Our leaders in Congress continue to delay in providing the Postal Service with the reforms it needs to return to financial prosperity and thrive in the digital age. Instead, the Postal Service continues to plunge deeper into debt. Sadly, most Americans don’t know why the Postal Service is failing. It’s not due to poor service or a decline in public support. Mail service, in fact, continues to set new performance records.
The postal blues are largely the fault of Congress, which in 2006 required the Postal Service to pre-fund future retiree health benefits for 75 years into the future and to pay this mammoth obligation in a span of only 10 years. This resulted in an annual bill to the Postal Service of over $5.2 billion. For the past three years the Postal Service hasn’t made the gargantuan payment because it flat out doesn’t have the money. Remember, the Postal Service does not receive taxpayer funding from the federal government; it relies solely on postage and postal services for its revenues.
Proposals have surfaced in both congressional chambers to right the postal ship, but none have generated commanding support. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, secured committee passage of their postal reform measure, but the measure has failed to secure support broad enough to prompt Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it to the floor.
In the House of Representatives, a proposal by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to dismantle the Postal Service in several ways has failed to gain traction. The measure would reduce delivery days and other postal services. Most recently, Issa and House GOP leaders proposed using the savings from largely eliminating Saturday mail delivery to replenish another financially strapped institution, the federal Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is expected to be bankrupt by the end of 2014.
The Postal Service’s greatest asset is its capacity to reach every American business and household. Those addresses — totaling 153 million delivery points — provide a competitive advantage to the Postal Service over other delivery companies. Most Americans don’t know that the Postal Service’s two biggest competitors, FedEx and UPS, often use the Postal Service to take their packages to the final destination in rural areas. There are countless ways to build on that “last mile” of delivery capacity, if Congress permits the Postal Service to do it.
There are additional legislative ways to fix the Postal Service’s problems. They include returning the excess funds paid by the Postal Service into federal retirement programs, estimated at $7 billion to $11 billion. They also include realigning the pre-funding arrangement for future retiree health benefits to a longer, more reasonable period of payments. Legislation could also allow the Postal Service to provide commercial products and services that build upon the Postal Service’s historic role in binding the nation together.
The Postal Service continues to serve every American with quality, secure mail services at uniform rates. Regardless of where they live, Americans receive the benefits of a great postal system, yet one that could be even better. The 500,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service are proud of work they do and the public service they provide. They wait, with growing frustration, for a dysfunctional Congress to wake up and do its job.