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Give the Post Office a Break

| March 3, 2013

Maybe it can be outsourced to her majesty's service. (c FlaglerLive)

Maybe it can be outsourced to her majesty’s service. (c FlaglerLive)

By Donald Kaul

The Postal Service says it’s going to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. This won’t happen until August, but the overseers of our postal workers in Congress are already swooning.

“Outrageous” is the cry rolling through the halls of the Capitol.

Can’t help it, responds Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. Our postal service is hemorrhaging money, he says, and we have to cut back. Cutting Saturday delivery would save $2.7 billion a year.

I don’t know about you, but my mail consists mainly of bills, circulars, and requests for money. I can get by with five days of that instead of six.

Apparently Congress can’t. Many of our lawmakers are fuming. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “short-sighted” and a “crippling blow.”

Donald Kaul

The Live Commentary

Whoa! Am I hearing right?

Listen, if the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.

Postal workers would repeatedly go overseas on fact-finding missions and come back empty-handed. Empty-headed too, for that matter.

They’d have to change their motto from, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” to, “Will deliver mail for campaign contributions.”

The postal system today is under siege from the Internet. The volume of mail handled by the postal service dropped 22 percent between 2007 and 2011. People complain about the Postal Service all the time. But that’s largely because people these days complain about almost everything all the time.

My own experience with the Post Office has been excellent. The clerks at the office I frequent are polite and helpful. The mail I send gets where it’s going in a reasonable time. And my postman knows my name.

The Postal Service is a strange, hybrid creature. It’s not quite private, but not completely public either. It doesn’t get any money from Congress, but Congress gets to decide how it runs its business.

It’s saddled by our lawmakers, for example, with the obligation of setting aside $5.5 billion every year for future retirees, an obligation that no other entity, public or private, endures.

Meanwhile, we have the cheapest first class rates in the English-speaking world.

A first class stamp in Canada costs 63 cents. In the United Kingdom, it’s the equivalent of 94 cents. Here, it’s 46 cents. And we complain about that, naturally.

The Postal Service is running about a $16 billion-a-year deficit these days. It has some ideas to close the gap, beyond getting rid of the pre-funding of retirement benefits and dropping Saturday delivery. It would like to reduce door-to door service in favor of centralized neighborhood mailboxes, and run its own health care system. But it can’t do all of that without Congress’s cooperation, which seems to have gone on permanent vacation.

Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we let Congress run the mail system and let postal workers run the country.

At least they’d show up for work.

Donald Kaul worked some 30 years as a syndicated Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register before retiring at the dawn of the new century. He is a columnist for Other Words. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Reach him by email.

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15 Responses for “Give the Post Office a Break”

  1. Anonymous says:

    i’ve been in the post office on pine cone about five times in the last three years. some observations: long,long lines,rude clerks,pathetic hours,crappy parking and very expensive…RIP.

    • Valerie Walters says:

      Five times in three year’s is enough for you’re observation??? No wonder you’re anonymous! We are a very happy efficient workforce! Music playing six windows open from 8;30 to 5;30 lobby assistance etc…We are moving those long lines continually and just had 2 back to back Mystery shops scoring 100.and a rating of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would welcome you to provide this service at this level. We work very long hour’s at a very demanding level with a great motivational postmaster. Perhap’s you should revisit this Post Office more often. Not Anonymous!

  2. Jay says:

    I go over to the pine cone post office at least twice a month to ship packages and I like the people behind the counters. The problem I have is with the NASTY narcissistic people standing in line who think their needs most be taken care of immediately and have absolutely NO patience. SLOW DOWN turbo, take time to SMELL the mail !!!!

  3. rickg says:

    Sorry Anonymous that you had such an experience. It is possible to get such service from Fedex and UPS as well. That’s no excuse for the postal workers at your PO. Except for the rude clerks I would say the remainder comes from lack of funding…. The PO was forced to pay out retirement and health benefits to its employees for the next 75 years… I wonder how UPS or Fedex would do under a similar situation?

  4. The Truth says:

    I have had a few bad experiences at the Bunnell and Palm Coast post offices, but overall the employees are pleasant. As with any workforce, you will have your good and bad apples. My problem with our local post office is with mail delivery, I seem to get another’s mail with a similar sounding street name almost once a week as they do with me. They receive my packages and I receive theirs. Luckily, I’ve developed a relationship with them and we exchange the mail whenever we receive it, but it’s very frustrating.

  5. Deep South says:

    Don’t deal with the Post Office anymore, I do everything online. Good Riddance.

  6. Karma says:

    If UPS or FEDEX was running a $16 billion a year deficit, Do yo think they would be around to today? Funny how everything is different when the government is involved. Just keep giving them more until when? Many big banks are losing employees every year for the same reason. Technology. Should the government run all the banks also so everyone can keep their jobs to?

  7. Outsider says:

    I must say the clerks at the Palm Coast post office are very efficient and overall, courteous, considering the crowd they have to deal with. Maybe they’re tired of demanding people from Palm Coast. I’ve always found that by treating them respectfully I get the same in return. The service is good, and mail gets to where it has to be in a reasonable amount of time. The overall problem is that the infrastructure, including the current and former employees is geared to the volume of mail from thirty years ago, before e-mail, FedEx, and UPS. I don’t have a solution to that dilemma, but it certainly shows what happens when a government agency is forced to finance it’s future obligations now, rather than kick the can down the road like every other government agency does. I can assure, the result would be (is) the same.

  8. nana says:

    Everyone sits in judgement of the American workers who do their job and support this nation. We go to work, do what isexpected of us. We might get a paid vacation and we might not. We may have in have insurance and we may not . At ANY time we can be fired for no reason Most of us can’t pay our bills or could be wiped out by a minor catastrophe medical, unemployment.

