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EDITORIAL: Postal Fixes

Before you settle down for a warm and fuzzy holiday, think about some headlines from the past few weeks. First up, “Shippers Hit Busy Time for Holidays; All Still Expect a Record Season.” Then, “PRC Recommends Lower Rate Hike.” And, finally, “USPS Reports $199M Loss for FY 2000.” Still feeling warm and fuzzy? Here are two headlines you can expect shortly that should send chills up your spine: “USPS Projecting $20 Billion Loss in 2008” and “Rate Increases to Come Yearly.” Or, how about: “Postmaster General to Step Down; ‘Headache Not Worth What I’m Getting Paid.’ “

The number of reports saying William J. Henderson will call it quits next year is growing. Seems he has a no-win job, and the Board of Governors doesn’t want to give him a raise. Meanwhile, other high-level USPS defectors are finding success in the private sector. What the board needs is a showman who can get the public and Congress excited about postal reform. (Is Bill Clinton doing anything after January?) Funny that U.S. News & World Report mentioned in a recent “Washington Whispers” column that “a penny increase on First-Class stamps won’t stem the USPS’ growing debt.” Duh. While other mail categories will see near double-digit increases Jan. 7, the rate increases for First-Class letters and cards are 1.8 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. Let’s be fair here. The postal service can’t keep playing favorite to its cash cow, First Class.

By all accounts, the USPS should be rolling in money because it is delivering record volumes of mail. For the first eight weeks of its new fiscal year, mail volume increased 3.8 percent, but it saw only a 2 percent increase in net income. You don’t see FedEx and United Parcel Service saying they’re superbusy, “but, oh, by the way, we just lost $200 million, and we’re going to lose $1.2 billion next year.” A big problem for the USPS is its unions — unions with members who don’t want mail automated and who can’t be told, “OK, you no longer sort the mail, you have to deliver it.” The engine is broken, and Congress must fix it before the situation deteriorates even more. Postal reform may not sound as sexy as election reform right now, but it’s just as necessary.

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