Potter remarks take on do-not-mail movement

Postmaster General John Potter took on proponents of do-not-mail legislation last week, saying that mailed advertisements help to fund the US Postal Service during a time of financial instability for the agency.

“Somehow, they think a sale offer coming through the mail — as opposed to a newspaper, a magazine, TV, radio or the Internet — is a bad thing. Ads pay for the Internet, as well as broadcast TV and radio programs,” he said during a speech at the National Press Club. “So, too, ad mail helps pay for universal mail service in America.”

Do-not-mail legislation has proponents, including the nonprofit ForestEthics, which runs the Web site DoNotMail.org. The portal urges consumers to sign a petition to stop “junk mail,” citing environmental concerns.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a non-binding resolution calling on California and the US Congress to create a Do Not Mail registry. It was the first time lawmakers in the US voted on allowing consumers to block unsolicited mail.

Potter also outlined the financial difficulties faced by the agency. The Postal Service faces annual deficits of at least $5 billion for years to come if changes are not made in the way it does business, he said.

Despite trimming $6 billion from its expenses and cutting its workforce by about 40,000 positions, the Postal Service lost $3 billion in fiscal year 2009 — the second-largest net loss since the Postal Service was reorganized in 1971. Had Congress not passed legislation in late September reducing the agency’s 2009 payment into its Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, the Postal Service would have lost $7 billion. Mail volume declined by about 28 billion pieces in fiscal year 2009, making it one of the most challenging periods in Postal Service history, Potter said.

Congress’ action to reduce the 2009 health fund payment was a welcome move, Potter said, but only a band-aid. “We’ve dealt with the crisis of the day,” he said. “Now we have to get focused on the long-term changes needed for the Postal Service to remain a national asset.”

Potter added that the Postal Service’s business model no longer works and suggested the nation has to ask some tough questions about the role of the agency. While stressing that he is not wed to any of these ideas, Potter said the agency should consider consolidating delivery from six days per week to five, resizing the postal network’s retail footprint and the number of processing facilities and letting the agency sell services other than mail service at its outlets, such as banking or insurance services. He also suggested the Postal Service be allowed to fund its retiree health obligations over a longer period of time, a move that could save close to $5 billion annually.

Potter also urged the public to focus discussion on bigger-picture items than just what postal branches might close.

“Part of the problem with discussing the Postal Service is that we are talking about a $5 billion loss and we spend all of our time arguing about some part of the organization that amounts to $20 million or so,” he said. “The dialogue needs to move up to the 50,000-foot level.”

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