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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Half a post office

Let’s stop the pretense that the USPS can survive without bold changes

Half a post office

(CaptainFlash/iStock)

I don’t get many billion-dollar ideas. So when I do, I hope the people who count will take it seriously.

The idea is to save the United States Postal Service before it implodes and collapses of its own weight. I suggest that we radically reduce the USPS’ costs by cutting service to all of us. We could do that by a simple plan by which everyone with even-numbered ZIP codes would get their mail delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Those with odd-numbered ZIP codes would get service on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Since I’m not a specialist in corporate mergers or restructuring, you won’t find in this column some of the details so crucial in carrying out a proposal like this. So I can already hear the squawks and squeals of those whose habits will take a bit of revision. The fact is, though, that most of us would hardly know the difference. We’d get along just fine.

The USPS of 2018 is a radically different operation from the post office most of us grew up with. And while it may be fascinating to explore some of the lesser reasons for the changes (competition from entities like FedEx and UPS, issues like union labor costs, failures in automation, inefficient vehicles, etc.), the real reason the USPS writes most of its communications in red ink these days is summarized in a single word: internet.

Except for the unending patience of Congress,the USPS would have disappeared long ago.

Consider a few of the strategic advantages the internet offers. It delivers your mail almost instantly. It goes to whole lists of folks as quickly as it does a single person. It allows you to include attachments like photos, family movies, and legal documents—all without worrying that the envelope may weigh a bit too much. It offers all of this service at virtually no cost. How do you beat that?

So the USPS folks themselves tell us that in the year 2011 they delivered an average of about four pieces of mail daily to each address in our country—a critical statistic that now in 2018 has been reduced to just three pieces. Most significantly, though: The USPS predicts the number will drop below two pieces by 2020. In other words, during the current decade the USPS’ workload is being cut in half!

For any other business, such a ruinous downfall in volume would have shuttered the operation for good. And indeed, except for the unending patience of Congress, the USPS would have disappeared long ago. No, Congress doesn’t technically cover the USPS’ losses that have averaged $5.1 billion a year for the last decade. That might be a bit too blatant—and besides, Congress itself is broke and has no cash to cover anybody’s losses. Instead, Congress “guarantees” USPS’ deficit, pretending that maybe things will turn around in the future.

Let’s stop the pretense. With a president in office who seems to like bold moves, let’s support him in a presidential order that USPS operations this year, and from now on, be limited to those for which cash revenues are actually in hand.

Watch your mail carefully for the next couple of weeks, and ask yourself honestly: How much of that mail did you need to get today? Or is so-called “First Class Mail” on a daily basis a luxury a bankrupt economy like ours can really afford? And especially for Christians, the question is stark: Dare we cling to luxuries for ourselves while asking our children and grandchildren to pay for them?

Or is it time for some dramatic cuts in service? And nowhere, in all the money Washington spends, should cuts be easier than in the operation of USPS. Does it really matter whether you get your utility bill on Monday or on Tuesday? Do you care whether your grocery ad appears on Wednesday instead of Thursday? Or, for that matter, if WORLD’s fund appeal shows up on Friday instead of Saturday?

Living with discipline always involves a little discomfort. But the alternative should frighten us. As USPS’ multibillion dollar losses mount, the choice seems clear: We’ll find a solution something like a three-day-a-week delivery system—or we’ll have a solution imposed on us that involves no mail delivery at all.

Comments

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sat, 04/14/2018 11:20 am

    Sounds feasible. I know my university post office was only open about three days a week, although that did mean I had to do a bit more planning when I sold my used books and needed to mail them.

  • Rudy49
    Posted: Sun, 04/15/2018 10:59 am

    This sounds like a realistic plan. We already receive virtually all of our bills electronically and pay them electronically. This means that while we probably do receive an average of three peices of mail daily, 90% of those peices are advertisements. 90% of those go directly to the recycle bin, unopened. It wouldn't bother me to do that only 3 times a week instead of 6.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 04/23/2018 04:22 am

    Joel, every attempt the USPS has offered to cut costs has been scuttled by Congress. This is much more complicated than cutting delivery as you propose. Congress blocked cutting out Saturday deliveries a few years back. So your bold proposal is stuck at the starting blocks. Congress cannot run anything well. Not to mention that President Trump still has two vacancies to fill on its Board of Governors.

    Congress needs to cut the USPS loose and privatize. 
     

    http://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/367108-privatize-the-us-postal-s...

  • PETER DAMS
    Posted: Mon, 04/23/2018 12:36 pm

    Agreed.  It is my understanding that Congress sets the postage stamp increases as well - not the Post Office leadership who knows what it would take to cover operating expenses.  That is like having UPS or FedEx rate increases approved by Congress that are not tied to how much it actually costs to provide services.  It seems many of us accept UPS and FedEx rate increases as part of life, but when postage increases by a few pennies, it's a big deal.

    Saving the USPS may indeed mean to privatize it.

  • VSKluth's picture
    VSKluth
    Posted: Tue, 04/24/2018 07:29 am

    I can see it now:  USPS cuts service in half but retains all the same infrastructure, support staff and expenses.  We'd get even lousier service for twice the csot.  Hmmm.  Privatization seems the best.  While we're at it, maybe we can put the Dept of Education on the list of agencies to be privatized.