The Postal Service should consider not accepting money from Congress so that it would be free to eliminate Saturday delivery and close rural post offices, a new report says.
Postal officials are laying the groundwork for five-day-a-week delivery but have had trouble winning permission from Congress. They can move forward on that and other controversial measures without Congressional approval, according to a report issued this week by USPS’s Office of Inspector General.
Congress appropriates about $100 million annually to the Postal Service to support free mail for the blind and overseas voters, according to the Inspector General’s report. Otherwise, USPS is expected to be self supporting.
“The small postal appropriation each year routinely shifts costs to the Postal Service and subjects it to riders that prevent closing small post offices or experimenting with 5-day-a-week delivery,” the report says. The rider requiring delivery six days a week has been in place since 1983, Postmaster General Jack Potter noted in January when he "reluctantly" asked Congress to remove the rider.
The Postal Service should consider opting out of the appropriations process “and its attendant restrictions” because the $100 million may be “more of a bother than it is worth,” the report says. Saying no to the money “would be a small price to pay for cementing the financial independence of the Postal Service,” it adds. USPS’s projected savings from dropping a day of delivery exceed $2 billion annually.
But the Postal Service has a practical reason for not giving Congress a “middle-finger salute” with unilateral elimination of Saturday delivery: It is also asking Congress to change the law requiring USPS to over-fund its account for retiree health benefits.
The OIG characterizes the overpayment, which it estimates as $5.4 billion this year, as using “Postal Service funds to make the president’s budget seem smaller.”
“The Postal Service is an attractive source of money to prop up the federal budget,” agrees Leo Raymond, vice president of the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, in a recent article for Mailing Systems Technology. He despairs of Congress ever granting USPS the freedom to make the tough choices it needs to make.
“What the Postal Service does (or doesn’t do) generates a steady stream of chances for politicians to superimpose their political preferences on what should be left as business decisions,” he writes. “Whether a labor issue, facility closure, or service decision, every action by postal management tees up a chance for someone in Congress to meddle – and get a photo op, issue a press release, or ingratiate himself to a source of campaign contributions at the same time.”
The Postal Service could be on track to run out of money in a matter of months. The two changes that would be large enough and feasible enough to stave that off are scaling back the retiree-benefits overpayments and eliminating a day of delivery.
So maybe it’s time for postal officials to send Congress a veiled ultimatum: If you don’t end the silly retiree-benefits shell game, USPS will go “off budget” and eliminate Saturday delivery. The threat of having a truly independent Postal Service that could make unpopular changes in their districts would definitely get the politicians’ attention.