A few years ago, I testified at a hearing at the Reardon Convention Center concerning the proposed closing of the General Mail Facility in the Turner Industrial District. I opposed the closing.
I told those senior Postal Service management personnel that the hearing was little more than an academic exercise—that the closing decision had already been made at postal headquarters in Washington, D.C. The postal big wigs denied that. Guess what happened—the mail processing operation was closed and moved to a huge remodeled building over town that used to be a Sears warehouse. The only reason for the hearing was a federal law that required it.
When I had a problem with mailings several years ago, I usually had to make only one telephone call—to the postmaster. I was on a first-name basis with most of them. They were very visible—they lived here and were active in voluntary organizations. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone—except for postal nerds like myself-- who can name the Kansas City, Kansas, Postmaster. Just for the record he is Taren Reynolds.
Earlier this year, Patrick Donahue, the postmaster general, testified before the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said the Postal Service was losing $25 million a day; he wanted $20 billion in bailout money.
Donahue offered legislative changes he said would help the Postal Service. These included letting the Postal Service sponsor its own health care plan, lifting restriction so that it could ship such items as liquor, not requiring up front payment of retirement benefits and cutting delivery service to five days a week.
The numbers tell the story of the problems that the Postal Service faces. It peaked with deliveries of more than 213 billion pieces in 2006; in 2012 that number dropped to 160 billion pieces. The number of employees also tell a story with a peak of more than 797,000 in 1999 but only slightly more than 522,000 in 2012.
The Internet has had a very significant impact on the Postal Service. It is much cheaper and faster to send an email than to use snail mail. However, there are still good reasons to use traditional mail. I will give you two examples—one for Business West and the other for a church.
I was pleased that Business West News was delivered next day. The bad news was it took a week to deliver a church flier. And the customer service from the mail processing center over town was deplorable.
The church mailer was delivered to the mail processing center on a Wednesday. Days passed—no flier was delivered to my mailbox. I finally called the acceptance unit and talked to a clerk who confirmed the flier arrived, but he didn’t know where it went after it left his area. He said he had no way of tracing it. His tone of voice was not encouraging. He then referred me to a tour supervisor. Although this woman was pleasant, she was of little help.
The next day, I did receive the flier. It took one week to move from over town to my mailbox.
According to the Postal Reform Act of 1971, the Postal Service is supposed to be an independent agency. Anyone who believes that also probably believes in the tooth fairy. Some of the politics were taken out of the Postal Service. For instance, postmasters are no longer patronage appointments. They are appointed based on merit—whatever that means.
However, the postal service is still a federal agency. It is required by the U.S. Constitution.
Congress will wait awhile before it bails out the Postal Service. That will force the Postal Service to at least make an attempt to clean up its act. Congress won’t admit it, but it is very aware of the political clout that the 500,000 postal employees have. In turn, these employees probably influence another million voters.
After the bailout, you and I will pay higher prices for stamps and we will get less service. That’s the American way.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.