Saturday, October 1, 2011

USPS: Vultures Roosting in the Eagle's Nest

The vultures on the verge of destroying the US Postal Service are not merely circling. They've landed in the nest, ready to plunder and privatize, having fully captured USPS management and oversight. It's clear to many that the the Post Office has enemies in Congress, to wit Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), among others. But it's also apparent that there are those in management and oversight who are just as determined to destroy the Post Office, who are in the service not of the American people but of those who consider the USPS their competition and who are eager to devour the advantages it currently maintains.

The postmaster general plans to make drastic cuts that will do away with first-class service, give the pickings to FedEx and the like, and continue propping up bulk mailers (who currently pay less than what it costs the USPS to process and deliver their junk mail). Those cuts will devastate small towns and inner cities, reduce the USPS to a third-class bulk mailer, and replace its middle-class workforce with a workforce of the working poor. All this for what?

Abdicating 6-day delivery to private postal services would, by Government Accountability Office estimates, save costs of only 4 percent of the USPS budget. USPS management has admitted that it wiped one small-town post office off the map because it "'cost' the USPS $1,500 a year more than it made in sales of stamps and money orders." Never mind the mandate that the USPS serve all Americans. Never mind that the USPS is not meant to make a profit but rather to be a self-sustaining service to the American people. Never mind that closing a post office because it is not "profitable" is against the law.

The devastating cuts proposed by the postmaster general—the projected savings of which are absurdly small—will serve only to weaken the USPS, not strengthen it, not put it on firm financial footing. All of the aspects of USPS service that are on the chopping block—6-day delivery, half the distribution network, half the retail network, half the workforce—represent USPS's greatest assets. So why proceed when the financial savings are so small and the resulting loss so devastating? The only conceivable answer is that the intent is not to save money or alleviate the USPS's financial difficulties, but to serve the interests of the vultures ready to devour this national treasure.

The planned devastation of the USPS is based not on need but on greed. The claim of financial emergency is a pretext to break the USPS up and feed the choice bits to the private mailing industry.

The postmaster general says he expects to close 16,000 post offices in six years—that's half of the nation's post offices! And he plans to close or consolidate as many as 313 of the 487 processing plants by 2013—destroying first-class service while estimating the destruction would "save" costs equal to only 4 percent of USPS's budget. When this happens—and USPS management is proceeding fast, in violation of federal law—there will be no more 44-cent postage. Only FedEx rates. There will be no more service to rural, remote, and distressed areas. Newspaper and magazine delivery will be eliminated.

The Internet could be the biggest source of new business imaginable. Customers could e-mail documents to the USPS, which would then print and deliver them from the destination post office. This would be a hugely popular service: next-day delivery anywhere in the country, of anything you can send to a printer. Fast, cheap, and hard copy. All it would require is leadership interested in providing a service to the public.

But what we have now is leadership more interested in providing profit to private moneyed interests than in serving the American people. That is the end result of setting up a public service to function "more like a business," as was done in changing the U.S. Post Office Department to the US Postal Service in 1970-71.

The United States Postal Service is a national treasure that needs to be saved from the formidable forces arrayed against it. And those forces are not only in Congress, but in the USPS itself. Those who seek to save the USPS will not succeed unless they recognize the threat within, and they must do so very quickly or it will be too late.

John Nichols writes good Save the Post Office columns in The Nation and The Capital Times. And there's always a lot of good information at Save the Post Office, which Steve Hutkins puts together.

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