Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Postal service is crucial for the nation

The Postal Service is dropping Saturday deliveries. Critics say it can’t pay its bills. It can’t compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx. It’s a bloated bureaucracy that needs a government bailout. The change is OK because the U.S. mail is only “snail mail” anyway, right?

Actually, it’s not OK. The Postal Service is essential to who we are and what we do and it deserves better.

Only five government functions were specified in the U.S. Constitution: treasury, weights and measures, the patent office, the Navy and postal service.

The nation’s founders believed a mail system was critical to the nation’s welfare. It was the means to communicate with elected representatives and was the way newspapers were distributed, both enabling Americans to participate in political life. The Postal Service is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. 

It has been doing that honorably since Ben Franklin was named postmaster general on July 26, 1775.

Described without irony in the movie classic “Miracle on 34th Street” as authoritative and prosperous and efficient, it has the clout to make anyone think twice before risking the substantial federal penalties for tampering with the U.S. mail. You can drop a letter into a mailbox anywhere in the U.S. with confidence that it will arrive at its destination.

Even FedEx uses mail service. Because “last-mile” deliveries to isolated locations would cost it too much, 30.4 percent of the company’s ground deliveries are actually made by the U.S. Postal Service.  They can essentially ignore and avoid areas that may not be profitable while appearing to offer universal access because the Postal Service soldiers on. 

Even this odd arrangement is not why the Postal Service is in trouble.

A Bush-era law required the Postal Service to pre-pay 75 years of pension obligations in only 10 years, covering future employees who haven't even been born yet.

A bill with 229 bipartisan sponsors would change that to the same formulas used by all other government agencies. It has been blocked by House Government Reform Committee Chair Darryl Issa, R-Calif., an outspoken opponent of all things union. It’s a shortsighted cynical move.

America needs the Postal Service. We need to know with certainty that no matter where we, or where our relatives, friends or customers are, they can be reached with words or packages. We need our representatives to quit kicking the Postal Service around and return to treating it and its employees with respect.


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