Wednesday's announcement by the U.S. Postal Service that it will stop delivering regular mail on Saturdays makes sense for several reasons:Financially, USPS had no other choice. As a quasi-public corporation that receives no tax dollars (but is subject to congressional control), the national post office is losing money at an alarming rate: $15.9 billion for the last budget year that ended on Sept. 30. That loss was triple the previous year's setback, and more losses are projected for 2013. Dropping Saturday mail deliveries will save about $2 billion annually.
Overall, the snail mail business is down significantly. Although package deliveries by USPS have increased, total mail deliveries have decreased 25 percent in the past five years as Americans shift to email and other electronic delivery systems.
Public support of the decision to drop Saturday mail delivery is evident in surveys showing almost 7 in 10 Americans approving of such a move. (Packages will continue to be delivered on Saturdays.) The letter carriers union is putting up a squawk, but that's predictable and understandable. A realistic view indicates Americans can adjust to five-day delivery, especially if this adjustment prevents bankruptcy and collapse of the national postal mail system.
Americans who will be affected by the loss of Saturday mail delivery will have plenty of time to prepare and adjust. Saturday service will not cease until the week of Aug. 5.
Extensive cost-cutting measures already have been implemented throughout the postal system. In the past six years, Postal Service operating costs have been reduced by $15 billion. The workforce has been reduced by 193,000 employees (28 percent) and more than 200 mail processing sites have been consolidated.
USPS had to act because Congress has refused to do its job; lawmakers adjourned the previous session without addressing serious issues presented by the Postal Service.
Congress is further to blame for imposing on the Postal Service an unreasonable burden that is faced by no other government agency: the congressional demand to pre-fund USPS employee benefits for 75 years. Until Congress drops that demand — highly unlikely in the current state of congressional gridlock — this budget problem will continue. The absurd pre-funding demand made up $11.1 billion of last year's losses. The operating loss was $2.4 billion, which could be approximately covered by ending Saturday delivery.
Here's another solution that should be implemented: As we have editorialized before, it's time for Congress to repeal the antiquated Private Express Statutes of 1845, which prohibit delivery of first-class mail by any entity other than the Postal Service. Such mail delivery should be made competitive, just as the package delivery system has been subjected to market conditions.
The Postal Service already in many ways is an independent agency. It's time for Congress to recognize modern realities. It took about 18 years to close down the Pony Express. Why is it taking Congress so long to modernize the U.S. Postal Service?