F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
December 10, 2000
There's No Basis for Mail Chauvinism

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

"First-class mail delivery, the U.S. Postal Service's premier product, is overpriced and underperforming. Consumers are moving to cheaper alternatives. . . ."

"The U.S. Postal Service today employs more people than the entire population of Rhode Island -- 900,000 people or nearly one third of today's federal civilian workforce," reports Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste. "It is a bloated and entrenched bureaucracy," she charges, "rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. It keeps little track of data it could use to improve performance and lower costs. Its productivity levels are stagnant."

Paige notes that the Postal Service has "fallen increasingly behind the times. Every leap forward in technology and transportation, every innovation in the commercial delivery of packages, mail, and messages is met," she claims, "by an ever more entrenched U.S. Postal Service, bigger and hungrier for increased financial support, regulatory protection, and bureaucratic propping up." Paige emphasizes that the Postal Service is "not self-sufficient. Nor does it even come close to breaking even. Yet," she points out, "instead of cutting waste, fraud, and abuse (which amounts to at least $1 billion annually), reducing overhead and eliminating unnecessary expenditures, like the hundreds of millions it spends annually on burnishing its public image and sponsoring athletic teams, Congress has permitted the USPS to increase stamp prices at will, encouraged it to dabble in and fail at numerous commercial ventures outside its core mission, and given it the green light to trespass into commercial areas where it does not belong." Even though it is "given this extraordinary leeway, armed with $1 billion a year in taxpayer-backed subsidies, endowed with carte blanche treatment by the U.S. Postal Service's Board of Governors and the Postal Rate Commission, and backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayers, it still can't make any money!"

Paige emphasizes that "the federal government is not only continuing to allow the U.S. Postal Service to hemorrhage billions of taxpayer dollars. Apparently, failure is to be rewarded with growth. The powers that be in Washington DC," she laments, "have thoroughly bought the Postal Service's spin that the only way out of this morass is to allow the agency to hold onto its taxpayer-subsidized benefits and use them to leverage itself into commercial activities outside its core mission."

Seeing no purpose for "a government monopoly on mail delivery," Paige recommends taking "a serious look at the U.S. Postal Service's role, if any, in the 21st Century. Serious reform would begin with a refusal to approve the Postal Service's latest rate hike petition," she suggests. "This would send a strong message that the tide is turning and no further rate hikes will be forthcoming unless dramatic changes are made."

Paige argues that the Postal Service should be "wound down and eventually abolished." The process, she says, "is already underway. Technologically sophisticated businesses and consumers are getting together and agreeing that correspondence, bill paying, and advertising can be done more cheaply and more quickly without the U.S. Postal Service." In the meantime, Paige concludes, the USPS "must be forced by Congress to limit its activities to first-class mail delivery and dramatically improve its service."

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