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Clinton Should Have Pardoned USPS

One could make an argument that many of the problems that the U.S. Postal Service is facing are caused directly or indirectly by the federal government. Therefore, given some of the questionable last-minute pardons granted by former President Clinton, it’s too bad he didn’t find time to add the postal service to his list, along, of course, with a Treasury Department check for, say, $6 billion.

Let’s start with one of the USPS’ main problems: the decline in First-Class mail. Clearly, First-Class mail is the USPS’ core product, and its decline is one of its core problems. In many ways the federal government has caused and is causing problems for First Class.

One of the primary causes of the decline in First-Class mail is the use of the Internet. The Internet and e-mail are becoming the business communications media of choice. Some may not be aware that the federal government, specifically the Department of Defense, helped developed the Internet.

A second factor is the federal government’s mandate to move to electronic payments whenever possible. This has meant that the majority of the monthly Social Security checks are no longer mailed but rather are directly deposited into the recipient’s bank account. The federal government also has begun to encourage electronic filing of tax returns. Who knows what inducements the government will use to further encourage the reduction of the mails?

Another reason for a pardon – or a substantial monetary check – to the postal service is the expense and effort needed to carry out its universal service obligation. The postal service has often commented on the cost of keeping open small rural post offices, whose costs are often greater than the gross postal revenue received from their constituents. The response from Congress, particularly those representing rural areas is “just do it,” and the check for doing it is not in the mail.

It’s particularly relevant that an additional reason for a pardon, or more importantly, a check from the federal government, concerns the postal service’s apparent law enforcement obligations. I have written before about the law enforcement obligations assumed by the postal service’s Postal Inspection Service.

According to the postal service’s 1999 annual report, the field staff of the Postal Inspection Service numbers more than 4,300. There’s no doubt that some of these inspectors are investigating crimes that, pending their investigation, will be prosecuted by the Justice Department. Some may recall that the postal service’s inspectors aided former Sen. John Danforth’s investigation of the FBI’s assault on the Waco, TX, compound of David Koresh. I trust the USPS was reimbursed for this effort, which was undertaken at Danforth’s request. More importantly, the USPS should be reimbursed for all its efforts relating to crimes that might be prosecuted by the Justice Department. The postal service should consider asking the Justice Department for reimbursement for all investigations that may ultimately result in federal prosecution.

Perhaps by now you’ve realized that I did not expect that former President Clinton would in any way pardon or reimburse the postal service for “damages” caused by the federal government. However, I do believe it important to point out that actions taken by the government have, however inadvertently, had a significant negative impact on the postal service.

What conclusion can we draw from this?

We as mailers can draw only one conclusion. Unless the federal government and the postal service change their ways, the mailing community will continue to be hit with postage increases greater than the rate of inflation.

The mailing community needs to push back against the subsidies that the postal service is providing to the federal government, be they for rural delivery service, law enforcement or other items.

Second, news from the USPS’ Board of Governors that the agency will lose $2 billion to $3 billion this year was an eye-opener. Mailers are now bracing for increases in mid-2002 of 15 percent to 30 percent. The fact is, the postal service is delivering less First-Class mail to more delivery locations. Doing more work for less money is a sure path to a continuing spiral of rate increases greater than inflation.

The postal service needs to do some truly out-of-the-box thinking. The mailing community needs that thinking to succeed. Perhaps we can help by finding a venue where we can meet to discuss what kind of postal service is truly needed in the 21st century.

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