published Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Neither snow nor reality

A famous engraving on the exterior of a New York City post office reads, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Maybe so, but the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money nonetheless. It is projected that on its current trajectory, it could be losing more than $18 billion per year by 2015.

Thousands of post offices -- particularly some in rural areas -- get little use, and many postal employees do not have enough to do to justify their positions.

If the Postal Service were, say, a restaurant chain, a massive reorganization and scaling back of rarely frequented eateries might be under way to make operations leaner and nimbler.

But the Postal Service -- which is permitted but not mandated by the Constitution -- is a quasi-governmental agency under at least a good bit of control of Congress.

And lots of members of Congress didn't like the news that the Postal Service was looking at closing almost 4,000 underused post offices. Ignoring inconvenient questions such as whether the country genuinely needs those facilities, the Senate passed a bill to block the closings.

Facing political pressure at the hands of lawmakers who do not have to fuss with such small matters as providing goods and services that the American people actually want -- which helps explain the bailouts, the "stimulus" and ObamaCare, by the way -- the agency recently backed off on the closings. And it did so despite its own governing board observing that it is "totally inappropriate in these economic times to keep unneeded facilities open. There is simply not enough mail in our system today."

Instead, some half-baked scheme to reduce operating hours at 13,000 or so post offices, including four dozen in the Chattanooga area, has been offered as a substitute.

Get this gem, reported by the Times Free Press: "The plan is expected to save $500 million a year ... ."

Don't even dream of being impressed by that figure.

Even if the projected $18 billion-plus in Postal Service losses by 2015 don't materialize, the agency is expected to lose more than $14 billion this year alone, barring significant changes. Five hundred million dollars isn't a good start on chipping away at those losses; it's an insult to the intelligence of a mediocre fifth-grade math student.

In fact, it is a picture of the federal government in miniature.

In the face of a $16 trillion national debt and entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security that are racing toward collapse, Congress dabbles with spending plans that do not even pretend to cut the sheer size and scope of the bloated federal government. Often it is deemed austerity in Washington merely to propose reducing the rate of growth of spending.

So can it come as any huge surprise that Congress is applying pressure to prevent the Postal Service from making necessary cuts, too -- even when the leadership of the agency itself recognizes the need to economize?

This is one more case of federal intervention that stymies the normal functioning of the free market. The Postal Service is being protected from the realities of the market -- realities including a massive shift in correspondence from snail mail to email.

Many in Congress see that set of circumstances not as a reason to scale back but as a reason to prop up.

Which probably tells you dreadfully more than you wanted to know about Congress.

2
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JPaulCole said...

What will happen to Congress if the Psotal Service goes away? They will loose a cash cow that they have been using for the last several years. to start with is the $5.5 billion a year to prefund seventy-five years of their share of retiree health benefits in advance. There has been no accounting for these funds and it will take an act of Congress to get them returned, with our local Congressman Corker saying that any refund to the Postal Service raises the Federal Deficit. There is also the matter of between ten and fifteen billion dollars that the Postal Service has overpaid into the Federal Retirement System. Without those "hits" the Postal Service would not have been in the red for the past four years, bt would have been in the black financially. It is time that Congress lets the Postal Service operate like a business. Yes there are some small Post Offices that may not be necessary, but the cost savings from closing those amounts to less than 1/2 of 1% of the total operating budget of the SERVICE. If the postal Service closes some of these offices it will impact the delivery of your newspaper. If you loose subscribers to this in addition to the internet, your advertising revenue will drop and there will no longer need to be people who write editorials. Do you have a plan for when your job goes away?

Paul Cole Niota, Tennessee

May 15, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Excellent points, Paul Cole. Funny how this editor, as well as the one who recently retired, never - and I mean NEVER - in the many times they have written about the Post Office's problems, mention this "small" detail of the Post Office being required by Congress in the Bush administration to pre-fund its retiree health benefits to the tune of $5.5 billion a year. In this particular article he states that by some in Congress calling to prevent or stall the massive lay-offs and closings, they are in essence trying to protect the Post Office from "the realities of the (free) market." But if the P.O. were allowed to operate more like other businesses, unencumbered by the harsh and unfair demands of the preposterous bill that was forced upon it (the ONLY business, private or public, that has been subjected to such impossible and ludicrous demands) then we would easily see that the USPS is not nearly as "inefficient" or "obsolete" as its critics like to claim. Certainly there are real probems, the increasing use of email over snail mail being one of them; but no crisis by any means and no problems so severe that a mere tweaking could not fix them. To carry out the lay-offs and closings to the extent that some are calling for would have devestating effects. And this newspaper would certainly feel those effects as much as or more than anyone. There is much truth in the saying that "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." I hope we don't have to come to that realization the hard way in this case.

I have read a few letters praising this new editor on the right side for writing in a way that is more intelligent and forthright than the previous editor. That may or may not be true. But he still suffers from a definite lack of journalistic integrity, when he fails to make his readers fully aware of all the facts. To discuss the financial problems of an institution and fail to even mention the one outstanding cancer that is the biggest financial drain of all - how is that being "forthright?" Unfortunately he's an ideologue first and a journalist second, if at all. He obviously just wants to push his argument/ideology at all costs - truth and facts be damned.

May 15, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.
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