For that matter, UPS or FedEx taking a package the last mile can create hassles of its own. I live in an apartment building and work from home. Only our actual mail carrier has a key to the outer door of my building, and I cannot tell you how many times I have gone running downstairs in response to desperate pounding from UPS or FedEx trying to deliver something for the online shopping addict in apartment one. If I didn't work from home, she'd face what she did one day when I was out—a slip from UPS saying they'd be back between the following hours, and be there if she wanted her package. The stress over how to get a package being delivered during working hours by a private carrier who can't get into your building is a not uncommon fact of apartment life. Which is to say, it's not that packages aren't being carried. They are. Surely there's an advantage to exploit here somewhere.
But Congress and top postal management aren't looking for advantages or for growth. They're looking to cut, supposedly in the name of equipping the postal service for the long haul. However, an analysis (PDF) by the financial advisory firm Lazard, conducted for the National Association of Letter Carriers, notes that:
...one of the Postal Service’s own witnesses at a Postal Regulatory Commission hearing on its network optimization plan recently acknowledged the existence of a study that found that the combined effects of all service cuts under consideration would reduce mail volume by over 10% – an amount which would offset most of the proposed savings from these initiatives.
That means the proposed cuts—no Saturday delivery, longer first-class delivery times, closed processing centers and post offices, and more—would set off a death spiral, with cuts leading to loss of business leading to further cuts. This wouldn't just affect the postal service, slowing mail delivery and forcing many people in rural areas to drive long distances to get their mail, it would affect the entire economy. We're talking here about tens of thousands of layoffs
that would disproportionately affect African-Americans
. And cutting that many jobs, especially in concentrated clumps with closing of processing centers, would hit local economies hard.
But that, with the exception of Bernie Sanders and a few other officials fighting to protect the postal service, is where the establishment political discussion is happening. As the Senate debates S. 1789, a bill that would simply put the postal service on a slightly delayed death spiral rather than an immediate one, a number of individual senators have potentially useful proposals, seeking to protect rural mail delivery, the ability to vote by mail in states that rely on that, prescription delivery for senior citizens who may not easily be able to get to the pharmacy, capping postal executive pay—postal executives are paid more like corporate executives, in many cases far more than cabinet secretaries make—and allowing postage prices to be raised beyond the rate of inflation (our first-class postage is cheaper than in most other countries).
There are also proposals for ways the postal service could expand its services. It could potentially return to a postal savings service for the many people who don't use banks. Sen. Mary Landrieu has suggested the post office could become a place to go for notary publics, copying and handling hunting and fishing license sales. I would love to see fax services at my local post office—the day before tax day, I needed to fax my electronic filing permission. There's a post office less than a five minute walk from my house, but it doesn't offer fax services. I had to go to a private packing and shipping store, where I paid $2 a page. Why can't the post office add fax services and let me pay $2 a page there? In fact, the postal service has tried to expand its services in much larger ways than these, only to be stopped by Republicans not wanting it to compete with private business. This happened with online bill paying, money transfers, phone cards, postal meter cartridges, and more.
So when the postal service tries to expand its services as a private business could do, it's stopped by Congress. But operating in the restricted ways it's allowed, it's assailed for being an unresponsive money-losing dinosaur. Clearly a number of senators have grave concerns about S. 1789 and are trying to blunt its harm with amendments. But this is a slate that needs to be wiped clean. We need a postal bill that rejects the language of crisis and does not seek to manufacture further crisis. As Lazard notes, "A business plan based on degrading your greatest strength is not likely to be a path to success." The postal service needs a business plan that expands on its strengths and takes it into new areas of service.