The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 11, 2013

John Sullivan, guest columnist: Congress severely curtails mail service’s appointed rounds

PITTSBURG, Kan. —  “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Who said that? Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster general of the United States. Franklin continues to be right. Piggy banks are still a good idea. But to require so many pennies from your operating capital to be deposited in the piggy bank to fund operations 75 years hence is a bit much. So much so that it breaks the back of the United States Postal Service’s ability to regroup and remanage itself, and to adapt to the realities of an Internet world.

 There are lots of ways to save money and cut expenses, but cutting Saturday service does not have to be one of them.

 To save 2 percent of the post office’s budget by dropping Saturday mail delivery is a bad idea, born of the necessity to cut somewhere, because Congress has punished the postal service by requiring it to fund pensions 75 years in advance, and to do it in 10 years time.

 This is so futuristic a ploy that most of the employees who will be protected 75 years from now have not even been born yet. That rather curious requirement has virtually crippled the USPS’ ability to operate efficiently.

They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t because of a mandate imposed upon the institution by a Congress that wants to privatize almost anything governmental, and that seems to value FedEx and UPS over the federal mail delivery system. Congress has set up the postal service to fail  by imposing this unprecedented burden on its ability to manage itself. It doesn’t have to be that way. Congress can change it, but there has to be a will to do that, and to let the postal service compete for mail delivery add associated service dollars in a way that does not tie the hands of its management.

It is perhaps no accident that some of the USPS’ biggest congressional critics are Congressmen like Darryl Issa of California, who also just happens to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of political donations by the UPS political action committees, and whose personal investments in entities with substantial amounts of stock in both FedEx and UPS have been called into question. He also happens to be the chairman of the House Congressional Committee overseeing the postal service and in charge of “saving” it from itself. Talk about the fox being appointed to guard the henhouse.

 Let me put it another way. A penny spent on a congressman comes back in nickels and quarters to those smart enough to undercut the competition of government in the document and package delivery business. “Show me the money,” as Tom Cruise so famously says in “Jerry McGuire.” It seems very clear that there are many congressmen who, for various reasons, not all of which are altruistic, would be happy to see the end of the postal service as we know it.

With all the hype about the cost of government, and the need for more taxation to support the level of government we have, the postal service stands out as the one exception to the rule. It pays for itself. It does not need taxpayer subsidy, and if left to manage and compete on a level playing field, it would continue to provide a vital service, at no expense to the taxpayers, for many years to come.

The old post office maxim that “neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night, will keep us from our appointed rounds” need not be the mantra of the modern post office. But “neither chicanery, nor corruption, nor co-opting of essential government functions” shall sideline us from completion of our appointed rounds” is not a bad substitute.

John T. Sullivan Jr. lives in Pittsburg, Kan.

   

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