The United States Post Office (USPS) has been in the news recently, and not necessarily for the right reasons. They’re asking for $89 billion dollars as part of the pandemic bailout packages coming out of Congress to remain solvent. President Trump’s opinion is that they need to fix their operations, starting by charging more to deliver packages (specifically singling out Amazon deliveries). There have been other opinions as well, but you know things have jumped the shark when John Oliver dedicates an entire segment to the topic.
It should surprise no one that I have an opinion on how to fix the post office, too. For whatever reason, it’s something I’ve thought about for quite some time. And while I can’t describe my solution as eloquently or deliver it in the same manner as John Oliver, I’m going to lay it out anyway. Here goes.
In case you don’t have time to watch John Oliver’s segment, or if he’s not your cup of tea, here’s a summary of the segment, in my own words:
- Allowing the post office to go bankrupt is not an option. It provides an essential service and needs to be preserved.
- Many current postal service issues can be traced back to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed in 2006.
- The post office needs to be given the $89,000,000,000 (i.e., $89 billion) that they are requesting to continue providing uninterrupted service.
I agree with some of the points in John Oliver’s segment, but I also disagree with some of his reasoning as well. I’m not going to engage in a point-by-point rebuttal, but instead offer up what I think should be done with the post office.
The post office needs to exist, period
The post office is an essential service and needs to remain operational. Turning the post office into a completely private entity and allowing it to fail would be a mistake. While there aren’t a lot of people on a percentage basis that live in rural areas, they deserve to have postal delivery service like every other American. In some cases, as Oliver points out, these individuals depend on it for things like prescription delivery. Under a completely privatized system, these people could be cut-off from an essential service that, in some cases, is a literal lifeline for them.
Maintain operation as an independent entity
The USPS need to remain an independent entity (albeit with a government backstop so it can continue to provide essential services to every American). It needs to be given the freedom to operate as a business and fund itself through operations. Now, I can’t speak to the details of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, nor am I going to take the time to read it. But, if it is hindering operations, as John Oliver infers and suggests, then the law needs to be reviewed. Passing laws that dictate how the Post Office operates does not give it the freedom to run as an independent entity. Furthermore, what’s the harm in reviewing the law. Things change rapidly in business, and what sounded like a good idea 15 years ago may not be applicable today. It’s why all laws should have a sunset provision where they are reviewed periodically rather than put on the books and left there. Anyway, before I get sidetracked, let’s put off that rant for another time.
Independent, with oversight
While independent, there still needs to be oversight. If the Post Office is granted a government backstop to continue operating, it needs to be held accountable. I realize there are some items in place such as regular reporting, but I would take it farther. Instead of implementing laws to control operations, Congress needs to step up and participate on the Board of Directors. At least half the members of the Board should come from Congress, with the remaining individuals approved by Congress as they are today. Congressional participation should be split evenly among party lines in an attempt to avoid it becoming a political hot potato (which, I’ll admit, would probably happen anyway). There’s nothing wrong with providing a government backstop, but there needs to be more active participation rather than offloading it to individuals who are selected entirely by the President.
Eliminate daily delivery
And now for the controversial part of the plan – eliminate daily postal delivery. The post office needs to move to an every other day delivery mechanism. I’ve been monitoring my mail for quite some time, and the overwhelming majority is junk. Rarely is there anything that comes via standard delivery that is time critical. Over 80% of my mail is bulk advertising that goes directly into my recycling bin or paper shredder.
There are alternatives to daily delivery. For time sensitive packages, these should be sent priority mail with next day delivery. The post office would still deliver these packages on a daily basis, just as it currently does. For people who crave daily mail, get a box at the post office. The Post Office must continue delivering mail daily to post office boxes, which would provide people a way to get daily mail if it is a necessity.
Over time, cutting deliveries in half would result in immense cost savings. There would be savings in employee costs as jobs were phased out over time. Equipment costs would be reduced with fewer trucks required for delivery. Operational costs would get cut with less fuel required for mail delivery. Overall, I highly doubt it would change the amount of bulk mail I receive. Bulk mail is not time sensitive, so whether I get it on Monday or Tuesday really doesn’t matter. Companies would still use that method as a means to market and sell their products. Cutting delivery by half would deliver dollars directly to the Post Office bottom line, a lot of dollars.
Require a plan for the money
So the post office needs $89B dollars. Notice how people these days abbreviate billion or trillion with a capital latter. It’s so you focus on the first two digits and don’t see just how big the number really is. I mean, it’s 89, which is less than 100, so what’s the big deal?
Well, here’s what $89B looks like when it is spelled out:
It’s the equivalent of handing out roughly $300 to every person in America with no questions asked. Or to put it another way, it’s the equivalent of paying 890,000 people a salary of $100,000 for one year.
What’s my point? If we’re going to hand out money, it needs to be given with a plan, with strings attached. What’s the Post Office going to do so it isn’t back 5 years from now asking for more money? I would even require the Post Office to show how it is going to pay the money back. If it requires changes to the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, then let’s make the changes to give them a chance. There needs to be a plan that the Post Office does not turn into a money pit before a check for $89,000,000,000 is signed and delivered.
Putting aside the nostalgic scenes that John Oliver generously sprinkled throughout his segment, the post office needs to evolve. Although the services it provided 75 years ago may not be as relevant today, such as delivering live chicks, the service remains essential. So yes, I agree that we should bail out the postal service, but it needs to be done with a plan – a plan that comes with accountability, the freedom to operate independently, an evolution of services, and a possibility to repay the $89,000,000,000 it requires to remain operational.