Senate staves off postal Armageddon with USPS reform bill
Postal bill averts 3,700 post-office closings for at least two years, but fails to address deeper, structural problems in how the postal service manages a vast operation, rivaled only by Wal-Mart in total employment.
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The bill also largely slows proposed structural changes in the strategic plan offered by the USPS in February. Where the postmaster general would like to eliminate Saturday delivery, the Senate legislation would block such a move for two years. Then, it will allow it only if postal regulators and the Government Accountability Office agree the postal service needs to cut Saturday delivery for its long-term health.Skip to next paragraph
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Likewise, the bill requires the USPS to meet more requirements or offer more avenues to appeal the closure of post offices and mail processing facilities. It requires, for example, that the postal service develop “retail service standards” to ensure all Americans have access to postal services in evaluating the 3,700 post offices that are candidates for closure.
While there is broad agreement that the bill’s financial provisions avert a near-term disaster, the structural changes to the postal service’s operations aren’t enough for the bill’s critics.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, for example, thinks not enough is being done to cut excess facilities. In a nod to the political pressure on members of Congress (and particularly members from largely rural states) to avoid post office closures back home, Mr. McCain offered an amendment that would have created a process similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) instituted by Congress to handle the sensitive matter of closing military bases. It was defeated 69-30.
“If we don’t do that, we’ll be back in two years, absolutely,” McCain said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s no objective observer who believes that this proposal addresses the issue fundamentally."
And while the legislation will allow the USPS to enter some new business, such as shipping alcoholic beverages or offering services on behalf of state and local governments, such changes are only incremental, critics say.
“Congress is not giving the postal service the commercial flexibility it needs to adapt to the market reality,” says Richard Geddes, a professor at Cornell University and author of “Saving the Mail: How to solve the problems of the U.S. Postal Service.”
Mr. Geddes, who is broadly in favor of the Senate bill, believes the postal service has the potential to be a profitable enterprise if the organization was corporatized with a single shareholder: the US government. In such a format, the postal service would shed the needs of its multiple current masters – Congress, large mailers, postal unions, to name three – for the pure mission of earning income for the US Treasury.
“Congress has no special skills in running a business, and so they should just let the management of the postal service be undertaken by its managers,” Geddes says.
“This is the time. It’s hard to make the argument that the physical mail continues to bind the nation together. I believe it did many years ago but I believe that time has come and gone.”