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Monday, December 05, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There Is An Efficient, Authoritative And Prosperous Post Office

Climactic scene in Miracle on 34th Street:

The key takeaway: The State of New York is second to none in its admiration for the Post Office Department.  It is efficient, authoritative, and prosperous.

Crazier than believing in Santa Claus, eh?  Well, it's pretty damned impressive that the USPS can deliver an actual letter anywhere in the country in as little as a day for just a few dimes.  But it's fun for a lot of people to beat up on the organization because it's having money woes, and that's a real shame.

It's especially a shame when you consider that the Postal Service was forced under a 2006 law to pre-fund its healthcare obligations, to the tune of 75 years' worth in a mere decade.  It's all nuts:

When former members of the U.S. military take a government job, their military service counts as annual credits toward pension eligibility. This holds true when service members take postal jobs — but who pays for the value of those credits? In 2006, the Postal Service was shouldering that cost on its balance sheet, even though there was general agreement that the Treasury Department should be responsible for pension credit earned prior to employment with the Postal Service. The 2006 law shifted the burden from the USPS, but that meant an addition burden on the Treasury — that is, it would have added to the federal deficit. So to balance out that negative on Treasury's balance sheet, the Postal Service was ordered to make health care pre-payments equivalent to the cost of the pension cost shift.

The problem of military pension credits itself was a creation of just such a deficit-hiding accounting trick. In 2002, an audit of the USPS budget found it had overpaid into the federal government's pension plan by roughly $80 billion. Postal Service officials lobbied hard have its pension payments readjusted. They were, in 2003, but in order to make the shift revenue neutral, military pension credit costs were shifted from Treasury to the USPS.

Putting aside the issue of whether we should expect the Post Office to break even (voting is a cost center, so should we privatize that, too?), it was set up for failure by placing upon the agency a huge, unnecessary financial burden.  The USPS actually turned a profit for years, even in the beginning of the last recession, but being forced by Congress to shell out so much money caused major red ink. 

Granted, Congress is arguably within its rights to hamstring the USPS.  Article I, Section 8The Congress shall have Power...To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.

But this clause has been controversial from the very start.  The Framers (Madison, Jefferson), the 2nd Congress (could it actually build post roads, could it regulate other uses of said roads?), et al, all argued about its necessity, extent and precise meaning.  So today's debates are nothing new.

Still, even in the modern era private delivery options and the Internet, I can't help but agree with US district judge St George Tucker, who wrote in 1803:

The post-office, under proper regulations, is one of the most beneficial establishments which can be introduced by any government; by providing the means of intercourse between the citizens of remote parts of the confederation, on such a regular footing, as must contribute greatly to the convenience of commerce, and to the free, and frequent communication of facts, and sentiments between individuals. Hence the revenue arising from this source will always be more easily collected, and more cheerfully paid, than any other whatever. It appears, that notwithstanding the many unprofitable branches, into which the post-roads have been divided for the convenience of the people of the United States, there still remains a considerable sum that is annually brought into the federal treasury.

 It would be nice to see some "proper regulations" rather than stuff like this:

[P]owerful forces have gathered in an attempt to use this budget bickering as an excuse to reform the post office dramatically. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Republicans’ top government cost-cutting advocate in the House and head of the powerful Committee on Oversight, has introduced legislation that would dramatically alter the agency. His Postal Reform Act of 2011 would end Saturday delivery, create a commission to study post office closings and create a Solvency Authority that could break union contracts if the agency fell into the red.

I suspect the Right has been wanting to destroy postal workers' hard-won collective bargaining rights since 1970 (when tax-payer support was also withdrawn), and now they can use budgetary games as an excuse. The Post Office can't even create new products to improve revenues for fear of competing with private companies like FedEx and UPS, all while still expecting it to act, you know, like a business that needs to adapt with the times.

But that's par for the course, I guess.  Just so long as Congress doesn't break the Internet we'll be okay.  Oh, wait...


December 5, 2011 | Permalink


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Thanks for limning this Republican sabotage, NTodd. No doubt with the help of Democrat quislings. See? Gummbint can't work. So's we gots ta privatize everything. It's truly criminal what Congress and Corporess is doing to the PO and all our other cherished institutions. May they rot in their damned suits. What a disgusting nation this has become. One can only fantasize about a country that is free, peaceful, educated, and caring, and that works.

Posted by: lea-p | Dec 5, 2011 11:11:41 PM

I'm the USPS's biggest fan, and this whole issue drives me up the f'ing wall. The post office actually makes me feel patriotic, as in, proud that our country can do something so well.

Issa issa devil.

Posted by: phobrek | Apr 25, 2012 6:26:37 PM

You're just a dupe of the Civil Service Industrial Complex.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Apr 27, 2012 11:49:24 AM

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