I read a recent opinion piece in the The Washington Post about the U.S. Postal Service and the fact that no one can seem to figure out what to do to either make it a viable entity or replace it entirely.
A few interesting numbers in that story:
USPS’s 574,000 employees trails only Wal-Mart among civilian employers
Its more than 215,000 vehicles (the world’s largest fleet) travel 1.25 billion miles and use nearly 400 million gallons of fuel a year
Total mail volume of 213 billion in 2006 dropped to 171 billion in 2010, with stamped mail declining 47% in the last decade
Beyond the numbers is the more troubling stance of the American Postal Workers Union, which would prefer to close its eyes rather than face reality:
On its Web site, the American Postal Workers Union disputes the notion that “hard-copy mail is destined to be replaced by electronic messages.” Mail volume was down, it says, because its principal component — advertising — had fallen in the recession. “As the nation and the world emerge from economic stagnation, hard-copy mail volume will expand,” it asserts. But that, of course, ignores the rise of the Internet, and its ever-growing use for checking bills or sending payments — with no need for that army of 500,000.
The Internet can’t be used to tele-transport packages, of course, and our use of package delivery services, including the Postal Service’s, has grown with e-commerce. But the Postal Service is running large deficits, bumping up against the $15 billion limit it is permitted to borrow, and is on the brink of default unless Congress comes to the rescue.
Is this where the Postal Service wants to make its stand, as a package delivery service, one among several providers? Does anyone really care whether the Postal Service or U.P.S. drops the package at the doorstep?
A few Washington-related items that came across my radar screen in recent reading:
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman says he never considered running for president while in his service as U.S. ambassador to China. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that. But Huntsman notes that he never intended to stay in the previous role for more than two years — and admits that he failed to tell that to President Obama. Oops!
While many are criticizing the federal health care reform effort for what it tries to do, a former administration official is blasting it for its failure to address a related subject. Former OMB Director Peter Orszag says that as long as doctors follow evidence-based protocols, they should be exempted from medical malpractice suits. "His quote: "Unfortunately, in the health act, this was one of the largest missed opportunities." Anything to help curb the lawsuit mania that grips our country would be a good thing. Can we start over on that reform thing?
News flash! The U.S. Postal Service is a broken system — and Congress wants to fix it. Ending Saturday delivery and closing more branches are part of the plan, as well as renegotiating collective bargaining agreements. I don’t know the answer, but something must be done sooner rather than later to fix an uncompetitive, costly government-run program.
The organziation that once promised that rain, sleet or snow would not prevent it from completing its appointed rounds is now facing a cloudy future because it is bleeding money at unprecedented levels.
A few facts (and then seeking your opinion):
A $2.4 billion quarterly loss for the U.S. Postal Service, extending its string of red ink to at least the last three years
A projected mail volume decline as high as 20% between 2008 and 2010
The potential closure of nearly 700 post offices around the country
Shockingly, lawmakers, postal officials and union leaders are at odds about what to do next
My take: the model is broken; don’t tinker around the edges; don’t prop it up with additional government subsidies (our taxpayer money). It’s a whole different mail delivery world, requiring innovative solutions. Do downsize; do privatize if that is deemed best; do create a system that will serve us well into the future.