Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
No Saturday post
In our view
If Postmaster General Patrick Donahue gets his way, your mailbox will be empty six months from today.
Donahue has proposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as a way to cut into the U.S. Postal Service debt.
To do this, the postal service must get around a 1983 law mandating six-day-per-week delivery. Donahue and postal attorneys believe that a temporary funding fix that expires on March 27 presents the necessary loophole to reduce mail delivery to five days a week. Even if it doesn't, he said, Congress should see this as an opportunity worth pursuing.
It is a bittersweet, albeit realistic, appraisal of the post office's situation.
The U.S. Postal Service faces three dilemmas.
The first, involving USPS debt, was largely created by Congress. It has given the postal service 10 years to prefund its retirement program for the next 75 years. Coupled with Congress' control of and reluctance to hike postal rates to sustainable levels, the service continues to fall further behind.
Bound by those constraints, and the fact that the post office must, by law, serve every village and town, the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last year and the agency estimated last February that without service cuts and congressional reforms, that number could reach $21 billion by 2016.
Second is the reduction in mail. As more people rely on electronic mail, the volume of first-class mail has fallen by nearly 30 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to a Government Accounting Office report.
Last, but certainly not least, is the service itself. Nothing irritates customers like lost letters and late deliveries. Yet, few among us have not been a victim of either or both.
There are those who believe the USPS should fade away like the telegraph. True, its best days may be in the rear-view mirror, but a postal service is essential.
Private carriers can trim unprofitable routes. But someone must deliver mail and packages to rural and out-of-the-way places.
And while the Internet has impacted first-class mail, it also has encouraged online shopping. Those packages have to be delivered.
Further, logistics experts contend that with some work, the Postal Service routing system could become more efficient and less expensive to operate.
Critics may scoff at the idea of a Postal Service comeback, but the Wall Street Journal notes that doctors are now making house calls in an attempt to reduce patient costs and hospital admissions. And Terre Hill resident Daryl Mast's Doorstep Dairy has brought the milkman back from the past.
The Postal Service still serves a vital function, but it must be reformed. It needs greater flexibility to set sustainable rates and to spread pension costs over time, and the ability to close small post offices without congressional meddling. It must become more efficient and improve customer service.
Much of this is internal, but Congress also must act to free up the service from congressional yokes that limit its effectiveness.
Donahue's announcement to end Saturday delivery is a shot across Congress' bow.
Ending Saturday delivery is a bittersweet, albeit realistic, appraisal of the Postal Service's situation.