MANKATO, Minn. —
The U.S. Postal Service's decision to reduce its first-class delivery time from one to three days to two to three days is the latest move to stop financial losses that last year totaled $5.1 billion.
The move may be necessary but the USPS - and Congress - must make quick and bold changes to keep mail service viable into the future. Reducing quality, such as by slowing delivery time, only erodes the competitive advantage USPS has over private delivery companies.
The Postal Service, which operates without taxpayer money, has been hammered by a nearly 30 percent decline in first-class mail business as email and other digital transmissions increases.
The USPS has responded with cost cutting plans, including the closing of many mail processing centers, something that will lead to the slower delivery times and other inconvenience such as reduction in home delivery.
While some of the steps may be inevitable, it is inaction by Congress that is hamstringing more reform in the postal service.
While the USPS operates as an independent agency, federal laws dictate how they operate. Postal officials have asked for legislative changes to give them flexibility, but Congress has been unwilling to react or to offer any alternative plan of action.
In particular, postal officials want Congress to remove the post office's obligation to set aside about $5.5 billion a year for 10 years to pre-fund retiree health care.
Pre-funding retiree benefits is not a requirement of any other agency.
Ending the pre-funding, coupled with modest increases in postal rates and other cost-cutting measures could keep the USPS profitable and competitive.
There are those calling for a complete privatization of postal business. That is not a scenario most Americans would relish. A completely private system would mean companies would divvy up the lucrative package delivery business, while no one would be delivering the letters, magazines, bills, advertising and other mail to most Americans.
Online bill paying and digital communications will continue to grow, but the need for mail delivery - to large cities and the remotest of rural areas - is far from dead. Congress needs to do its part to help ensure the system's viability.
The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. Published Dec. 21, 2011, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.