EDITORIAL: Postal Service takes a step to solvency
Feb 08, 2013 (Yakima Herald-Republic - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The U.S. Postal Service is a quasigovernmental agency that sometimes works at cross-purposes with itself. It has to support itself financially like a private business, but it is subject to public pressure and politically prompted meddling from elected officials. What results is a company whose economic model no longer functions well in our new economy, with online services severely cutting into the volume of mail. But unlike private businesses in this era of austerity, it can do little to change how it works.
Repeatedly in recent years, the Postal Service has proposed cost-cutting moves that would result in reduced services. But voters are the ones who wouldn't be served as well, and thus those with their ears to voters' wishes -- in this case Congress -- have stepped in. While the Postal Service has consolidated some operations, it remains a big money loser that ran up a $15.9 billion deficit in its most recent budget year.
The Postal Service has finally taken it upon itself to make some changes. The agency announced Wednesday a long-discussed proposal to stop Saturday mail delivery, though it will continue to deliver packages -- a profit-making venture for the Postal Service -- six days a week. Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open on Saturdays. The cutback would come in six months.
As drastic as it may seem, this change will save a relatively modest $2 billion a year, so the agency still faces severe fiscal challenges. A major fiscal issue also is the consequence of an action by Congress, which in 2006 required the Postal Service to put aside $5.5 billion a year for 10 years to fund future retiree health benefits. No other government agency does this, and efforts to change this setup in Congress have fallen short.
The Senate last year approved a measure that addressed Saturday delivery and health care costs, among other issues, but the House failed to follow suit. The agency also is hamstrung in its ability to renegotiate generous labor contracts, the way the private sector and other governmental entities have done in this era of fiscal austerity.
The Postal Service has made significant cuts. Since 2006, it has reduced its career workforce by 193,000 workers -- that's 28 percent of its employees -- and consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations. At last report, a proposal to close Yakima's Washington Avenue processing center and postmark the mail in Spokane has been put off until 2014.
Congress still could intervene to stop the Saturday decision, though such a move does the agency and its customers no favors in the long run. If the Postal Service is to be a business, Congress needs to let it operate like a business. In the meantime, let the agency do what it needs to do to stem the financial bleeding and adjust to a new economic reality.
--Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.
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