Here’s something Congress can do when it returns from recess next month: start fixing the U.S. Postal Service.
The floundering agency has spent the past several years casting about as it sinks under the weight of a digital age. It is facing competition from models much more flexible and able to change with the times.
The Postal Service is anything but flexible.
For one, it is saddled with heavy debt. It owes nearly $100 billion in benefit payments to its current and retired workers. And that includes billions in mandated payments by Congress into a future retiree health care fund.
Even more incredulous is the 2006 law that requires the Postal Service to set aside $5.5 billion each year for a decade to pay for retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. No other agency in government has to plan for workers who aren’t even born. Congress must – must – reverse this horrible decision.
Even when operating revenues increase, the net losses the agency incurs on a yearly basis continue to drive it to the brink.
This unsustainable path has resulted in unwise plans to save itself, including continuing to toy with the idea of halting Saturday mail and the shuttering of facilities across the country. At one point, the threat of closure came dangerously close to the William Street mail processing center in Buffalo, along with 700 jobs. It led Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to call for Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe’s dismissal.
Congress must act if the agency is to survive. Legislators have put forth bills and some – such as the Carper-Coburn Postal Reform Act of 2014 – have features that are easy to support, including modernizing the service, streamlining operations and generating additional revenue. But the bill also includes provisions not so easy to support, such as enabling the eventual elimination of Saturday delivery in the fourth quarter of 2017 if volume falls below 140 billion pieces of mail a year. Since the agency expects mail to drop below that point, the end of Saturday mail delivery would be inevitable. The Carper-Coburn bill offers murky requirements for the closing of mail processing facilities.
There have been numerous plans put forward to try to help the service, some of which deserve support, such as the Postal Service Protection Act backed by Higgins. The bill enjoys the support of 185 sponsors in the House along with a companion bill in the Senate with 31 sponsors.
As Higgins’ office said, the Postal Service financial crisis could be eliminated if it were allowed to drop the prefunding obligation for pensions, expand its shipping operations and lease surplus space held by the service. The Postal Service Protection Act allows for these changes while maintaining Saturday delivery.
There are other bills worth supporting that address part of the issues on postal reform. Congress’ end goal should be rescuing a system steeped in American history and unshackling it so that it can thrive and continue into the future.