Decision to cut deliveries may force the hand of Congress
Postal officials have been discussing an end to Saturday delivery of mail for years in response to the U.S. Postal Service's financial difficulties, but now they say it is actually going to happen this year.
Describing the situation as “urgent,” the Postmaster General announced the change Wednesday, saying an end to Saturday deliveries – other than packages – to homes would start in August.
Whether that will actually happen or not is another issue.
Many members of Congress, likely fearing constituent backlash, have for decades opposed cutting delivery days to save money. In fact, they have specifically prohibited it, but postal officials believe a technicality will now allow them to go ahead anyway.
The Postal Service is in an odd situation. Although it is supposedly a private agency operating on its own funds generated from postal revenue, Congress still has the final say on its operations. That prevents it from taking the necessary steps to try to operate profitably – such as independently raising rates or cutting services.
The result has been huge losses for the agency. It reported nearly $16 billion in red ink during the last fiscal year and expects that trend to continue unless there is drastic action. It hopes to save $2 billion by cutting Saturday delivery, but clearly a lot more will have to be done.
Times have changed and the Postal Service is trying to cope with a steeply declining use of first class mail, once the foundation of postal revenue. People and businesses are increasingly choosing email to communicate.
Congress is the biggest obstacle to a solution. It forces policies on the Postal Service without providing any means to pay for them and which limits the service's competitiveness.
Postal officials have for years warned of the impending financial calamity, but their pleas for help have been ignored.
If nothing else, perhaps the Saturday delivery decision by the Postal Service will finally force Congress to deal with the situation.
If Congress won't let the Postal Service act independently to adapt – which it should do, as a private business has to do – then the government will have to return to a taxpayer-subsidized mail system. It is a choice that must be made and time is running out to do it.