While neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night have prevented the U.S. Postal Service from fulfilling its duty since 1775, the Internet has managed to diminish the role of the mail system in American life in just a few short years. Teetering on the cusp of bankruptcy, the USPS now faces massive reductions in service and staff, as well as the elimination of Saturday delivery. While snail mail may seem like a rusty anachronism in an age of instant communication, the agency still provides a vital service to the nation. Congress should act to help shore up the Postal Service's shaky financial footing to ensure one of the nation's oldest institutions does not end up in history's dead letter bin.
While only 5 percent of people paid their bills online in 2000, today 60 percent of the public manages their accounts electronically, resulting in a 27 percent decline in first-class mail delivery. That's a lot of unlicked stamps the post office has failed to sell, contributing to a $5.1 billion loss of revenue last year. To stanch the flow of red ink, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has proposed a massive downsizing of the agency that would involve shuttering about half of its 487 mail processing centers, closing up to 3,700 post offices, eliminating about 100,000 jobs, expanding delivery routes, increasing the cost of a stamp and eliminating Saturday delivery. The painful changes in delivery standards, the first in 40 years, would result in slower first-class mail delivery — from one day now to as much as three days — while saving up to $20 billion of the agency's annual $75 billion costs by 2015.
Despite the loss of business to the Internet, the USPS remains a vital resource for delivering mail, packages, periodicals and services such as Netflix. Rural residents and millions of Americans without access to the Internet still depend on daily mail delivery.
Congress also should move to ease the Postal Service's bottom line woes by approving a restructuring of the agency's complex pension funding formula, which would allow for the refund of an estimated $7 billion in overpayments by the agency to the federal retirement fund.
As a practical matter, the USPS will always face strong competitive headwinds in the Internet age. But its unique ability to deliver an estimated 177 billion pieces of mail annually to American homes and businesses demands that postal workers be able to continue on their appointed rounds, even if only on weekdays.