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Save, don't kill, the U.S. Postal Service

The Post editorial board’s casual discussion of privatizing the United States Postal Service may seem pennywise, but it is pound foolish. It would be a grave error to break up a service that instead should be remade.

There is no question that the USPS is struggling, as are so many conveyors of information, in these early days of the digital era. But we should follow the lead of other countries, particularly Switzerland, which have positioned their postal services as 21st century hybrids that continue to provide basic services on Main Street -- including regular delivery of snail mail -- while competing with significant success on an information superhighway that will still require reliable, steady and civically-oriented public services.

The USPS is a remarkable national asset which continues to deliver needed services that cannot and will not be delivered by the private sector. The network of 32,741 post offices, which extends to every corner of the country, and the staff of 656,000 skilled postal workers are the backbone of Main Streets in urban neighborhoods and small towns. These workers are the human beings who deliver a soldier’s letter home to his mom, who a lost child runs to when he wanders around one corner too many, who check in on an elderly man who might not have any other human contact that day, who deliver medicines to the aged and infirm. No, the USPS is not a social service agency. But it does provide a social and economic service to communities across this country.

It is, as well, a vital communications infrastructure that each day delivers 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million locations. And, while much of what is delivered is ridiculously subsidized "junk mail," there is a lot of mail that matters. Indeed, our civic and democratic life is still intricately linked to the USPS.

In an era in which an ever-increasing number of Americans vote by mail, either as part of a specific state initiative or via absentee ballots, and when magazines of opinion that are delivered by our postal workers provide much of the content that makes the Internet an essential tool of our democratic discourse, it is not just economically unwise to speak casually about privatizing the USPS before we have considered the consequences. It is a fool's mission.

And there is much more that the USPS can do to stay competitive. SwissPost, for example, is positioning itself as a global media and technology enterprise that embraces the Internet and has entered into partnerships with Switzerland’s largest publishers, banks and high-tech companies. Innovation, not privatization, should be the first course for postal service reformers.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel  | March 15, 2010; 11:33 AM ET
Categories:  vanden Heuvel  | Tags:  Katrina vanden Heuvel  
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Comments

I agree that we need to keep the US Postal Service in effective operation. The Postal Service serves everyone, including those Americans who cannot afford personal computers. Also, the Postal Service provides package delivery everywhere that sustains many Internet and mail-order companies. In addition, the Postal Service is an infrastructure that is more likely to survive an intense solar storm event as compared to the highly vulnerable Internet. The Internet would be burned out by the solar storm while the Postal Service would keep on trucking.

Posted by: nleggett | March 15, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Vanden Heuvel is right on target. The U.S.P.S. delivers to 100% of the addresses in this country. No private service does this... or will do it. In fact, private delivers often contracts with the U.S.P.S to do what's called "last mile delivery".

If U.S.P.S goes private, such service will be endangered if not eliminated for many. The postmaster general has submitted to Congress what needs to be done to leave the postal service sustainable. It's now just a matter of doing it!

Posted by: TheTruthPlease | March 15, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I had to pay my congressman thousands to keep our post office off the closure list.


Posted by: blasmaic | March 15, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I started working for a USPS competitor about 30 yrs ago. The improvement in the USPS over the last 30 yrs has been incredible.

Back in '79 USPS package delivery was a joke, now it is serious competition, albeit subsidized.

For all of the talk about the private sector taking over mail delivery, you can believe that the existing carriers don't want it, at least not at .44\letter.

Posted by: BEEPEE | March 15, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I constantly here conservative "government critics" point out the post office as such a terrible service and they universally cite 3 details about the post office experience:

-Long lines
-Employees "just standing around"
-Mail damaged or undelivered

I've probably sent ~200 pieces of mail the last 2 years and I've never one single time seen any of these things.

I actually prefer USPS to FedEx or UPS as long as you have an extra day or two to work with. It's a lot cheaper and I have a lot less problems with damaged items. UPS has better delivery times but you have to package stuff like it's a Mars Lander or something the way they handle boxes there.

I worked for UPS for awhile and I can guarantee you people there are actively trying to damage your items. I think the Post Office being more used to letters and small parcels tend not to have that mentality.

Posted by: Gover | March 15, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Yes, save and keep the US Postal Service. To help it survive financially, there should be no Saturday mail deliveries. Maybe there would also have to be one or two additional weekdays without mail deliveries in order to make this service more economical.

