How to Save the Postal Service

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In March, the U.S. Postal Service will begin closing up to 2,000 post offices--many in rural or small suburban areas--to cut costs as plummeting mail volume fuels financial losses, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The postal service, an independent federal agency that relies primarily on postage fees for revenue, will also pressure Congress to grant it the legal authority to close additional post offices based on whether they're profitable or not. Currently, the agency can only shut down offices for non-economic reasons like safety concerns or expired leases. The Journal frames the debate surrounding the postal service's plans:

The news is crushing in many remote communities where the post office is often the heart of the town and the closest link to the rest of the country. Shuttering them, critics say, also puts an enormous burden on people, particularly on the elderly, who find it difficult to travel out of town.

The postal service argues that its network of some 32,000 brick-and-mortar post offices, many built in the horse-and-buggy days, is outmoded in an era when people are more mobile, often pay bills online and text or email rather than put pen to paper. It also wants post offices to be profitable to help it overcome record $8.5 billion in losses in fiscal year 2010.

How should the postal service remedy the situation? The agency is getting advice from many corners:

  • Closing Offices Is Complicated, claims Douglas McIntyre at AOL. Yes, shutting down post offices can reduce the agency's deficit in the short-term, but "it's a political football" because "few members of Congress want to support closures in their districts." McIntyre adds that "a streamlining of the USPS could make unemployment worse in the U.S., just as the private sector has begun to add jobs. There's no estimate of how many jobs the service might lose if it closes 2,000 offices, but it's likely to be many thousands."
  • Stop Fixating on Cutting Costs! contends Paul Constant at The Stranger: "The Postal Service is doing their damndest to cut themselves into irrelevancy."
  • Instead, Focus on Generous Employee Benefits, asserts Republican Senator Susan Collins, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal: "The first approach the post office seems to take is to reduce service … when instead it needs to tackle a benefit structure that is too expensive, and it needs to look for ways to stay in business and deal with the digital age."
  • Allow Private Companies to Ship Mail, argues The Washington Examiner's Phillip Suderman. "Companies such as FedEx or UPS are far more reliable than the US Postal Service these days, providing better service, and with the added bonus of not costing the taxpayer a dime," he says. Yet under current law these companies can ship packages but not mail, which is the sole domain of the postal service:
If people truly value the idea of receiving mail then they should look to change the law and open up the market for people to provide the service. If people instead value the idea of US Postal Service as some sort of nostalgic Americana, then they should be prepared for continued rising prices and lower quality service.
  • End Saturday Delivery, offers Dennis Wyatt at the Manteca Bulletin. "Do we really need Saturday delivery service?" he asks. "All of those bills, junk mail, magazines and such will still get to us but on a Monday instead." While postal workers "don't like the idea of five days of delivery because it eliminates a sixth day that requires additional workers," he adds, such reforms could ultimately save their jobs. 
  • Brainstorm Creative Solutions, suggests Al Campbell at GermantownNOW. He notes that the German postal system offers "secure electronic letter delivery at the price of a first class snail mail letter," suggests printing postage off the Internet, and recommends establishing "for-profit test tubes" across rural America "based upon bids from companies that believe they can provide answers" in the absence of government post offices.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.