WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and mailers are slamming the U.S. Postal Service for exploring the notion of cutting mail delivery to five days a week.
“This is one of the most self-defeating proposals I've heard in my life,” Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, told postal officials and other members of the House Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. “If there's one thing the postal service could do that would guarantee its demise, it's eliminate service on Saturday.”
“Reducing the number of delivery days will have a devastating impact on our economy,” said Rep. Constance Morella, R-MD.
Their comments at a congressional hearing this week were prompted by a USPS Board of Governors decision the day before to study a reduction in mail delivery as well as consolidating facilities. Postal officials said the cost savings from both moves could offset this year's projected deficit of $2 billion to $3 billion.
The USPS is prohibited from discontinuing six-day delivery or closing unprofitable post offices without congressional approval. Congress would not even consider such legislation before July, when the agency is slated to file another rate increase with the Postal Rate Commission for across-the-board increases of 10 percent to 15 percent.
The governors said both cost-saving proposals were prompted by a softening demand for postal products and services coupled with rapidly rising costs. They did not specify which day of the week would be cut, but lawmakers and postmaster general William J. Henderson focused on Saturday.
Henderson, who is leaving his position at the end of May, said he understood that many groups would be hurt by eliminating Saturday delivery, especially newspaper mailers and remittance mailers, who think that people receiving bills on Saturdays are more likely to mail them back within a few days.
Mailers and direct marketers, not surprisingly, were concerned about the concept of five-day delivery. Robert McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, the nation's largest coalition of mailers, said the idea “fails to focus attention where it is desperately needed,” finding a way to avoid raising postage rates another 10 percent to 15 percent.
“These studies will take months to complete,” he said. “We need the postal service to find ways of managing within its current legislative framework to reduce expenses. More rate increases will only reduce already declining mail volumes further, which will require even higher rates.”
In addition, McLean said, “I'll bet you anything this never, ever happens — first of all, because the postal service knows it's completely impractical; and second of all, because Congress is never going to let them. This is just designed to ratchet up the noise to get the attention of the media and Congress.”
The call for the study follows last week's announcement that the USPS is committed to reducing spending $2.5 billion by 2003 and to cutting 75,000 work years over the next five years. This would decrease administrative costs 25 percent and reduce transportation costs 10 percent. Last month, the board asked postal management to freeze capital construction commitments, affecting more than 800 projects.