is a fraction of the Postal Service’s $70 billion annual budget, he said.
The USPS could save $2 billion a year if it went to a five-day schedule year-round, said Dan C. Blair, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, who also testified at the hearing.