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The Postal Service: A service Americans should appreciate

The Postal Service: A service Americans should appreciate
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A good deal of misinformation circulates about the U.S. Postal Service; some unfortunately contained in two Jan. 2 commentary pieces published on these pages. I appreciate the opportunity to provide some facts and context.

First, the broad picture. The Postal Service, which doesn’t use a dime of taxpayer money for its operations (by law it earns its revenue) provides Americans and their businesses with the industrial world’s most-affordable delivery network.

Based in the Constitution, USPS delivers to 155 million addresses six and even seven days a week, delivering 47 percent of the world’s mail. An average of 3,748 new addresses are added daily to the country’s only universal delivery network.

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The Postal Service is the core of the $1.4 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector.

 

It is the largest civilian employer of military veterans — more than 113,000 grace the postal workforce – with the proportion of letter carriers wearing their second uniform three times higher than it is in the general population.

Those are the facts, all of them easily verifiable.

Here’s one more: Every day, from coast to coast, letter carriers save lives, stop crimes in progress, rescue people from wrecked cars, put out fires or find missing children — because they care about the neighborhoods and families they serve. Annually, letters carriers hold the nation’s largest one-day food drive, collecting tens of millions of pounds of food to feed hungry Americans — including many children and veterans.

Now, let’s address some of the recent criticism that appeared on these pages.

One issue raised is merely an attempted resurrection of a long-discredited claim – that negotiated service agreements (NSAs) between USPS and various companies are set at low prices to benefit the company involved, in this instance, allegedly Amazon.

Similar arguments have been made for decades, and consistently rejected on the merits by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the independent overseer of USPS whose members are presidentially appointed from both parties.

The Postal Service has hundreds of NSAs, all subject to specific rules — that the agreement has to benefit the agency and not harm the marketplace. The “studies” that claim something improper with this or that NSA often are subsidized by a private competitor to the Postal Service.

It’s worth noting that the Postal Service has strong cooperative relationships with the private carriers, delivering millions of their packages the “last mile” – saving them money because letter carriers go to every address anyway, while generating revenue for USPS.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention a December Consumer Reports study that compared delivery services by FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service, and concluded “(I)f  cost is your main concern, we found that the Postal Service is often the way to go, though you should still shop around. And unlike the others, the Postal Service also offers a premium service that can deliver on Christmas Day in major markets.”

As for the notion that the Postal Service should be privatized to be more competitive, the idea fails on several counts. For starters, the government’s duty to deliver the mail springs from the Constitution, as a way to bind this vast nation. Moreover, USPS provides the best rates anywhere. Those European nations that have moved toward postal privatization (such as Britain and Germany) often charge up to three times what USPS does.

And in proposing privatization, special interests are targeting an agency highly popular with the public. A Gallup poll from early January asked people to rate 13 key government agencies. The Postal Service far outpaced all others with a 74 percent positive rating. USPS also enjoys strong bipartisan support among legislators from both metropolitan and rural areas.

As for postal finances, the reason for the red ink at USPS is often misrepresented. Almost all of it is attributable to a 2006 congressional mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits decades in advance and pay for it within 10 years — something required of no other public or private entity.

The resulting annual charge of about $5.8 billion a year accounts for more than 90 percent of the red ink since the law took effect in 2007. Previously, there was no red ink.

Most recent years, the Postal Service has operated in the black, with earned revenue exceeding normal business expenses by about $1 billion annually. In Fiscal Year 2017, the first stamp price rollback since 1919 helped produce an operating loss.

Fortunately, pre-funding and the pricing process are being reexamined. What will benefit Americans and their businesses aren’t radical schemes proposed by ideologues serving narrow interests, rather commonsense adjustments to public policy.

Once made, they’ll allow this national treasure to continue providing residents and businesses with the excellent service they deserve – with no taxpayer money and with all the added value mentioned above.

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