Political Problems Need Political Fixes

Like every business, the U.S. Postal Service faces a continuing spate of problems. But unlike most businesses, many of the postal service’s problems are caused by and require a solution through the political process.

This makes life particularly difficult for the postal service because, by law, it is not permitted to lobby Congress. Therefore, the USPS must rely on its “friends” to lobby for it.

The problems I’m referring to do not relate directly to potential postal reform legislation. One problem relates to the pension contribution legislation passed in April. Many thought that legislation was a solution to much of the postal service’s current financial difficulties. After much industry effort Congress did pass legislation providing a temporary fix to the USPS pension overpayment problem.

Let’s review that issue. After prodding by the mailing industry, particularly by Vince Giuliano, senior vice president of government affairs at Advo, the administration’s Office of Personnel Management was tasked to determine what the postal service’s pension liability actually was. OPM found that the liability was not the $32 billion previously thought, but only $5 billion. With this information, and intense industry lobbying, Congress passed a bill, signed by President Bush, providing a temporary fix.

The bill reduced the postal service’s pension contribution, required the savings be used to pay down postal debt and to, therefore, keep postal rates unchanged through 2005. The bill also required that the USPS report to Congress on what should be done with the post-2005 “savings.” However, until Congress passes new legislation stipulating how the overpayment is to be used, or permanently reduced, the overpayments will go into an escrow account and be unavailable for any use, including rate stability.

If Congress cares about job creation or retention, it will permanently freeze USPS pension payments at their correct level and let the postal service use the savings to keep postage rates at current levels.

A second problem is a fallout from the do-not-call legislation. Congress is now researching how to do similar do-not-e-mail legislation to determine how to stop unwanted spam. Several states, including New York, have taken up the cudgel against presumably unwanted advertising mail and are in various stages of drafting do-not-mail legislation. The legislators are ignoring all the research that consistently has shown that people do not mind getting and, in fact, appreciate unsolicited advertising mail.

I have some thoughts on unsolicited advertising mail. First, it’s a given that whatever legislation is written will have an exclusion for political and nonprofit mailings. Taking on political mailings is a non-starter, but a few words regarding nonprofit mailings are appropriate.

A somewhat amorphous relationship has existed between profit and nonprofit mailers for a long time. The nonprofits usually got what they wanted, and the profits didn’t create a fuss as long as it wasn’t too costly to them. Now it’s time for the nonprofits to return the favor. They need to lobby against and fight the various do-not-mail bills.

If these bills were to pass and regular-class ad mailings were to decline as a result, nonprofits would face significant financial effects. Nonprofits also might find the tide of indifference from regular-rate mailers turning against nonprofits.

In a similar vein, I read with interest a story about a letter written by the junior senator from New York concerning the potential closing of postal facilities in upstate New York. The senator wrote to the postmaster general that the facilities were important to the local economy and asked that those processing centers not be closed. We need to make the senator aware of the linkage between declining mail volume and the resultant need to close or consolidate mail processing facilities.

Wouldn’t it be great if both New York senators, the rest of New York’s congressional delegation and the state legislature were made aware of the number of postal and nonpostal jobs that depend on a vibrant, growing direct mail marketing industry? Irrational anti-business do-not-mail legislation is inconsistent with the calls these legislators are making for job creation legislation.

Congress and several state legislatures have the ability to help or harm the 9 million jobs that the mailing industry provides. Let’s trust they make the right choice.

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