Say so long to Saturday mail
The U.S. Postal Service is in a big financial bind, caused in large part from trying to maintain, in the digital age, a service that originated in the 18th century.
However, every time the service tries to do something about it, Congress — which faces massive financial problems of its own — says, “You can’t do that.”
Members of Congress should drop their objections to the Postal Service’s latest plan to save money by ending Saturday mail delivery. The only real question about the proposal should be why it’s only a partial measure.
Although the Postal Service plans to halt home and business deliveries of letters, magazines and documents, it plans to continue delivering packages on Saturdays. Additionally, mail would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays, and post offices that are currently open Saturdays would remain open.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said the end of Saturday delivery would save the independent entity $2 billion a year. But why not cut all operations back to five days a week and save even more money, especially when the Postal Service is hemorrhaging funds? It lost nearly $16 billion last year.
The answer is that Congress fights tooth and nail every time eliminating Saturday delivery is suggested, as it has been repeatedly since 1975.
The same thing occurs any time the Postal Service even hints at closing some post offices to save money.
At the same time Congress has greatly exacerbated the Postal Service’s financial problems by requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retirees’ benefits, which no other government entity has to do.
But a larger part of the agency’s problems stem from the reality of our digital age. Email, text messaging and social networking are rapidly replacing envelopes and stamps as our primary means of personal and business communication. The number of stamped pieces of conventional mail delivered this year is expected to be less than half of what it was even a decade ago, down from 50 billion items in 2003 to approximately 21 billion this year.
The U.S. mail, which once was a necessity for keeping a far-flung nation connected, is not nearly as critical as it once was.
Still, few people want to see that service abandoned entirely. It remains important for transferring business documents, print publications and even the occasional personal message.
Congress set the Postal Service on the path toward supposed independence more than 40 years ago. It needs to step out of the way and let the agency take rational action based on market conditions.
Partially ending Saturday mail service is one necessary step in that direction.