The Augusta Chronicle, a leading news source for Georgia and beyond, published an editorial April 5 about the U.S. Postal Service (“Efficiency down to the letter”). You accurately noted that the Postal Service isn’t budgeted a dime of taxpayer money; it earns its revenue by selling stamps.
But you repeated some conventional wisdom about the Postal Service, much of it I believe is misleading. Given the Postal Service’s particular importance to the Peach State, with its large rural areas, major urban centers and thousands of small businesses, I’d like to offer more facts.
THE POSTAL SERVICE enjoys more than 80 percent public approval, and letter carriers year after year are ranked the most trusted federal employees.
International studies consistently show that the Postal Service provides Americans, and their businesses, with the world’s most affordable delivery network.
There’s a prevailing myth that the Postal Service is losing billions a year because folks are using the Internet, and therefore is on a downward trajectory.
But in fact, the Postal Service had a $632 million operating profit in 2013, and this year’s first quarter alone showed $1.1 billion in black ink.
THIS GOOD performance reflects three positive trends. The economy is gradually improving from the worst recession in 80 years, curbing the decline in letter revenue. Meanwhile, people are shopping online, leading to skyrocketing package revenue, up 14 percent in the past quarter. This growth in e-commerce makes the Internet a net positive for the Postal Service. And worker productivity is at record highs.
There is red ink, but it stems from congressional interference, not from the mail. In 2006 a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other public or private entity is required to pre-fund for even one year; the Postal Service must do so 75 years into the future, and pay for it all within 10 years. The resulting $5.6 billion annual charge accounts for 100 percent of postal “losses.”
Those who urge privatization of the Postal Service overlook a key fact: Delivering the mail is one of the few things the federal government does that stem directly from the Constitution – one reason why supporters of an agency first led by Benjamin Franklin include many conservatives.
THE POSTAL SERVICE is critical for small businesses, which employ 1.5 million Georgians. Eliminating Saturday delivery would raise their costs, because they’d have to contract with expensive private carriers to receive checks on weekends. The Postal Service, delivering six days a week, also supports 7.5 million private-sector jobs in the national mailing industry, including 229,191 in Georgia.
The Postal Service’s value extends beyond delivering mail. President George W. Bush, seeking after 9/11 to protect residents in event of a biological attack, turned to the nation’s only universal delivery network. Under the Cities’ Readiness Initiative, expanded under President Obama, letter carriers volunteer to be trained and to stockpile medicines to be delivered to every resident within 48 hours of an attack, in several metropolitan areas around the country.
ONE REASON LETTER carriers do this is that one in four carriers is a military veteran. The Postal Service is the nation’s top civilian employer of veterans, and protecting the homeland is in their DNA.
On a daily basis, letter carriers in Georgia and elsewhere save elderly customers who’ve fallen ill, find missing children, put out fires, rescue people from car wrecks and stop crimes – not because they’re superheroes but because they’re in neighborhoods six days a week; are devoted to the families; know when something’s wrong; and often are first on the scene.
Letter carriers also conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive the second Saturday each May, helping church programs and food pantries in Augusta feed families and children during summer months, when school meal programs don’t function.
SOME IN CONGRESS want to compound their error by ending door-to-door delivery – compelling Georgians to traipse through neighborhoods to find “cluster boxes” – and Saturday mail delivery.
These steps would send the Postal Service on a downward spiral by reducing mail, and thus revenue.
Instead, lawmakers should fix the pre-funding fiasco they created, so the national treasure that is the Postal Service can continue to serve the public.
(The writer is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.)