|Guest column: Postal Service is managing responsibly
Posted: July 15, 2011 - 12:00am | Updated: July 15, 2011 - 8:22am
Few institutions touch more Americans than the U.S. Postal Service, which delivers to 150 million homes and businesses six days a week.
Letter carriers get to know our communities, occasionally saving elderly residents who are ill, finding lost children and stopping crime. We conduct the nation's largest single-day food drive every year, replenishing food pantries in Jacksonville and elsewhere.
And yet, the misinformation circulating about the Postal Service is startling. Some of it was contained, unfortunately, in the July 1 Times-Union editorial "Is bailout the next step?" In short — no, it is not.
For starters, the Postal Service doesn't use a dime of taxpayer money and hasn't for more than a quarter-century. Its revenue comes from selling its products and services at the best rates in the industrialized world. Customer satisfaction and on-time delivery are at record highs, and labor costs are declining.
Further, the USPS runs a net operational profit delivering the mail. Despite the worst recession in 80 years, despite Internet diversion, the USPS takes in more money from postal operations than it spends. Over the past four years, revenues exceeded costs by $837 million.
However, the 2006 congressional mandate that the USPS pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and do so within a decade — is something no other public agency or private firm does.
These roughly $5.5 billion annual payments since 2007 — $21 billion total — represent the difference between a positive and negative ledger.
Otherwise, the Postal Service would have been profitable.
But we're not even asking that it be removed. What USPS management, unions, the Postal Regulatory Commission and key Republican and Democratic legislators on postal issues ask of Congress is simply this: Allow an internal transfer of funds from its pension surpluses.
This is earned USPS revenue with zero taxpayer involvement.
The transfer would leave pensions and retiree health benefits fully funded well into the future, while putting the USPS operational budget back on sound financial footing on paper — as it's been all along in practice.
Several bills filed by Senate and House legislators of both parties would accomplish that, though not the one Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., introduced last month. His bill would drastically reduce services.
Ending Saturday delivery would cut 17 percent of service to save 2 percent in costs. That's a formula no responsible business would adopt.
Once the immediate financial hurdle is overcome, the postal community can focus on adapting to evolving needs.
For example, more people now pay bills online but also order online — and those goods must be delivered. Already, last-mile USPS delivery of packages for FedEx and UPS is a profit-maker.
Letter carriers will continue to devise proposals for a USPS that serves ever better the needs of residents and businesses, even as we carry out our jobs with the dedication that's led residents of Jacksonville and the country to name us the most-trusted federal workers six years in a row.
Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.