What most people think of as the Post Office motto (above) is actually simply what the architects had chiseled on the post office at 8th Avenue and 33rd Streets in New York City. Even its other famous office in New York has had its name hijacked by trains. Grand Central Station is the post office, and the train station is properly called Grand Central Terminal. Yet when tourists ask “which way to Grand Central Station?” they aren't usually looking for a post office.
Despite raising postal rates and sucking up more federal funds, the Post Office is currently losing an average of $42,335,766 per day over the fiscal year. In the third fiscal quarter of 2012 it lost $5.2 billion. For that quarter, the loss is $57,142,857 per day. In one of its brilliant “fiscal restraint” moves, the Congress passed legislation ordering the Postal Service to use $3.1 billion of its income to “prefund” postal employee retiree health benefits.
Not surprisingly, that public employee scheme hasn't worked too well. On August 1, Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe reported that the USPS was forced to default on a previous prefunding plan for retirees totaling $5.5 billion. $5.3 billion, plus the $3.1 billion coming up in September. And there are zero cash reserves to cover those mandates. And before anybody corrects me, the USPS is styled a private corporation. That was originally done to enhance the possibilities of the Post Office becoming both more competitive and more profitable. It is an “independent establishment” within the executive branch, whatever that means. But with the federal government's rules, interference, and safety-net funding, it is a public entity in all but name.
Donahoe has said that he and his executives are doing everything they know to get the post office back on target. But, “it is still expecting Congress to pass legislation that will ease the pressure.” And what legislation might that be? Says Donahoe: “We remain confident that Congress will do its part to help put the Postal Service on a path to financial stability (emphasis added). We will continue to take actions under our control to improve operational efficiency and generate revenue by offering new products and services to meet our customers' changing needs.”
One clear way to improve service and cut costs is to eliminate duplication of effort and get rid of the outrageous retirement and health benefits which postal employees share with other full-fledged federal employees. Donahoe is also asking the Department of the Treasury to return $11 billion dollars in overpaid “prefunded” retirement benefits to shore up its operations and bring retirement and health benefits in line with the private sector. Good luck with that. He also proposed to cut the six-day delivery schedule to five, saving $2.7 billion per year. Most of us could live with that.
I live in a very rural part of the California high desert. I live too far out to get mail at my door, so my mailbox is in a bank of boxes about two miles from my house. That's a little inconvenient but not awful. But they are small boxes. If a large package won't fit in the regular box or the slightly-larger “big package” lock box, I have to travel thirty-five minutes one-way on winding mountain roads to the Caliente Post Office to pick up the package. Ditto for certified or registered mail. The least they could do is put a gas station next door, but the closest one is another twenty minutes away in Bakersfield.
But somehow, FedEx and UPS can come right to my door with a package of any size. A “letter” sent via those services is a little more expensive than by USPS, but package prices are comparable, and FedEx and UPS have to make a profit or go out of business. Somehow, I don't think the woes of the USPS are any different from those of the private services. But the USPS is used to being treated with kid gloves, enjoying all the protections of private business along with all the advantages of being a federal agency. At times, the whole mess makes me want to go postal.
The post office in the illustration (above) is my “local” Caliente Post Office. It closes at 3 PM Monday through Friday, as well as closing for an hour for lunch during the day. It is closed on Saturdays.