Congress should acknowledge Post Service's value in efforts to reform
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With the Congress tackling postal reform, increasing media attention is focused on the U.S. Postal Service. Much of the commentary, unfortunately, recycles misleading conventional wisdom or reflects an effort to push an agenda.

I appreciate the opportunity to present some easily verifiable information and context so all of us – the public, stakeholders, lawmakers and executive branch – can approach the matter on a shared factual basis.

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The Postal Service is older than the country itself and was first led by Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin. It’s based in the Constitution, whose authors deemed it key to uniting our vast nation. That’s as true today as ever – as evidenced by the average of 3,630 new household, business or organization addresses added daily to the postal delivery network.

 

Overall, the USPS delivers to 155 million residences and businesses six and increasingly seven days a week, and is consistently rated the public's most trusted federal agency. Particularly critical to small towns and rural areas as well as to small businesses, USPS also is the nation's largest civilian employer of military veterans.

These are just a few reasons why the Postal Service enjoys enthusiastic support from lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Some commentators, however, would have you believe that the Postal Service loses billions of dollars a year delivering the mail because of the Internet, leaving taxpayers on the hook for this.

Fortunately, every aspect of that is false. Here are the facts.

The Postal Service is operating in the black. USPS revenue exceeded operating expenses by $610 million in Fiscal Year 2016, bringing total operating profit the past three years to $3.2 billion.

On Feb. 9, USPS announced an operating profit of $522 million for FY 2017’s first quarter, putting postal operations $3.7 billion in the black since the start of 2014.

Bear in mind that this is earned revenue; by law USPS gets no tax dollars.

Two structural factors account for this impressive performance: As the economy gradually improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping, package revenue is rising sharply (up 16 percent in 2016), auguring well for the future. Record worker productivity also contributes.

Often overlooked is the degree of public-private cooperation regarding package deliveries. For example, UPS and FedEx bring a significant portion of their parcels to the post office for "last-mile" delivery. The private carriers go to perhaps every 50th address while letter carriers go to every address anyway, so UPS and FedEx – and their customers – save money while USPS earns revenue.

There is red ink but it stems from congressional politics, not the mail. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other agency or company has to pre-fund these benefits even one year in advance; USPS must do so decades into the future. That $5.8 billion annual charge not only accounts for the "red ink" — it disguises the actual profits postal operations have been generating for years. (It's important to note – because postal critics won’t tell you this – that the pre-funding charge counts as a loss each year, whether or not USPS can afford to pay it.)

Addressing this elephant in the room — pre-funding — is imperative, given the Postal Service's role in various facets of American society. I'll note just a few.

The post office is, in many places, the center of civic life. And across the country, it's the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector.

In every community they serve, letter carriers contribute to the quality of life. For example, each May letter carriers conduct the country's largest single-day food drive to replenish food banks, pantries and shelters coast to coast. Thanks to the generosity of Americans, the 24th annual drive last May collected a record 80 million pounds of food – bringing the total to 1.5 billion pounds.

And every day as they deliver mail on their routes, letter carriers help save elderly residents who have fallen or experienced medical problems, put out fires, locate missing children or stop crimes in progress. For the nearly one-quarter of letter carriers wearing their second uniform following military service, ignoring personal danger to save others is in their DNA; for letter carriers in general, the job involves a commitment to serve and protect the neighborhoods and families on their routes.

If members of Congress act on practical, targeted postal reform that addresses pre-funding while preserving and strengthening the invaluable and profitable postal networks – a consensus supported by a broad coalition of postal management and labor, industry groups and key legislators – the Postal Service can continue to provide Americans and their businesses with the industrial world’s most-affordable delivery network.

Fredric Rolando is the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.