Posted by: RonPosts | March 15, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

All the damn republicans want to do is privatize things so that their fat cat benefactors can get into the business and make lots of money. I like the author's ideas, but frankly I'm frustrated by all the junk I get in the mail. If someone can find a way to reliably get rid of that, I'd be greatly relieved. In the meantime, it's a merry go round for me: mailbox to recycling bin to recycling center - guess how much time, energy, and fuel that wastes.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | March 15, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I, too, have had nothing but positive experiences with USPS since I began shipping parcels about 5 years ago. With carrierpickup.usps.com I can request to have my packages picked up at my door once per day, free of charge. Buying online postage is fast and easy and, for most services, provides automatic delivery confirmation at no extra charge. The online store fulfills my stamp orders for a nominal shipping fee ($1.00 per order) and sends me cardboard shipping boxes and labels in bulk for FREE. USPS's rates beat Fedex and UPS for almost all services. The Global Express (International) service is lightning fast and tracks products even as foreign customs and couriers take possession of the parcel. In short, what's not to like? The people who complain loudly about USPS are usually the ones who, when pressed, admit that they barely use the service or who had a long wait in line 10 years ago and are still bitter about it.

Posted by: obeah | March 15, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Save it. It is a national treasure.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 15, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

You wrote:

"the staff of 656,000 skilled postal workers"

You have got to be kidding! Have you been to a post office lately? Most employees have the biggest "I don't give a rip" attitude. And why should they give a rip? Good luck firing one.

Posted by: Revcain777 | March 15, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

In our rural community, where there is no door-to-door delivery, we would have no recourse should USPC close our little post office. In fact, UPS uses the post office as the "last mile" delivery venue for packages destined to far-flung customers.

We even pay $100/yr for our postbox in the 24/7 building. Bet most urban home delivery patrons would think that excessive!

The online services and prepaid/standard shipping boxes are also a great innovation.

Keep USPS alive!

Posted by: talitha1 | March 15, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The question should be, if the were no US postal service today, would we start one now given (i) the existing alternatives and (ii) the services that would likely arise, if there were no US post office. I doubt a lot of people would think its a good idea to start a post office today.

We might consider initiating some type of delivery service for some remote areas that don't have Internet service. On the otherhand, we might decide to use the money to expand wireless Internet service to remote areas.

Aside from cost savings, substituting Internet service for daily delivery service would provide a wider range of information services and provide environmental benefits, including fewer trees cut down and less carbon burned in deliveries.

Even if you decide that government run physical delivery to remote areas is necessary, we don't have to keep a nationwide system of door to door deliveries operating for 5% of users who live in remote areas. You could make te service geographic specfic.

You could also test how important the delivery services is to people in remote areas by economic tests. You could pay anyone in the remote areas a bonus, if they opt out of U. S. mail service. If they decide to opt back in, you could charge a larger fee. That would allow us to get a feel for the value users place on the service.

Keeping something in existence just because its familiar is not a realistic option in a world of scarce financial resources.

Posted by: jfv123 | March 15, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

The question should be, if the were no US postal service today, would we start one now given (i) the existing alternatives and (ii) the services that would likely arise, if there were no US post office. I doubt a lot of people would think its a good idea to start a post office today.

We might consider initiating some type of delivery service for some remote areas that don't have Internet service. On the otherhand, we might decide to use the money to expand wireless Internet service to remote areas.

Aside from cost savings, substituting Internet service for daily delivery service would provide a wider range of information services and provide environmental benefits, including fewer trees cut down and less carbon burned in deliveries.

Even if you decide that government run physical delivery to remote areas is necessary, we don't have to keep a nationwide system of door to door deliveries operating for 5% of users who live in remote areas. You could make te service geographic specfic.

You could also test how important the delivery services is to people in remote areas by economic tests. You could pay anyone in the remote areas a bonus, if they opt out of U. S. mail service. If they decide to opt back in, you could charge a larger fee. That would allow us to get a feel for the value users place on the service.

Keeping something in existence just because its familiar is not a realistic option in a world of scarce financial resources.

Posted by: jfv123 | March 15, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Most of the positive comments here seem to be from people affiliated (past or indirectly) with USPS.

The mail delivery is consistently UNRELIABLE (misdeliveries, lax phone respond when reports are made).

