, Newburyport, MA

February 12, 2013

Averting a Saturday without mail

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Just weeks after raising the price of first-class postage, the U.S. Postal Service announced it will eliminate Saturday mail home delivery beginning in August. It’s a move that could still be averted if Congress steps in with some authority, but it appears the $2 billion in projected savings will override the inconvenience of service interruption.

Residents and businesses that have come to depend on receiving what first-class mail that is left are being asked to sacrifice to make up for the postal service’s lack of foresight in worker benefit liabilities and other financial areas. For too long, the postal service has failed to keep up with the changing business model of its industry. Now, it must make drastic changes to staunch the financial bleeding.

These savings will be made without a single layoff — in fact, one of the biggest cuts appears to be in overtime expenses and through gradual attrition. Yet, many of the core problems with the Postal Service’s management will not be on the table.

This is yet another chapter in a long slide for the Postal Service. There was a time, many years ago, when the post office delivered more than once per day. In recent years, it has closed many rural post offices, eliminating a large slice of community life in those small towns. This decision will also impact many newspapers and commercial businesses that have come to rely on the mail for delivery.

The Postal Service has been called an odd hybrid of business and government, with the worst components of both. Its financial and benefit structure is out of touch with the business world, yet it attempts to compete in a business environment without the flexibility to do so efficiently. This is due in large part to the frequent meddling of Congress, which has placed a variety of parameters on the post office that make it bleed profusely.

The rise of online communication and electronic bill paying has certainly impacted the Postal Service’s core mission. There is no way to get this horse back into the barn, and the post office clearly recognizes that. But changes such as the cancellation of Saturday service is drastic, when in fact the root problems lie far deeper within the Postal Service’s management.

We don’t have a lot of faith in Congress doing the right thing, but in this case, we’ll hold out a sliver of hope. Congress needs to relax the restraints that have turned the Postal Service into a benefit-fattened agency and help it become a more efficient customer-centered enterprise.