Friday, January 28, 2011

Postal Policymaking: On the Front Burner

An article in James Fallows blog, written by John Tierney entitled "Postal Policymaking: A Political Laboratory" clearly puts postal policy on page 1 of the new Congress's agenda once it gets past dealing with the issues over which the last election was fought.  James Fallows, better than anyone else, lays out the core problem and the key part of the ultimate solution.  The following bullet points are highlights from his article.
  • ... the real problem is that the Postal Service labors under the burden of accumulated obligations. Over our nation's history, the postal system has been used by Congress to fulfill a wide variety of social and political objectives beyond the delivery of letters and packages: frequent, speedy and consistent delivery; universally available letter-mail services at reasonable and uniform rates; support of a large and well-paid work force; continuation of an expensive rural network; maintenance of numerous collection and distribution points; etc. 
  • The problem here isn't that nobody knows how to produce an efficient and cost-effective mail-delivery system.  That wouldn't be difficult -- at least, not if the Postal Service operated in a political vacuum. To operate the mail system in a more economically rational and sustainable way, postal executives would tailor services to economic demand.
  • ...whenever the Postal Service has tried to save the whole system by cutting its nails (much less cutting off a limb), members of Congress, who ultimately control all postal policy, squeal like cats on a hot tin roof and prevent postal executives from acting. They're afraid of the electoral consequences of imposing sacrifice on their constituents and on well-organized postal workers. 
Mr. Tierney concludes his comments on the Postal Service by stating, "Postal service?  A relatively easy problem to fix."   I agree with him that the policy solution is relatively easy and would require that all stakeholders, the U.S. Treasury, mailers, employees, consumers whose current method of buying postal services may change will have to bare some sacrifices.

I further agree that the real problem is Congress itself and the difficulty that it has in making decisions that could negatively affect any constituent.   Mr. Tierney notes that compared to the federal deficit, the problem facing the Postal Service is small and the sacrifices born by postal stakeholders would be relatively modest.  (This is not to say that the loss of one's job is a modest sacrifice for the individual.)  As he states:

If members of Congress continue to be unable to bring themselves to allocate some pain to us on something that we ultimately can handle with a bit of Tylenol, how can they possibly make the really hard decisions that may require morphine?  A big part of the problem is that it's their pain that they're worried about, not ours.  Legislators are fixated on avoiding the hard decisions that might negatively affect their reelection chances.  We're never going to solve any of our acute enduring problems as long as we have a Congress full of wannabe legislative careerists.

Mr. Tierney suggests that the Postal Service could be the laboratory through which Congress gets its feet wet in solving the more serious fiscal issues that have landmines that hit an even larger number of constituents and affects them even more deeply. If true, then postal policy will move fairly quickly over the next six months and postal stakeholders should be prepared.

Note:  Mr. Tierney has a wonderful description of the failure of the PRA and PAEA in a footnote.   I present it in full below.

The sad thing about that is that in the early 1970s, Congress dealt with a postal crisis of that time by transforming the governing arrangements of the postal system with the objective of freeing it from political constraints so that it would be free to operate in a more "businesslike" fashion.  The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 changed the postal service from the old cabinet-level Post Office Department into an "independent establishment" of the federal government -- not quite a government corporation, but very much like one.  But the "freeing from political constraints" part of the reform was all pretense; Congress insisted on maintaining ultimate control over all important decisions of postal policy. So the autonomy of postal executives still doesn't extend to important decisions about the scope and form of postal services.  Their hands are continually stayed by members of Congress who fear that the political costs to designing a more rational and sustainable system would be too great.


Anonymous said...

The unions control the post office and will never let any cuts be passed by upper management. They would implement a massive calling in sick plan to stop it.

Anonymous said...

The Postal unions do not have much say in anything anymore. They can not even enforce exsisting rules. I work there and see it everyday.

Anonymous said...

The Postal Service since 1970 operated just fine until the Postal Enhancement and Accountability Act of 2006.

Before 2006 the Postal Service was able to completely modernize its plants with high speed machinery.

It was able to modernize its huge fleet of vehicles.

It was able to afford a good blue collar wage.

Since 2006 the service has had their gut torn out by this poor legislation.

A culture of negativity has taken over from the top down. Cut, cut cut is the corporate mantra.

Replacing workers with machines before 2006 was one thing. Automation resulted in the loss of over 100,000 jobs.

But tearing down the organization based on poor conressional legislation is another.

Repeal the PAEA of 2006. Let the organization get back to its core purpose and bring back a positive corporate culture.

America deserves no less.

Anonymous said...

Why not focus on wastefull spending. If you have 1 or 2 letters that are mailed at $.44 why would you ever pay a carrier at an hourly rate of near $20 to deviate and deliver them. They should wait for the following day. Stop looking at percentage scores and use common sense.