I've been to many Post Offices and all have long lines and clueless clerks. There's be NO SENSE of urgency or good service. There is NO COMPETITION for letter carrier service, so it is the most lax, carefree and inefficient part.

As far as "who deliver a soldier’s letter home to his mom, who a lost child runs to when he wanders around one corner too many, who check in on an elderly man who might not have any other human contact that day, who deliver medicines to the aged and infirm.?" ....

Soldier's use email, no lost child should talk to strangers and an elderly man would be doomed to rely on postal mail delivery for something as important as medication.

The reality is no one cares about USPS because it's employees -- retail clerks and letter carriers, don't care about customers and residents. And no one relies 100% on USPS delivery.

Twice in the last two years, I delivered Certified mail, received no acknowledgment of delivery and phone call produce no response.

So USPS crumbling will get this from me -- NO response.

Posted by: zickzack | March 15, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Keep the USPS. There are thousands of us who still mail cards, letters, bill, etc. and we received packages from overseas. The service is great - no complaints. They could cut back to weekday delivery only. The trucks can always get through when those electric and telephone lines go down.

Posted by: quilter1 | March 15, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Close the USPS. It is relic. It has been made redundent by the telephone, the internet and the packaage delivery companies. It only serves its employees and the senders of junk mail.

Posted by: jdonner2 | March 15, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Go to 5 days a week...as volume drops so must costs; consider closing up to 25% of offices in 2010.life has changed and will continue to do so!

Posted by: fleming6500 | March 15, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree, Ms. vH--the USPS is a national treasure that should be saved. But you just gloss over the issue of the "ridiculously subsidized" junk mail, that most consumers don't want and throw away unread. That's where serious changes must be made.

Posted by: sim55 | March 15, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

We failed the buggy whip manufacturers and the town criers. Let's stand up and save the USPS. It's a national treasure. It's a noble tradition. Don't let it go the way of telephone switchboard operators and blacksmiths, please.

Posted by: j1a2r3 | March 15, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Pretty sure the billions of items going through the system every year mean 'closing' the USPS is a non-starter. Kind of doubt privatizing it would work.

How about every other day delivery six days/week? It would be a significant reduction in labor and I'd still get my mail all week long. I can't think of something that couldn't wait one day.

Posted by: billbasey2 | March 15, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

It would have been nice if the author had provided facts telling us why the private sector could not do the job of the USPS. Every government agency is a monopoly, by law, the private sector is not allowed to deliver the regular mail, so spare us the competition nonsense and the overall "feel good" theme.

Posted by: remarcable | March 15, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

If they privatize it, how much you want to bet the price to mail a letter triples within a year?

The profit incentive makes things more effient. It also makes things more expensive.

Posted by: kurthunt | March 15, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Come on, Katrina, tell us why you REALLY like the Postal Service...because it's a great big govt union.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | March 15, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the USPS is a created agency of the US government and has been a long thriving institution throughout our land. However, what used to be a service provided to the people has become an agency which think their workers should be giving the same pay and benefits private corporations and businesses provide. You are a public servant and not a private entrepreneur. The trouble began when Congress let them unionize as a private institution. If I own a business and it decreases by 16%, I cut my overhead by 16% if that means laying off employees. But you won't do that because of the union. So if you are not willing to make cuts in overhead which includes salaries, benefits and lay-offs, then you just have to suffer. If I refused to do that with my private business, I would have to file for bankruptcy.

Posted by: jjeleven | March 15, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

USPS does not directly receive taxpayer dollars and has not since the 1980s.

It's also Constitutionally-chartered (see "Postal Clause"). Have fun wrapping your brains around that one, tea partiers.

But the most amazing thing about USPS is that with virtually (but by no means entirely) cost-free delivery by internet, you can still send a physical document from coast to coast for less than half a dollar.

I can't fathom how that's possible without the junk-mail subsidy. I hate junk mail but without it rates will have to soar.

Posted by: CallMeLiberal | March 15, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Save it definitely. Cut it to a M-Th operation. This would bring it in line with its budget. Everyone who needs something sent quickly uses FedEx, UPS, and courrier service anyhow.

Posted by: forgetthis | March 15, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm also a fan of the good ol' "Post Office," as we used to call it before it became the USPS. Yes, it's reliable, honest, provides universal service, and has made big improvements over recent years; in terms of price and delivery times, it competes very well against the private services.

