By Denise Tessier
Do we Americans still not care whether the U.S. Postal Service exists?
If one gauges an answer by looking to the House of Representatives or the Albuquerque Journal, the answer appears to be “no.”
With regard to Congress, it appears to be “no” because the House adjourned for five weeks without passing corrective legislation needed to keep USPS solvent, knowing USPS had just defaulted for the first time on the onerous retiree set-aside Congress had forced them to fund, knowing there would be a second default on Sept. 30.
And with regard to the Journal, the answer appears to be “no” because the paper has remained editorially silent on USPS’s fate. The editors haven’t weighed in with an editorial supporting USPS in any way, and the situation is even more dire for the agency now than when we pointed out this omission last October.
Coverage of the current USPS crisis came Friday (Aug. 10) in the Journal in a greatly shortened Associated Press story at the bottom of A5, which, because it was cut, only partially explained USPS’ financial situation.
“Postal Service Reports $5.2 Billion Loss” reported the default and did mention that “The mail agency said it is being hurt significantly by mounting expenses for future retiree health benefits.”
If you don’t read all the way to the second-to-last graph, it’s easy to extrapolate that this historic agency – older than the United States itself (founded in 1775) – just isn’t run well and that those greedy unions are part of the problem with their pension demands. Reading and waiting for the explanatory paragraph that comes too late, I can literally hear the grousing of those who don’t know the whole story and erroneously deduce that the Postal Service is inefficient and should die. They also might ask: Don’t private businesses do a better job anyway?
Well, here’s an answer to that question. Granted, it’s a personal anecdote, but last year, mailing a very heavy package to Germany cost $110 at the Cedar Crest post office. (Here I must insert the disclosure that I’ve had a mailbox at that post office for 34 years.) Out of curiosity – and thinking it would save me the trouble of locating an appropriately-sized cardboard box — I priced the same package at my nearest UPS store. The manager told me the slowest, cheapest ground transport option was $386. That was just transport, not including packing material.
Sure it’s nice to have UPS and FedEx – and we need them — but if it’s more than three times as costly to mail something there, it’s nice to have the post office option. Plus, the post office is 14 miles closer to my house.
No doubt due to space restraints, the Journal only ran five of the 22 paragraphs in the AP story, leaving out the fact that the Senate “passed a postal bill in April that would have provided financial relief in part by reducing the annual health payments and providing an $11 billion cash infusion, basically a refund of overpayments the Postal Service made to a federal pension fund.”
It also left out this positive news:
On the positive side, the mail agency reported that it continued to lower costs by reducing work hours and boosting employee productivity. The Postal Service’s fast-growing shipping services, which include express and priority mail, had a 9 percent increase in operating revenue to $3.3 billion.
That strong growth in shipping services, which the mail agency is promoting as a cheaper alternative to FedEx and UPS, helped offset roughly three-fourths of the declines in first-class and advertising mail, said Stephen Masse, the Postal Service’s acting chief financial officer.
Other important background in the AP story:
The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.
Overall, the post office had operating revenue of $15.6 billion from April through June, the third quarter of its 2012 fiscal year. That was down a fraction from the same period last year. But quarterly expenses this year climbed to $20.8 billion, up 10 percent, largely driven by the health prepayments. The Postal Service is the only government agency required to make such payments.
And over at the House, it’s interesting to note that while failing to act on saving the U.S. Postal Service, the body did find the time to introduce 60 bills related to naming post offices.
By the way, if you’re a subscriber and can access Journal archives online, the one opinion piece that does appear to be an editorial blaming Congress in part for USPS’s woes isn’t an editorial. It’s bylined “Journal Staff” as if written by the editorial board, but it’s a column that was written in 2011 by an individual Journal columnist, Harry Moskos. And it’s a good one.