The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 11, 2013

Our View: Untie restraints on Postal Service

The Free Press

— Frustrated by Congress’ inability to pass needed structural changes for the U.S. Postal Service, the postmaster general decided to use a creative legislative loophole to take matters into his own hands.

The USPS announced that beginning in August it would halt Saturday delivery, except packages, saving $2 billion a year. There is some question whether the move to five-day service is allowed without explicit action by Congress, but it is not a technicality lawmakers should get hung up on.

Instead, Congress should allow the overdue change and take the opportunity to finally craft legislation that brings comprehensive reform to the Postal Service and allows it to operate more freely to meet the business challenges it faces in a digital world.

The USPS has aggressively cut costs in recent years, but is still saddled with big losses — nearly $16 billion just last year.

One big budget problem the quasi-government USPS faces is a requirement that it pre-fund its retirees’ health-benefit payments — something no other government agency is required to do. The USPS last year defaulted on $11.1 billion in those pre-funded payments.

Congress could start easing the Postal Services’ pain by removing the prepayment requirement.

But there is much more that can be done. Forty years ago Congress reorganized the USPS as an independent agency that’s supposed to pay for its own operations. But Congress still wanted a large measure of control, leaving the USPS vulnerable to political meddling.

And meddling there has been. While the Senate last year passed bills that would give the USPS more freedom, the House GOP leadership has bottled up the legislation. Whenever the Postal Service proposes significant changes to save money and be competitive — such as closing facilities or limiting delivery days — lawmakers prevent it because of the many constituencies that benefit from the status quo.

The USPS’ financial problems are not insurmountable. But getting the Postal Service healthy is important to the economic vitality and social well-being of America. It’s time Congress allows the USPS to meet its competition without onerous political meddling.