The Postal Service and much of Washington are caught in a time warp. For some reason, they still think it’s 2009 and that the Postal Service is in terminal decline.
The postmaster general’s “shrink to survive” austerity plan was developed in the depths of the global financial crisis. Then, the economy was collapsing, mail volume was plummeting and the pre-funding payments were crushing the Postal Service. The crisis imposed heavy costs: Nearly 200,000 postal jobs have been lost, service standards have been cut and the Postal Service has been starved of investment
Fortunately, today the economy is recovering. Revenue from the booming e-commerce business is offsetting more moderate declines in letter mail volume. And the Postal Service is operationally back in the black, even as the effects of massive downsizing and reduced service standards have begun to fray the quality of service—severely, in many cities and states. The Postal Service is nevertheless poised for a major comeback if only its leadership would stop focusing on the rearview mirror. What we need now is vision and leadership.
Sadly, that is not coming from L’Enfant Plaza and it’s not coming from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where both the White House and some key leaders in Congress remain enthralled with the PMG’s misguided doomsday vision. Rather than acknowledge the massive amount of so-called “right-sizing” that has already happened, or admit that the USPS’ finances are improving even as they remain fragile due to the pre-funding mandate, key leaders in Washington remain committed to continued austerity, no matter how self-destructive to the future of the USPS.
But for now, the PMG and key power-brokers seem wedded to the same wrong-headed and now-outdated reforms that the Postal Service cooked up in 2009. The question is: Why?
I believe one of the main reasons is the absolute void at the top of the USPS’ governance structure. To be blunt, the USPS Board of Governors has effectively ceased to function as either a guiding or restraining force on management. It no longer has a quorum to make decisions or exert influence. There are now five vacancies — out of nine seats! Two sitting members are in their final year of service and another’s term has expired, though he is serving a single hold-over year while a replacement is sought. Partisan gridlock in the Senate has prevented any new appointments.
In this environment, there is no counter weight to the PMG’s destructive service cuts. Nobody is there to keep him honest or to offer better ideas. Indeed, three of the four governors were appointed by President George W. Bush and may simply share the PMG’s austerity agenda.
We need to break the partisan gridlock. That’s why we cannot give up on our efforts to elect more USPS-friendly and letter carrier-friendly representatives to Congress this year. Those friends have helped fend off assaults on our jobs, benefits and collective bargaining rights—and have helped us save Saturday delivery multiple times over the past five years. But we need more of them, regardless of which party they come from. The only way to end the void at the top of the Postal Service and to stop the PMG’s misguided agenda is to elect a better Congress. Together, we can make that happen in 2014, if we all do our part.