    But here we are spreading negativity about the same Americans that work as hard as all of us.

    What we dont talk about are the “ones” on capital hill who reap rewards from the majority of us who pay taxes that we HAVE too or face federal punishments.We pay for “capital hill” who go on those lavish vacation, have y
    The BEST health insurance for the rest of their lives They are guaranteed a job until they die .

    So, why is it we cannot believe in each other Support each other, work together Reality is at one time or another we will loose a job that we though we would have forever We might loose our retirement, medical insurance.
    Stand up people, it’s not about loosing 1 day of mail service, it is what the “people on the hill decide”

    I am hoping when I do become unemployed or homeless or worse sick our representative will come forward and help us You know the ones who cried for our votes and shook our hands, Oh that’s right they are on the hill eating well . Or maybe on a expensive vacation paid by US.

  9. Billybob says:

    Why don’t they just raise prices to offset the annual loss? They know how much their annual operations cost. They know their loss. It’s simple math to figure out how much mailing & shipping should cost to erase that deficit.

    It’s not like they have any competition (I don’t know any other way to send a letter). As far as packages I’ve noticed everything I’ve tried to ship in their “flat rate boxes” is always 1″ too big in at least one dimension. Almost like they know how to size the boxes so that nothing you actually need to ship will fit into them.

    If 46 cents per letter = $2.7 billion annual loss, but 72 cents per letter (or whatever) = no loss, then what’s the big deal? I mail about 3 letters a year. Is that extra 78 cents a year going to break me? Are there still people out there mailing letters every day? (Besides junk mail, and higher mailing costs = less junk mail). It sure seems like Congress is forcing the post office to operate at a deficit.

    The last time I got a handwritten letter in the mail I felt like I was receiving a ransom note.

  10. confidential says:

    Yes the Federal legislators under Bush in 2006…imposed the 75 years in advance employee retirement in and health benefits contribution (in only a ten year span ) from the USPs revenue so maybe they can dig their paws into it top help the federal budget maybe?
    Just like that did in the past with the Social Security and Medicaid fund taking accumulated trillions out of it by approval vote of the Federal legislators and use it to offset budget deficits!
    Do away with the 2006 Republican legislation enacted against the USPS and in favor of Wall Street and let its workers preserve their jobs and us preserve our traditional mail service!

  11. wachur6 says:

    Come on about postal workers… Always a line… Slow, non caring and when it’s time for break… they close up their line and gone. Even when customers are steaming out the door.

  12. Aimee says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the Palm Coast PO and I’ve lived here for 5 years. I do, however, always seem to be standing next to grown adults who act like they’ve never waited in a line in their lives. I typically print my shipping labels at home and walk to the front of the line to leave my packages
    on the counter.
    Waayyyyy too many people are waiting in line to buy stamps–use the machines! Also–there seems to be a high number of Palm Coast residents who show up to the P.O. with a shirt or a present in hand…the PO is for shipping and mailing, NOT for you to stand there and pack up your boxes on the counter. I have also never seen so many people trying to mail taped up shirt boxes and other ridiculousness–then you will complain when your items get damaged.

    People need to learn how to (1) stand in line like an adult, (2) properly pack items for shipping BEFORE arriving to the PO. This will shorten the lines and the PO workers will naturally be less irritated with you! (Like I said before, they’re always pleasant with me)

  13. Jeanne says:

    The employees in Palm Coast are friendly and efficient. When my husband first came to PC a few years ago, from Philadelphia, he was SHOCKED. He couldn’t get over how they asked, How can I help you? They said “Thank you”. and they really did help him with his questions. Now, if you want rude postal employees, Philadelphia has them. So do not put blame on the ones in Flagler. They rock! But I do feel we need to cut back our services. I agree with the writer of the article, most of my mail delivered these days is JUNK mail. And the post office says there’s nothing they can do about it. Most of my bills are e-bills, so even they’re not mailed. The benefits the post office gives are among the best of anyone!! How about cutting back on the bene’s, like everyone else? Personally, I think mail should only be on Mon/Wed/Fridays. I work for a law firm, most of our stuff is duplicated so much. We get it emailed to us, then mailed. So just email everything. Do away with the hard copy. We’d save so many trees in the process!

  14. confidential says:

    To Jeanne: I know you are well intended but your suggestions in how to save our USPS have fatal side effects….we need to see beyond the immediate fix. For example the junk mail we receive, it may be junk for some of us, but could be a treasure for others..Remember “someone’s junk is someone’s else treasure”? One of those treasure hunters live in my house. Even more important is that, the piece of junk mail that many of us detest provides jobs to graphic designers, pressmen, mailers services, the paper mills manufacturing workers, login forestry workers and our US Postal employees that deliver it to us. With your terminal suggestion all of them will be out of a job, if we “kill the goose so called junk mail”, that is advertising a product to us all. If we all were to use just e-mail, many more millions will join the unemployment lines and then your law firm will have also less business to survive, as the destitute can afford lawyers or whatever we sell.
    What we need to severely cut are those legislators bene’s and their over paid compensations all over this nation and set them on Medicaid, no more luxury Health Plans. Those dudes that in 2006 decided to bankrupt our USPS and were NOT the postal workers. As for saving our trees…USA has the best reforestation and preservation system in the Planet, sustaining our paper and wood industry.
    I am also a tree hugger but right now our unemployed and their children need more our sincere support and hugs.
    Right now what we really have to save, are our fellow Americans jobs, as with a bankrupted Middle and Lower Classes our country will remain in the trash can and your lawyer firm and our businesses sales will further suffer the consequences.

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