Postal Service official makes Vancouver visit

Deputy postmaster general will face protests as he greets customers at expo Thursday

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor


photoRon Stroman, Deputy postmaster general

Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman, in Vancouver to attend an expo Thursday of U.S. Postal Service customers, sees a bright future for the quasi-governmental organization's expansion of its package delivery and business services.

But first, Stroman said in a Wednesday interview with The Columbian, the independent government agency needs the backing of Congress to reduce its staggering costs of prefunding employee pension and health benefits so that it can expand and modernize its operations in areas where it is growing.

"We need the Congress to act and to act soon in order to move the business and help us grow," Stroman said by phone from the Hilton Vancouver Washington, where the Greater Portland Postal Customer Council's annual Mailer's Expo is being held Thursday. "We continue to make the case that the American people deserve a viable and financially stable Postal Service."

Critics of the Postal Service's management say they'll protest Stroman's presence outside the Mailer's Expo. Among the expected speakers at a rally are Bob Vacca, president of the Oregon State American Postal Workers Union, and Jim Falvey, Portland-area president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. In a news release, they single out Stroman, second-in-command at the Postal Service, for pushing to eliminate Saturday delivery and closing mail processing plants and post offices nationwide. The Postal Service, bowing to pressure from Congress, last spring backed off from its plan to cancel Saturday service.

The critics are calling on postal management to suspend cuts, closures and subcontracting and encouraging Congress to fix the Postal Service's structural financial problems.

Tensions have risen between the Postal Service and its employees as the agency continues to bleed money. It reported a $2 billion net loss for the quarter ending June 30, and it has announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs and consolidate 82 mail-processing centers in 2015. In the Oregon region that serves Vancouver, mail processing operations in Bend, Eugene and Pendleton are to be consolidated into the Portland mail processing and distribution center. The Postal Service has already closed 141 centers since 2012.

Stroman said the retrenchment is necessary in order for the Postal Service to adapt to a changed environment in which more people communicate by email rather than by mail, while purchasing an increasing number of goods through e-commerce outlets that rely on package delivery.

Mail volumes have declined by 213 billion pieces in 2006 to about 160 billion pieces last year, and Stroman said they are continuing to drop by 3.5 percent to 4 percent each year. "It doesn't make sense to have the mail processing magnitude that we had 10 yeas ago," he said. Package deliveries, on the other hand, are growing by 10 percent a year.

The Postal Service is emerging as a strong competitor to private package delivery firms, Stroman said. What the Postal Service is able to offer, he said, is the nation's largest package delivery network, lower costs than other package services, and "an on-time delivery record (that) is as good as anybody else's in the country."

The Postal Service is expanding its relationship with, including providing Sunday package deliveries in a growing number of cities. "Our volume with them is increasing," Stroman said. "We have a terrific relationship with Amazon."

But, he said, the Postal Service needs Congress to reduce its financial burden for pension costs so that it can invest in new trucks and other equipment needed to modernize those growing services.