Gazette opinion: Congress must deliver post office business reforms

2014-07-09T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Congress must deliver post office business reforms The Billings Gazette
July 09, 2014 12:00 am

The U.S. Postal Service has been struggling financially for years while Congress has failed to reform laws that micromanage this big, important business.

So it was disappointing to see Montana’s newest senator, John Walsh, sign onto a bill that would continue to constrain the Postal Service from making changes needed for it to become more efficient as a business. Walsh isn’t alone in taking a stand for saving rural post offices and Saturday delivery. Jon Tester is a co-sponsor of the same legislation, S.316, introduced 18 months ago by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Rep. Steve Daines has also spoken up in defense of rural post offices. In late June, a House committee put a rider on a federal spending bill, again barring the post office from stopping Saturday delivery.

The Senate bill does include some provisions that would allow the Postal Service to operate like an ongoing business:

 Eliminate the onerous requirement that USPS fund employee retirement benefits 75 years into the future by banking revenues for 10 years. No other business or federal agency has that requirement, which Congress saddled on USPS. Remember, the Postal Service doesn’t get a tax subsidy. Mail delivery depends on USPS generating enough revenue to stay in business.

 Allow USPS to develop new services (e.g. notary services, license sales, new media) as the market demands – as any business must do.

 Repeal a Prohibition-era law that bars USPS from shipping beer and wine. That change would be helpful to domestic wineries and breweries.

But other provisions of S.316 are counterproductive, such as giving the Postal Regulatory Commission veto power over the closing of any post office. The bill would also make permanent a law requiring USPS to deliver mail on Saturdays.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015 would allow USPS to cease Saturday delivery and allow centralized delivery, instead of front door delivery, and Obama would revise, but not rescind, some of the retirement prefunding requirements.

Back in December 2011, the Post Office Inspector General delivered a detailed report on what USPS needed to do to stay in business in a dramatically changed and changing market. The IG said there were too few post offices in some urban areas and too many in some rural areas. The report recommended that urban routes be converted to curb delivery and that carriers be paid by the route, as they are in rural areas.

Nearly three years ago, a Gazette opinion argued for the same business flexibility that is being proposed today. That is what the IG proposed; that is what Congress has so far failed to grant.

Sure, we would like to have every single Montana post office stay open, and we appreciate Saturday delivery. But the status quo isn’t an option for USPS. It must change dramatically and its leadership needs the flexibility to change.

We call on Walsh, Tester and Daines to support reforms that make good business sense for USPS. Change is essential to ensure that the post office will be able to keep delivering merchandise and other mail to all Americans.

Three years later, Congress must stop delaying, stop micromanaging the post office and allow this big, important business to meet market demands.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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