Opinion: Ben Franklin Tells Congress to Give USPS What It Wants

Dec 05, 2011 10:02 PM  By

Good day members of Congress, it has been quite some time since I addressed you, but I feel compelled to now in the hopes that you’ll stop all the dilly-dallying and give the U.S. Postal Service what it wants in a timely manner.

My Post Office originated nearly 250 years during the Second Continental Congress and has served the American people quite well during that span. I served as the first postmaster general and have watched this federal agency grow into a massive organization that truly deserves of a better fate at your hands as we speak.

I didn’t know how long I could stand silent and watch the deterioration of my once proud network that now appears to be oversized without speaking up.

I just heard that first-class mail and stamped-letters arriving the next day could be in jeopardy come next year. Dear, dear, whatever will it take for members of Congress to finally sit up and address these pressing issues for the USPS.

Much of the postal upheaval, ironically, seems to have occurred since the passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act 2006.

I don’t like the fact that my current predecessor, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, seems to be speaking to an empty room whenever he addresses any of you. Let me refresh your memory of some of dear Patrick’s recent quotes regarding the plight of the USPS.

  1. “Lack of speed will kill the Postal Service,” Donahoe said.
  2. First-class mail declining 7% a year.
  3. “If Congress gives us everything we need now, we would be out of the red in 2013, we would have a positive 2014 and a positive 2015. We would be in excellent shape with our debt and making profits.”

Leading bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate would not allow the USPS to immediately end Saturday mail delivery (http://multichannelmerchant.com/5-day-delivery/) and would impose some limitations on facility closings.

  1. “If passed today, either bill would provide at best one year of profitability, and at least a decade of steep losses.” said Donahoe.
  2. The world’s largest mail carrier has struggled to cope with the loss of mail volumes as customers send more email and pay bills online, along with high personnel costs.
  3. Donahoe has said the agency needs to reduce costs by about $20 billion by 2015 to ensure long-term viability.
  4. The agency wants Congress to allow it to end Saturday mail delivery and run its own retirement and health programs, and give it more flexibility to close facilities and raise prices.

Donahoe has said he’ll keep rate increases in stride with the Consumer Price Index.

Some of these bills would give the Postal Service flexibility to offer some new products and let it tap into an estimated surplus in a retirement account. It would make the agency wait two years to end Saturday mail and slow mail processing facility closings.

Personally, I’m not caught up in the minutiae contained in these bills. I realize none of you wants to be a sitting congressman having to tell constituents they will lose certain post offices they’ve relied on for the future fiscal health of the organization I created.

But everyone, members of Congress, postal officials, special interest groups, and customers need to adapt to change that has already occurred. These facts aren’t going away anytime soon and will only further contribute to the Postal Service’s current financial dreariment.

Consider this staggering statistic that dear Patrick revealed recently that speaks to the crippling of First-Class Mail. In 2000, about 5% of Americans paid their bills online; that figure now stands at 60%. Mercy!

Besides ridding the USPS of the annual (and shockingly ponderous) prepayments for retiree health benefits, dear Patrick Donahoe hopes the Postal Service can create a new health insurance plan for employees at the start of fiscal year 2013 at a cost of about $1.3 billion.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has asked Congress to approve 120,000 staff layoffs by 2015. The USPS has requested an amendment to the legislation by which postal workers receive retirement and health care benefits.

And yes, dear Patrick needs to close nearly 3,700 post offices by 2015 to help close a $20 billion revenue gap. And, the USPS still hopes to move to five-day mail delivery.

Members of Congress, I shall disappear for a couple of more centuries, but I will leave you with this: Stop the bickering and do what is right and timely to Save My Post Office. The political delays, grandstanding, and finger pointing is juvenile and should be put to bed to save this universal and once proud service.

Jim Tierney (jim.tierney@penton.com) is a senior writer for Multichannel Merchant. You can connect with him on Twitter (TierneyMCM) and LinkedIn or call him at 203-358-4265.