On the other hand, Congress in its infinite wisdom decided a few decades ago that it should be "privatized." It was an obviously dumb decision even then, but I don't recall any big uproar from post office customers at the time.
If Congress had gone all the way, and cut the USPS completely loose from all the red tape, regulation, and employee benefits that are imposed by the government, that would be one thing; but instead, they kept all the red tape and regs while opening the door to private services to compete in the high-profit package delivery business withOUT all the government baggage.
So the real question now is, how do we save it, and the only answer I can see is to stop standing in the way of changes that MUST be made to be competitive.

Posted by: threeoaksgone | March 15, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

remarcable:
"It would have been nice if the author had provided facts telling us why the private sector could not do the job of the USPS."
(March 15, 2010 4:06 PM)
==
Sure, remarcable, we know they COULD.
The question really is:
WOULD they take the job?
So far, they don't want it.
If they did, you can bet it would have been privatized years ago.
And I have no doubt that if they did take the job, it would cost my sister, living in my grandparent's home 40 miles away from our city, deep in the country, $50 to $100 just to mail a letter.
Do you honestly think she would get package pickup from UPS?
Dream on.
UPS won't deliver in her area because, while she has a clear street address, mail in her area comes by post-office box.
UPS refuses to deliver to post-office boxes.
She has to drive into Beaumont to pick up packages on UPS (an 80-mile round trip).
There's no profit in first-class mail while keeping prices from being intolerable.
Were they to privatize first-class delivery, the company couldn't afford the mandate, either.
Talk about screwing up the functioning of these United States --
Just try
privatizing the USPS
privatizing Social Security.
Dream on, sucker.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | March 15, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

remarcable said "It would have been nice if the author had provided facts telling us why the private sector could not do the job of the USPS."
-------------------------------------------
I suggest considering these:

For-profit delivery services might bid on delivery in large cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and (yes) Washington, DC. But I suspect they would be less ready to deliver to people in small towns and rural areas because lower volume and longer distances would make delivery there unprofitable. Rather like communications firms that haven't rushed to offer broadband or DSL in some of those areas.

Bills, letters, greeting cards and other such small mail are important pieces of the mail in all kinds of communities. And no, everyone does not have access to exchanging all those things online.

For-profit deliveries might find that daily delivery five or six times a week was too expensive to make a profit. I live in a small town, only a couple of hours from Washington, and one of the large private parcel services only delivers to our town two days a week. Not surprisingly, businesses that need prompt delivery go another route, often the USPS.

Posted by: SherryLP3 | March 15, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

The USPS does a great service for the price you pay, but it does need some re-vamping. First ot all they need to fire Ben Franklin who still must have an office somewhere because they run that business like it's still the 18th century. There is too much time wasted "casing" which is done in the a.m. before the letter carriers hit the street. And, sad to say it's the Unions that have destroyed the USPS, the auto industry, UPS, the governments (city & federal), our schools... The Unions have destroyed just about every facet of society... they are no longer needed. They've made too many promises that cannot be made and too many people give too much money to the unions who are in no position to do anything for the employees anymore.

Posted by: jimmyj1 | March 15, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

The biggest issue the Postal Service faces today is not the internet, declining mail volume or any of the other made up stories used to make the service look irrelevant. The biggest obstacle is the $5 billion yearly payment to prefund retirees health benefits. No other government or private agency has a responsibilty of that level. Congress passed that into law against the opinions of the USPS unions and with tacit complicity from Postal management. The ridiculousness of that responsiblity is only compounded(this part will explain why mail service will never privatized and if it is small town will suffer from it) by the fact that the Postal Service is nonprofit service. Why would Congress force the USPS into an annual obligated debt of $5 billion, when in it's best years the Postal Service's incoming revenue and operational budget only netted $3 billion?

Posted by: superstar79 | March 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Dump the union workers and sell the system to UPS and Fedex.

Posted by: speedo1 | March 15, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I own a small (but growing!!) internet business. I would be OUT OF BUSINESS were if not for the US Post Office. The staff at my local station knows me, and is always courteous and professional. Larry, Big Back Lifting Grips

Posted by: Larryman | March 15, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Stating the USPS needs to be remade does not address how it is to be remade.

The sad fact is that much of its business has been replaced by e-mail. Everything from quick notes to letters to the sending of multiple documents. This major part of its previous business can not and will not be regained.

