The current controversy over eliminating Saturday mail delivery prompted me to look up something I wrote two years ago. Here it is:
The U.S. Postal Service is probably the government agency which has been most adversely affected by the internet revolution. The high volume of personal and business correspondence which used to be mailed is now e-mailed at much lower cost. Despite cutting jobs and raising postage rates and fees, the Postal Service remains in desperate financial condition, running multi-billion dollar deficits annually, unable to fund health benefits for future retirees, and predicting default on other payments due if relief isn’t granted by Congress.
Congress should authorize the Postal Service to take the necessary steps towards financial stability, including flexibility in funding employee benefits, authority to eliminate underused post offices, and reducing the current six-day per week delivery system.
Delaware’s Senator Tom Carper who chairs the relevant Senate subcommittee has introduced legislation authorizing some of those reforms. But the Postal Service itself has been reluctant to embrace the reform which would do the most to address its financial crisis: reducing mail delivery to 3-times per week.
In 2010 the Postal Service paid for an expensive study by business consultants McKinsey & Co. which recommended reducing mail delivery to 3-times per week. But the head of the Postal Service immediately rejected that recommendation, which it had paid for, saying, “I think that would negatively impact our business…. If we change delivery from six to three, the ubiquity of our product and the value would be diminished.”
Nobody needs mail delivery more than 3 times a week in the age of the internet. Most communications go faster by e-mail. Express deliveries can still be done for extra fees by the Postal Service or by private carriers like UPS or FedEx.
Gradual conversion to three-times a week delivery would permit a significant reduction in the number of Postal Service employees, which could be accomplished through attrition without layoffs. Eventually half the mail could be delivered on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. The other half could be delivered Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Reducing employees means reducing expenses including health and retirement benefits.
The Postal Service is not and cannot be run as a jobs program. The multi-billion dollar annual deficits must end.