National Review recently ran a story purporting to look at U.S. Postal Service finances and prospects. This is an important topic, and your readers deserve a serious discussion — as do postal employees, one-quarter of whom have served this nation in military uniform, and all of whom serve the public now in a different uniform.
The Postal Service, based in the Constitution, traditionally has not been an ideological issue, and it should not be. Indeed, some of the strongest supporters of a vibrant Postal Service are Republicans, conservatives, rural residents, and owners of small businesses.
Unfortunately, partisanship being what it is these days, a number of myths have been put forward about the USPS, some of which were repeated in your reporting. Here are some facts.
Bear in mind that the Postal Service earns its revenue by selling stamps and related products and services. In other words, including all the normal costs of doing business — worker salaries and benefits, fuel, trucks, building maintenance — the Postal Service’s revenue well exceeds the cost of delivering the mail.
This good performance reflects three positive trends. The economy is gradually improving from the worst recession in 80 years, curbing the decline in letter revenue. Meanwhile, online shopping has pushed package revenue up 14.1 percent just in the past quarter. This growth in e-commerce makes the Internet a net positive for the Postal Service. And worker productivity is at record highs. And so, the Postal Service is forecasting a $1.1 billion operating profit this year.
The cause of the red ink isn’t the mail but rather congressional interference. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other public or private entity is required to pre-fund for even one year; the Postal Service must do so 75 years into the future, and pay for it all within ten years. The resulting $5.6 billion annual charge accounts for 100 percent of postal “losses.”
I mentioned that some of the strongest supporters of the Postal Service are conservatives. Here are some of the reasons.
The Postal Service provides Americans and their businesses with the world’s most affordable delivery network, without a dime of taxpayer money.
It’s one of the few institutions that are based in the Constitution. First led by Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s first postmaster general, it’s older than the country itself.
It helps unify this vast nation and serves as a focal point for rural communities and small towns throughout the land.
Delivering on Saturdays, the Postal Service is critical for small businesses, which are open weekends and create two-thirds of all new jobs. Additionally, the agency supports 7.5 million private-sector jobs in the national mailing industry.
The private carriers such as FedEx and UPS rely heavily on the Postal Service, bringing millions of their packages annually to the post office for delivery to the customers’ homes. That’s because the postal network allows for more efficient delivery — saving both the private carriers and their customers money. In fact, FedEx is successful in part because the Postal Service does 40 percent of the deliveries of the FedEx Ground Division.
The Postal Service’s value extends beyond delivering mail. President George W. Bush, seeking after 9/11 to protect residents in the event of a biological attack, turned to the nation’s only universal delivery network. Under the Cities’ Readiness Initiative, expanded under President Obama, letter carriers in several metropolitan areas have volunteered to be trained, to stockpile medicines, and to deliver them to every resident within 48 hours of an attack.
One reason letter carriers do this is that so many are military veterans. The Postal Service is the nation’s top civilian employer of veterans, and protecting the homeland is in their DNA.
Letter carriers also enhance neighborhood security. On a daily basis, they save elderly customers who’ve fallen ill, find missing children, put out fires, rescue people from car wrecks, and stop crimes — not because they’re superheroes but because they’re in neighborhoods six days a week, are devoted to the families, know when something’s wrong, and often are first on the scene.
Letter carriers, again on a volunteer basis, conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive on the second Saturday in each May — May 10 this year — helping church programs and food pantries in every community feed families and children during summer months, when school meal programs don’t function.
And yet, some in Congress want to compound the pre-funding fiasco they created by ending Saturday mail delivery and door-to-door delivery — compelling residents to traipse through neighborhoods in all kinds of weather to find “cluster boxes” — and by closing post offices and reducing service standards.
These steps would send the Postal Service on a downward spiral by reducing mail, and thus revenue. Instead, lawmakers should fix the pre-funding problem, so the national treasure that is the Postal Service can continue to provide Americans and their businesses with the world’s most efficient delivery service.
— Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.