Yes there is still a market for the USPS but not in its present form. Worse the amount of business it retains will decrease every year until it reaches its demise.

Still holding to its modus operandi it wants to cut Saturday deliveries; two days without mail to aggravate what remains of its customer base. When holidays occur, usually on either Friday or Monday there will be three days without mail.

The present management of USPS must realize it cannot exist in anything like its present form. It must reduce itself to a partial service, one that will steadily decrease over time. It cannot maintain holidays off, but it can reduce days of service such as Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday regardless of Holidays. That schedule would maintain deliveries with no more then two days separating each delivery with the second day being Sunday. That schedule would result in halving the delivery days of the present six day schedule. Certain operations could maintain the present day six day operation while others would be reduced to anywhere from three to five days permitting a major reduction in manpower use.

Posted by: reiley | March 15, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

You're right on target Katrina, the USPS is a valuable national asset and well worth saving.

Letters from friends and loved ones, birthday wishes, cards of congratulations, notes of condolence: These are treasures, keepsakes cherished for years, often in their original envelopes with wonderful stamps showing the voyage they made to us.

Nothing, not Facebook, email or Twitter, beats getting a letter in the mail.

Posted by: notgeeter | March 15, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Hear, hear!

I have been dismayed by talk about cutting back USPS services and service hours. As someone who works in IT in the private sector, I know the limitations of the New Media too well. Let's keep this great services intact.

As for fixes for the USPS business, by all means push it to adopt good models for allowing it to diversify, while maintaining its core business.

In the short term, at a minor fraction of the cost of any of the AIG, Freddie and Fannie investments, we can preserve and yes, help re-invent this most valuable public service.

That's an economic stimulus which will amplify the investment we make, and maintain and improve the quality of all our lives. It will benefit all of us, not just the elites.

Posted by: tomasidaquino | March 15, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

The USPS not only services all APO's to the military overseas but to all US territories such as American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and others. UPS and FEDEX cherry pick profitable routes but overcharge for other areas. Reducing the number of post offices,changing the carrier's pension and health care plans and eliminating Saturday delivery would bring the USPS in line. By all means, don't turn the USPS over to GM or Wall Street. Private companies would not provide worldwide nor countrywide service.

Posted by: guytucci | March 15, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

In spite of the writer's sentimentality for the USPS, it is a stunningly expensive, irrelevant anachronism that we can no longer afford.

It does not provide any service whatsoever that we can't do without. If it folded operations tomorrow, in six months we'd wonder why we subsidized it as long as we did.

End the USPS before it becomes another AMTRAK!

Posted by: hit4cycle | March 15, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Ironically, the Post Office doesn't have to innovate, so much as study its own history. During the Civil War, even while the South and its economy were collapsing, the Confederate Post Office made a profit. If John Reagan could do it in those circumstances, John Potter can certainly do it today.

Posted by: huguenotklj | March 15, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

One first step in improving the bottom line for the USPS would be to charge all - first, second etc the same rate. I constantly get mail that was sent for 19 cents while I pay 44 cents. That is not only not fair it is hurting the postal service.

Posted by: dux123 | March 15, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

We are no longer a wealthy nation that can afford the luxury of subsidizing in perpetuity enterprises that cannot pay their own way. We are $12 Trillion is debt and it's projected we'll be $20 Trillion in the hole by 2020! We must be vigilant in spending public dollars wisely and subsidizing the USPS is a waste of resources.

What service does it provide that is irreplaceable?

Posted by: hit4cycle | March 15, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

@hit4cycle

The Postal Service is not subsidized with tax dollars. Where did you read that at?

Posted by: superstar79 | March 15, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

As usual, all political discussions today seem to ignore the U.S. Constitution. Do any of our politicians ever read ARTICLE I, sec. 8? "The Congress shall have. . . to establish Post Offices and post Roads." One could argue the fact that this power cannot be delegated to a privatized postal service. We have been a society which argues the "merits" of issues rather than the "law." Congress needs to re-establish the United States POST OFFICE. . .a cabinet-level Department with full federal funding. And to argue the "merits" of the issue: legal documents of all types are sent either by courier or by United States Mail. We need it, and we can let the private companies which receive these ridiculous postal subsidies (also creating a majority of our trash)depend on the Internet to advertise their products. The Post Office should supply us with First Class Mail and packages. Congress has allowed UPS and other private companies to take over the most profitable part of the previous U.S. Post Office.

