5 Ways to Save the U.S. Postal Service

It's going broke, and while Congress has lots of different ideas to fix it, a few solutions have found common ground

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Congress is mired in a standoff over the nation's fiscal stability, and once the parties find agreement, lawmakers will head home for August recess. When they come back, they'll have another fiscal crisis to confront: The U.S. Postal Service's pending bankruptcy.

The Postal Service has been going bankrupt for some time now. In the second quarter of 2011 alone, it lost $2.2 billion.

There are two comprehensive bills in Congress aimed at rescuing USPS, one from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and another from House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). The bills are very different, but Congress will have to make a decision sometime over the next year.

Here are a few proposals pulled from each:

1. End Saturday Delivery

Seemingly everyone but the National Association of Letter Carriers, the main union for postal workers, wants to end Saturday deliver. USPS has been pushing for it and claims it would save $3.1 billion per year, while the administration's Postal Regulatory Commission*, which regulates USPS, estimates ending Saturday service would only save $1.7 billion per year and would take three years to realize that level of annual savings, ABC reported.

2. Refund Billions in Retirement Overpayments

USPS currently pays into the Civil Service Retirement System, an old pension system for federal employees that was replaced by the Federal Employees Retirement System in 1987. Sen. Carper's office estimates USPS has overpaid into the old system by $50 billion due to an outdated calculation method. Carper wants to require the White House's Office of Personnel Management to recalculate the yearly USPS obligation based on a new formula and to gradually give that $50 billion back to USPS, giving it access to $5 billion per year.

3. Replace Post Offices With Automated Kiosks

Currently, when USPS wants to close a post office that's losing a lot of money, it faces political opposition and holds public hearings, beginning a process that takes 60 days. Both Issa and Carper want to make it easier for USPS to close post offices when it wants to. Carper's office suggested USPS could replace post offices with "cost-effective retail options such as automated kiosks or postal stations located in grocery stores or other places where people go every day." Issa recommends $1 billion worth of post-office closures per year.

4. Change the Rules for Paying Postal Workers

Postal workers enjoy collectively bargained wages, but the rules of the collective bargaining process could be changed. The letter carriers union won't like this one bit, but Issa and Carper both have suggested allowing federal mediators to take into account the financial health of USPS when deciding how much postal workers must be paid, potentially letting USPS pay its employees less than UPS and FedEx pay their workers.

5. Let Post Offices Do Other Things

Another common idea is to let post offices partner with state and local governments to do other things besides send and deliver mail, like, for instance, voter registration and driver's license renewal. Which sounds a lot more convenient than the DMV. State and local governments would pay USPS to deliver these services.

Update: this story initially referred to the Postal Regulatory Commission incorrectly as the Postal Regulatory Board.