A couple weeks ago, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced a 10-year plan that he says will take the U.S. Postal Service to profitability. His goal? To eliminate a projected $160 billion loss over 10 years, caused largely by declining mail volume, unattainable pension-funding requirements and other expenses. Among components of his plan:
• Slowing the standard for First Class mail delivery from the current three days to five within the continental U.S.
• Hiking postage prices for paper mail and parcels.
• Service cuts including shorter post office hours.
To Americans who rely on mail delivery, this combination of slower mail for higher prices looks less like a path to fiscal salvation and more like Sherman’s 1864 march to the sea — weakening the USPS and its reputation and demoralizing its workforce.
Here’s something DeJoy and Congress keep ignoring: Though it’s constantly being positioned to compete against carriers like FedEx and United Parcel Service, its mission is different. USPS is an everyman service, required to maintain capacity to deliver to 161.4 million addresses six days a week and charging the same for a First Class stamp no matter how far it will travel. Compare that with United Parcel, which delivers to just 21 million total addresses in a week.
Beyond which, if you’re like us, you’re thinking it’s been a long time since government gave a damn about what regular Americans need and want — like affordable, efficient, timely delivery of prescriptions, financial documents, merchandise (sold by Main Street businesses that shifted to online sales during COVID), and mail-in ballots that support a functioning democracy. And Americans LIKE their Postal Service. An April 2020 Pew Research Center poll rated public views of 10 federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service ranked highest with a 91 percent favorability rating.
So we’re looking at DeJoy’s $160 billion over 10 years and thinking “Wouldn’t it be grand if Congress approached funding the USPS with even half the zeal they’ve shown as they tossed billions of tax dollars into the F-35 fighter jet program?”
That’s the Pentagon’s flying fever dream, envisioned in 2001 as a replacement for the aging F-16… the one that a year ago was still dealing with 883 unresolved design flaws… the one that’s acknowledged as the world’s most expensive weapons platform (the thing costs about $36,000 an hour to fly) and whose fleet operating costs over its 50-year lifespan are estimated at $1.727 trillion. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith was 100 percent right last month when he said we should “stop throwing money down that particular rathole.“ And the Air Force sort of agrees, but now they’re considering spending even more money to build a replacement for that replacement for the F-16.
So think about the $160 billion DeJoy is trying to save by weakening our Postal Service, and compare it to the $1.727 trillion F-35 “rathole” that Congress has gleefully fed for more than two decades.
Here’s what we think:
• President Biden should choose the nuclear option, replacing the entire nine-member USPS governing board with both creative thinkers and business wonks, regardless of political affiliation. Louis DeJoy’s ham-fisted approach to managing and his reputation as a GOP super-donor with a raft of financial conflicts of interest are damaging to the Postal Service. The new board should replace him.
• Some components of DeJoy’s plan make sense — like asking Congress to repeal a retiree health care pre-funding requirement and integrating retiree health care coverage with Medicare. But much of the rest of his plan ignores the agency’s unique mission and lacks both imagination and innovation.
• To improve the Postal Service’s fortunes, get politics out of it and turn the thing over to visionaries who can generate new revenue streams to preserve this servant agency of the people. They can start by letting the post office take on those banking functions authorized in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, offering payroll check cashing, domestic money transfers and bill-pay. (It’s not new. Postal banking was a thing in the U.S. from 1911 until the late ’60s.) We need to preserve USPS as a service for the American people.