Posted by: bayanjim | March 15, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

The Post Office loses money for only one reason, congress not approving a rate increase. Private carriers could not deliver letter mail at 3 times the P.O. cost. I personally would like to see a 48 cent rate with Saturday deliveries/open Post Offices.

Posted by: jameschirico | March 15, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Generally the USPS does a good job, although they tend to "lose" Netflix DVD's fairly regularly. Their package service is phenomenal: coast-to-coast in 2 days and cheaper than UPS Ground which takes 4-5 days. I could live with 5 days week delivery, or even 4 days, but they need counter service late one evening a week and/or Saturday. I would like the option to "opt-out" on junk / bulk mail. After all, I have to pay to dispose of the trash it creates. The writer didn't go into all the detail about the Swiss post. They also have banking services, and run the national bus system, which is tightly integrated with Swiss Rail and the regional railroads - which btw are public/private ventures.

Posted by: maus92 | March 15, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

For once I agree with you Katrina! Keep the USPS OPEN!

Posted by: houston123 | March 15, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

SherryLP3 wrote:
"I suggest considering these: For-profit delivery services might bid on delivery in large cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and (yes) Washington, DC."
(March 15, 2010 5:14 PM)
==
Sherry, your suggestion makes a lot of sense ... except for one thing:
You would take away the areas in big cities which have an economy of scale wherein the USPS can be profitable and leave them with all the unprofitable areas?
Instead of a 44-cent letter, I guess you would approve of a one-ounce mailed letter costing $20.00 to mail?
Your suggestion solves nothing, but it would sure cause rage and fury.
All the government-haters would rise in force to scream and yell.
The people in rural areas, already caught in a cost-of-living squeeze would be furious.
The next thing we'd know we'd have civil war between the big cities and all the landscape around them.
I don't think so.
Back to the drawing board, folks.
Think about it.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | March 15, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Great and overdue article! With all the 'tea party' knuckledraggers calling all things public service "socialism," we need to defend what we have left. Eventually, the "free-market" psychos would lead things to the point when some people no longer get postal service.

Posted by: revbookburn | March 15, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

superstar79:

You're correct in that the USPS does not currently directly receive tax dollars. However, it is subsidized in that it's a protected monopoly that doesn't have to pay the taxes a private competitor would pay. My fear is that with a recently announced projected $238 billion deficit over the next 10 years, the USPS will become another ward of the state, much like AMTRAK.

With all those unionized workers it may be "too big to fail". I do think it's monopoly on mail delivery should be ended. How is it that I purchased my mailbox yet the USPS controls my use of it? Private competitors would at least have to pay corporate and property taxes.

Posted by: hit4cycle | March 15, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Vanden Heuvel seems to dance around the real reason for the Post's editorial, we can't afford the excessive employee remuneration at the postal service. Eulogizing postal workers, deserved or not, doesn't change the problem that the taxpayers are paying too much. I'm no more eager to do away with the postal service than the next person, but we can't keep funneling money to an institution simply out of a sense of nostalgia.

Posted by: RealChoices | March 15, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

I have to say that there may have been a time when I thought the USPS was a dinosaur, but the improvements over the past ten years take all the steam out of that theory.

I agree that the impact on rural communities would be devastating. I'm not convinced that email, the telephone or even UPS or Fed-Ex can replace the USPS can take the place of what the USPS does. I don't want to pay 15.00 and up to send paperwork I can't send via email.

And, while I also hate junk-mail, if that's the argument for getting rid of the USPS, we should also get rid of email and the telephone since those are not immune to the telemarketers either.

Privatizing is not the answer. Reduce the days, reorganize to make things more efficient, but don't leave the mail system in the hands of the corporate giants. We need only look back at what the banks and the stock market did to our ecomony a few years back to realize that we can't rely on a for-profit corporation to manage anything for the public good.

As for the service, I am not a USPS employee or affiliate but I am a customer and I have never had a bad experience, even during the holidays and tax season. When there have been lines, they have moved fast. I've never encountered a rude or incompetent clerk, even when it was obvious that the clerk had been dealing with one rude customer after another for hours. I can't say the same for private corporate businesses (like restaurant chains and department stores).


