A Common-Sense Approach for the United States Postal Service | Commentary
Since America’s founding, our postal system has served as a critical institution supporting our nation’s social fabric. From important news to heartfelt greetings to essential packages, the Postal Service has a proud tradition of universal service, nationwide delivery and affordable access to information dating back to its first postmaster general, Benjamin Franklin. However, the Postal Service has fallen into financial disrepair and most of the public debate over potential reforms has unfortunately generated more heat than light, focusing on ideas that would cut crucial services or raise prices but do little to fix, effectively and permanently, today’s Postal Service.
No one denies that the Postal Service is in trouble; it is bleeding $25 million a day, contributing to an estimated $15 billion budget deficit. Yet current proposals like those to raise stamp prices or end six-day delivery amount to little more than Band-Aids on top of a gaping wound. Simply covering over deep, structural problems may give the illusion of reform, but these proposals would only make things worse by degrading the quality of service.
To help shift the conversation toward real solutions, the Greeting Card Association has conducted an exhaustive review of existing recommendations from the Government Accountability Office and the Postal Service’s own Office of the Inspector General. Our analysis shows that there are more than 100 alternative savings options available to solve the Postal Service’s structural budget deficit without cutting valuable services or raising prices, including 54 proposals that could be implemented immediately without congressional legislation or collective bargaining with labor unions.
The most sustainable and common-sense path for the Postal Service is a three-step process. First, the Postal Service should immediately implement one of the 54 proposals already within its authority: install cluster boxes on a widespread, national scale, and drop the politically divisive proposal to end Saturday mail delivery. Second, the Postal Service is the only federal agency required by Congress to pre-fund its retirees’ health benefits 100 percent within 10 years, an unprecedented timetable. There is virtually unanimous agreement that this requirement is both unnecessary and one of the primary causes for its current crisis. Requiring funding at a more reasonable level and schedule would immediately improve the Postal Service’s condition. Third, the Postal Service should evaluate the cost saving achieved by the first two steps over the balance of this year and, if more deficit reductions are needed, it can draw from any of the 53 remaining proposals that don’t require any further congressional action or union negotiation to enact.
No idea has been quite as publicized or misunderstood as the proposal to eliminate the Postal Service’s six-day delivery by ending Saturday mail service. First, as a unanimous advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission showed, it is doubtful that doing so would achieve the $2 billion in savings its proponents project. Second, it would abandon the Postal Service’s mission of universal service by affecting those in rural or low-income areas, and it would cause significant delays of up to four days for overnight and first-class mail. Changing six-day delivery cannot be part of a sustainable solution because it would do little to reform the root causes of the Postal Service’s budget deficit and actually do substantial harm by putting the Postal Service at a competitive disadvantage, accelerating its decline.
Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have both released draft discussion legislation to reform the Postal Service. We are releasing our common-sense solution that sets the Postal Service on a path to solvency without cutting critical services or raising rates. It is our hope that out of this exchange of ideas, a solutions-focused and productive conversation can continue between Congress, the Postal Service and the general public.
Ultimately, the American public needs a fully functioning and fiscally sound Postal Service. Our analysis lays out common-sense structural reforms that will achieve the necessary operational efficiency and cost savings. More importantly, we provide flexibility to all stakeholders with more than 100 alternative proposals that preserve the universal service and affordable prices that consumers expect and deserve from the Postal Service.
George White is the chairman of the Greeting Card Association’s Postal Affairs Committee.