Postal Service gambles delivery change will work

Posted: Feb. 8, 2013 11:11 am Updated: Mar. 1, 2013 12:15 pm


AMERICANS ARE notably sentimental about the Postal Service. For many, their letter carrier or clerk at the local post office is the only federal government employee with whom they are in regular contact.

The U.S. Postal Service has powerful unions, and Congress, although disinclined to pay for it, is enormously protective of the service. Unfortunately, the post office is in poor and worsening financial shape, losing $15.9 billion in the last budget year alone.

The Washington Post's government-watchdog column, the Federal Diary, says, "The U.S. Postal Service is neck deep in debt, it has defaulted on Treasury payments and its business is in free fall." First-class mail, its most profitable service, has fallen by 37 percent since 2007, largely because people use the Internet to communicate and pay bills.

In a daring move to cut costs, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe this week announced that the service is planning to end Saturday pickup and delivery of letters, although carriers will continue to deliver packages, one of the few growth areas for the Postal Service, and priority and express mail.

Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010. Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to new habits.

The Postal Service plans to switch to Monday-through-Friday delivery in early August. The cutback is expected to save $2 billion a year, which Donahoe called "too big of a cost savings to ignore."

The move is daring because Congress has expressly required six-day delivery since 1981, but that requirement was somehow omitted from a stopgap resolution last fall temporarily funding government operations through March 27.

Congress could reinstate the requirement, but Donahoe is betting that by then the public will have grown used to the idea and that lawmakers, prone to burdening the Postal Service with mandates they don't pay for, will see the virtues of the savings. Donahoe said the service's market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 people support the switch as a way to reduce costs.

Time will tell if this choice is the correct one.