Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#325. Down and Out at the Post Office

Lots of post mortems and political recriminations in the press about the hurricane/tropical storm at the weekend, like how could the forecasters get it so wrong and how much the Mayor over-reacted (having under-reacted on Boxing day with the blizzard), but this Editorial in today's NY Times made both interesting and sad reading:

Neither rain nor snow may stop the United States Postal Service, but will the abysmally divided Congress? The service is reeling toward default and urgently needs the Capitol’s help to modernize and pay its bills.

Congress allots no money to support the service. But lawmakers control its practices — particularly in shooting down repeated requests to eliminate costly Saturday mail deliveries. A combination of the recession and the public’s shift to e-mail and online bill payment has devastated the service. Amid steep declines in mail handling, deficits are running to $9 billion this year in a $67 billion budget.

To stay in business, the Postal Service is again calling for doing away with Saturday deliveries to save an estimated $40 billion across a decade. It also wants to cut more than a third of its work force — 220,000 jobs over three years — and study the replacement of 3,650 of its 32,000 post offices with locally contracted retailers.

The Postal Service has already maxed out on its borrowing limit and expects to default next month on a $5.5 billion prepayment for employee health benefits. There are proposals for a quick fix of more borrowing authority, but that hardly deals with the deepest problems.

Like any supposedly self-sustaining business, the Postal Service deserves a chance to modernize. The most controversial proposal would let it tap into a federal retirement fund that managers claim is far overpaid because of a faulty formula. That needs very careful review.

Both houses have bills at the ready and sponsors promising action, even as union forces vow to protect jobs and rural forces vow to protect their post offices. Congress needs to surprise the country and mount a swift and serious debate and then pass a reasonable menu of reforms. Americans want their lawmakers to work for the common good. And they want their mail delivered.