Ironically, news that the U.S. Postal Service will slightly expand its northeast Indiana service coincided with the much more significant decision to end Saturday mail delivery.
While residents of Grabill and Wolf Lake will be pleased to have their own post offices – albeit operated by existing private retailers rather than as full stand-alone offices – the Saturday mail decision is one of the biggest setbacks for a service that predates the Declaration of Independence.
Americans are familiar with the reasons – pixels are replacing paper in countless ways, plus private operators such as FedEx and UPS offer competition.
And, like GM, Chrysler and numerous other longtime businesses, the Postal Service has high legacy costs, paying generous pensions and other benefits in a labor-intensive industry.
But the USPS also has a huge obstacle private industry doesn’t face: Congress.
It seems as if the USPS has 535 CEOs sure of exactly what it should do. But though many members of Congress have long argued government should be run more like a business, the Postal Service is the one giant corporation that in fact really is a business – yet Congress has saddled it with bureaucratic demands. Congress has blocked efforts to reduce the number of post offices. It has demanded higher pension funding than any true government agency. It flinches whenever prices go up. And Congress being Congress, it doesn’t see the urgency in a $16 billion budget deficit.
In fact, some members of Congress are already threatening to restore Saturday delivery, angry that the Postal Service is taking advantage of a loophole allowing it to bypass congressional approval because Congress can’t pass a budget.
Unfortunately, rural areas like Grabill and Wolf Lake will be harder hit – they tend to have less access to high-speed Internet and an older population more reliant on paper. The National Farmers Union objects because many of its members rely on newspapers that arrive in the mail.
But the Postal Service simply must cut back, and Saturday delivery has long been targeted as the least disruptive place to start.