Posted by: Jackson18 | March 15, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

hit4cycle - While I philosophically agree with you that there's a point at which the usefulness of the Postal Service has to be reevaluated if it's not economically viable, I'm not sure I understand your specific points.

If the USPS paid more taxes, they'd just have higher rates. If you're dead set on running them out of business that's OK, but otherwise I don't see how it would help anything. And the only mail business the USPS has a monopoly on is the delivery of mail to mailboxes.

I'm the mail room manager for a non-profit association, and do the vast majority of my package shipping (around $30-50,000 per year) with UPS and/or FedEx because, unlike some other commenters, I have had a few problems using the Postal Service. But I certainly don't mind having USPS as a resource.

And anyone who uses first class mail (as I do at work, to the tune of about $10-15,000 per year) should be thankful for that junk mail. It not only pays for itself (it's much cheaper for the Postal Service to deliver presorted bulk mail) but helps indirectly subsidize first class service.

Posted by: bobsewell | March 15, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

It always strikes me that many of the most conservative, tax-hating Americans live in the most rural out-lying areas. Services to those areas -- including postal services -- cost a fortune compared to the provision of such services in more urban areas. Let's privatize mail delivery and charge according to the cost of delivery. I would pay about 25 cents per letter -- some farmer in Arkansas would pay about $1.50. Hey, it's the free market.

Posted by: tradeczar | March 15, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry. By Federal law, the US Postal Service cannot be killed.

The postal service provides some specialized courier services that no private carrier can legally provide.

One for instance is registered mail. Classified information up to the level of secret can be routinely couriered by the US Postal Service using registered mail. No private carrier carrier can provide this service.

I know there has to be others.

Even if the USPS loses money, its essential services must be provided but losses are minimized the other services that USPS provides.

Posted by: MrZ2 | March 15, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

tradeczar - Well, there's no point in starting a class war over this. Thoughtful & well-intentioned people can & do disagree over the proper future for the Postal Service. Those same farmers in Arkansas raise corn & hogs (and get them delivered to us) a lot cheaper than you or I could if we had to grow 'em in the city or 'burbs, you know?

Posted by: bobsewell | March 15, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

You sound like the old guy at the end of this Sunday's 60 Minutes program. He was all about the Postal Service!

Posted by: BaltimoreRepublicanExaminer | March 16, 2010 6:30 AM | Report abuse

The USPS provides an essential service. I certainly support supportig the USPS. This article in the Post makes a lot of sense, I am glad someone is thinking.

Posted by: Prx7Y | March 16, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Every time I go to my local U.S. post office, I feel like I’m in a museum diorama. The customer service area is cramped, the greeting card rack contents are covered in dust, and the employees speak postal-ese rather than any language the rest of us might understand. The sign outside is so beat up, the letters “UNITED STATES POST OFFICE” are now made of gray duct tape. And the last time I was there a customer who needed packing tape to seal a box got it from another customer who now brings a roll with her because the post office no longer provides it.

I have to say Ms. Vanden Huevel's reliance on all those USPS statistics doesn't help the USPS's case, but rather reinforces the diorama image.

There are no easy or painless answers here. The institution has been allowed to die a slow death for years as email, automatic bill pay, and e-cards have eaten into its first-class revenue base and the recession into its third-class profits.

One glaring omission in The Post’s editorial and Ms. Vanden Huevel’s column is a failure to even consider what postal customers want. The USPS has gotten so insular that a thorough soup-to-nuts customer survey is priority one.

Priority two is replacing that duct-tape riddled sign outside my local PO.

Posted by: MsJS | March 16, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I find it rather humorous how people today are willing to fight to keep their respective post office open, if it's not self sufficient to stay open then they need to close it, it's called making some kind of profit by closing those offices that are not competitive and the TAX payer should not have to continually foot the bill for what ails us. I have several neighbors who are well in to there late 80's who walk nearly a mile to the post office daily to retrieve there mail yet we have healthy young Americans who can't walk to there post office because it might infringe on there entitlements and the Post office is not one of them !!!

I agree that Saturdays should not be a day to deliver mail, infact if you were to check the history of mail delivery, back in the late 50's & 60's there was only 5 day delivery and sometimes the mail man would deliver up to 2 times a day sometimes 3 when the holidays were near, due to more mail e.g christmas cards, presents !!! Then came the corporation and small business who yelled and screamed for more days of delivery and thus we come accustomed to the 6 days aweek delivery !! All the Junk Mail that has caused the back logs and should not be allowed to shuffle there way thru to our home unwanted !!

