Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Going Postal

Saw this article today about the US Postal Service's financial woes. On the surface, it sounds like a lot of the stuff we've all been hearing about over the past several months.

Here's the Cliff Notes:
  • US Mail volumes and revenues are down
  • Expenses are up
  • Things like email, electronic bill payments, etc., indicate further reduction in demand
While the US Postal Service is not technically a government entity, it is "

an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States." As such, it is highly regulated by Congress. However, it receives no support from tax dollars and sustains itself through its own operations. Some of those regulations include:

  • The amount it can raise the cost of a stamp
  • How it is able to allocate its income toward its obligations
Normally, at this point, I would expect to hear some weak plea for a piece of the "economic stimulus" (see also: bailout package, indentured servitude for all American workers). However, this is the point at which I was pleasantly surprised by the response of the Postmaster General to the situation in which he finds himself.

He is not asking for money from the government/taxpayers. He is not wallowing in despair about the slumping global economy or rising health care costs. He is not even asking for approval to raise the price of the stamp beyond its typical bounds.

The US Postmaster General, one John Potter, only requested of the Senate subcommittee that the regulation be lifted which requires the US Postal Service to deliver mail six days per week. Mr. Potter has researched and implemented several solutions designed to ensure the continued operations of the US Postal Service in perpetuity, but this one Federal requirement is blocking his path to saving anywhere from $1.9 to 3.5 billion per year in costs.

In other words, the US Postal Service is not sitting there with its hand out and a defeatist's attitude. Already, they have:
  • Cut costs by $1 billion each year since 2002
  • Reduced their headcount by 120,000
  • Stopped building new facilities except in extreme circumstances
  • Frozen executive salaries
  • In process of trimming headquarters' staff by 15%
They are doing quite a bit already in order to stay solvent. I hope the Senate subcommittee removes the six-days-a-week requirement to let the US Postal Service deal with their operating environment on their own, without the arbitrary, anti-competitive requirement of six days of mail delivery per week. The Postmaster General says that Saturday service is likely to remain, instead opting to cut out a very slow day such as Tuesday.

I think I could quite easily live with something like this. I imagine there would be an adjustment period initially, and some people would make some late payments or receive a belated birthday card. But after a short time, I think we would adapt and soon the new service schedule would simply become ingrained in our lives like everything else.

I'm not even opposed to more drastic reductions in residential service. Suppose, for example, that each post office were to cut its carrier count in half, and each remaining carrier would then effectively be responsible for two routes, alternating between the two every other day. The post office would still operate six days a week, but each residence would only be serviced three days a week. That would not only reduce carrier salary and benefit expenses by approximately 50%, but also vehicle-related expenses. Post office facilities, PO boxes, blue drop-off receptacles, and commercial districts would all remain as is.

This would likely inhibit my potential to burn through Netflix movies at a healthy clip, but other than that, it wouldn't bother me. In fact, I'd rather have three days per week with a good size stack in my mailbox, as opposed to a couple of decent days of mail and some mediocre days when I only receive an appointment reminder postcard from my dentist.

1 comment:

Cami said...

So you should start writting for the Oregonian. You're good. I've become very informed. However, they wouldn't have you due to your conservatism. Where do you get the time?