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(Associated Press)

Beam: Time for postal service to end Saturday deliveries

Last Modified: Wednesday, February 06, 2013 7:33 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The decision of the U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday mail deliveries by Aug. 1 isn’t being well-received in some quarters, but 7 in 10 Americans think it’s a great idea. Supporters are relieved to know that is one less day they will have to cope with mail boxes filled mostly with continuous appeals from charities, business solicitations and pure junk mail.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, speaks for the opposition. He said ending Saturday mail delivery would hurt small businesses, rural communities, the elderly and the disabled. Rolando blames what he calls unnecessary retirement benefit payments for the service’s $15.9 billion in losses last year.

Congress in 2006 required the Postal Service to set aside $55 billion in an account to cover future medical costs for retirees. That meant annual payments of $5.5 billion for 10 years. The Associated Press said no other government agency is required to make such payments. The Postal Service has defaulted on two of those payments, and that is why its losses were so high last year.

In addition to the payments it couldn’t make, the Postal Service still sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion. And ending Saturday mail delivery would save $2 billion annually. There is no way to justify not doing something about annual losses that are expected to keep growing from year to year. The New York Times said Postal Service losses total $36 million per day, and they are expected to climb to about $21 billion a year by 2016.

With that prospect and last year’s $15.9 billion loss, how can you ignore any decision aimed at cutting costs?

The Associated Press reports the Postal Service since 2006 has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its workforce by 193,000 (28 percent) and consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations. Drastic as that was, it hasn’t been enough to curb the losses, and more needs to be done.

The big unanswered question is how members of Congress will react to the end of Saturday deliveries. They have resisted past efforts to control rising costs, even though the service doesn’t receive government funding. However, Congress oversees the independent agency and for the last 30 years has insisted Saturday mail delivery continue.

Two congressmen who are linked to postal operations did indicate Wednesday they believe it is “common-sense reform,” according to USA Today. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The two sent a letter to leaders of both chambers of Congress supporting the plan to end Saturday deliveries, the newspaper said.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on Issa’s committee, had a slightly different take on the issue. He said something has to be done about the financial status of the postal system, but Congress needs to be a partner in the concept.

“The Postal Service’s declining mail volume poses a significant challenge, and the enactment of comprehensive reform legislation must be an urgent priority for the current Congress,” Cummings said in a statement. “However, the issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the Postal Service.”

Unfortunately, Congress has been the main hindrance to postal reform. As you would expect, its members look at the issue from a political perspective. Closing post offices and reducing deliveries doesn’t go over well back in their communities. Congress also has a reputation for putting off permanent solutions to most serious financial problems.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahue said of the plan, “The Postal Service has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of the U.S. Mail.”

Donahue said the service wants to concentrate on its strong package delivery system. That business has increased by 14 percent since 2010, while letter delivery has declined. He adds that mail would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays and post offices would remain open on Saturdays.

Congress has tried to manage postal affairs, but the financial situation has gotten worse during its watch. Politicians need to give up their supervision of the Postal Service and let the agency have greater flexibility to control its own costs and create new ways to increase its revenues. There are too many in Washington, D.C., who refuse to adapt to today’s realities of American business life, and they are destined for failure.

E-mail, smart phones, iPads and other modern technology has changed many aspects of our lives, nowhere more so than in the postal service. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan said it best as far back as 1964 with his third album titled, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Donahue, the postmaster general, said, “America’s mailing habits are changing. This makes common sense.”

Yes, it does. And wouldn’t it be better to have five days of mail delivery than three or four or none at all?

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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