I bet if the USPS would stop the Junk Mail, and Saturday delivery they just might turn a profit instead of us as Tax PAyers continually fund there losses yearly, why is it we as Tax Payers always end up with the short end of the stick ? Gov't can't do it all and there's very few things the Gov't does well and make a profit doing it and if your able to list any I would love to read about it !!

But in the end 5 day delivery is just fine with me, actually no mail would be great IMO, no Junk mail as we as americans Pay for our homes and along with that purchase we have a house number just like we have phones numbers that are ours not anyone else's to invade thus we as Americans should be allowed to tell the USPS to no longer deliver junk mail or any other mail unless we ourselves have solicited it to be delivered to our homes again Just my Take on how Gov't is progressing into our lives daily, and remember this what the Gov't gives the Gov't can take away just as fast so if you wish to have all these services remember whose giving them to you and who can take them away ???

Posted by: dirtydan64 | March 16, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The postal service is notoriously inefficient. Compare how UPS accepts packages with the sender going on a computer to prepare the UPS label with all pertinent info encoded in the bar code, and the clerk taking the money. Look at how the package is put into the shipping area, the clerk does not walk 20 ft away to put it in a box. which is later pushed away to shipping. Nope, it goes on a roller to the back area, where it is dealt with. Has anyone ever done a time and motion study for the USPS?
Secondly, raise rates on junk mail. First class is subsidizing it at this point.

Posted by: atc333 | March 16, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I ran a business for years.

You want to save the US Postal Service ?

If a business is not bringing the money in, then you make cuts, you do not borrow money. The company is not making money.

We the tax payer should not foot the bill for salaries for workers who are working in a business where it is not profiting.

BAD BUSINESS.

Are the employees willing to take cuts in salaries or time ???

Then do it.......but don't ask others to give you money for your salaries.

*****

Posted by: paulann1 | March 16, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

This is not a Republican or a Democrat matter...........this is what is going to work...without us the tax payer footing the bill....dumb butt.

Posted by: paulann1 | March 16, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I love the geniuses that have no idea what they are talking about yet seem to have the answers for the USPS. USPS GETS NO MONEY FROM TAXPAYERS! Our money comes from postage. PERIOD!(or is that an exclamation?) WITHOUT 'JUNKMAIL' 1ST CLASS POSTAGE WOULD BE UNAFFORDABLE! I'm not sure if people realize that doctors and lawyers are often legally required to send hard copies of documents to and from each other. Without USPS, that's a tall and expensive order. There is enough demand for Saturday delivery that if the USPS does not deliver, someone will. That means opening your mailbox (which is protected by federal law for the sole use of USPS mail) to any and every yahoo that wants to stick something in, or take something out of, your personal mailbox. Not a risk I'm willing to take.
For the people that comment that postal employees don't care, unfortunately you're right, sort of. I am a carrier and I care about and protect my customers and their mail more than I do my own wallet. I realize some of the mail they receive is priceless to them. However, I am told daily to leave (non 1st class)mail at the office because we are so short handed. I haven't had a day off since last August. I called in sick twice in two weeks because my child was sick, then I got sick. I was put on restricted sick leave for that. I'm young and I need the money, but after many years you tend to get worn down. It's hard to care when the powers that be are cutting service left and right and trying to cut a day of delivery. Whens the last time you heard the PMG talking about expanding or creating more innovative service( by the way, MS Vanden Heuvel, thanks for a great article). They hire warm bodies and don't train them. Heck yes you're getting bad service! Supervisors spend half their day filling out reports of 'who gives a....what' while lines at the window of POed customers make the understaffed clerks lose their motivation to care. Sorry, I'll shut up now.
p.s. If you can't type or spell.... don't.

Posted by: dollabilz | March 16, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Out with the old and in wih the new. Yes all of you at age 65+ must retire. We need fresh ideas at the top and USPS must continue 6 days a week as more people shop and do business from home than ever before. Stopping service is not a receipe for growth. Is the population shrinking? If you have employees that can retire with a pension, they must go and give the younger people a chance to support their families. They will spend money on services just as 'old Joe' did when he raised his kids. Dont block jobs and be selfish complainers, let the future begin.

Posted by: feetdeep | March 21, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

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