by Mark Jamison, published March 23. 2015 at Save The Post Office
In 2001 Postmaster General Bill Henderson submitted the first blueprints for a transformation of the Postal Service into a sleeker, more efficient business entity. To justify the transformation, the rhetoric has repeated one mantra: the problem with the Postal Service is its outmoded and defective business model.
A great deal of our speech with public policy is often coded — for example, “makers and takers” can often sound a lot like “black and white” — but in this case Henderson and his successor Jack Potter were pretty clear about their goal. The way forward for the Postal Service, they said, would include cuts to the workforce, post office closings, a smaller postal infrastructure, and a general retreat from the idea of the Postal Service as a universal service provider.
The big mailers talk about the “failed business model.” Postal commentators going back to Murray Comorow and through Alan Robinson have talked about the ‘failed business model.” The folks in Congress, Republicans particularly but also Democrats like Tom Carper, all bemoan the “failed business model.”
In focusing on the idea of a “failed business model,” these voices were able to elude facts like the billions siphoned out of the Postal Service to support payments to the Retiree Healthcare Benefit Fund that were essentially unnecessary. Any discussion of rationalizing rates in ways that didn’t involve simply handing over postal revenues to narrow interests in the mailing community was avoided. The idea of supporting universal service and postal infrastructure with modest budget contributions from the federal government was rejected.
Instead, everyone seemed to agree that the nation’s postal infrastructure must be totally self-sufficient. That was the preference of postal management as well, since money from Congress never comes with no strings attached. Management takes every opportunity to remind people of this. At the end of every press release is this sentence: “The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.”
The real problem
Assertions that the postal business model had failed reflected nothing other than a wish to apply a corporate model to a basic government service and function. It didn’t matter that we had the most effective postal system in the world, a system that delivered more mail to more addresses at cheaper rates than virtually anywhere else. It didn’t matter that our network of postal plants and post offices were the hearts of American communities. It didn’t matter that the Postal Service provided 800,000 good jobs with good benefits, or that the income from these jobs flowed throughout local communities, supporting businesses large and small.
The sad fact is that none of the things that did matter to the average person mattered to those who set postal policy. They had imbibed from the well that had transformed the American economy from an engine of shared growth and prosperity to a shell game that enriched the few at the expense of the many.
In a little more than two generations we have watched as all the burdens of the economy have been shifted to those who work for a living. We have seen the end of defined benefit pension systems, deteriorating access to employer-paid health insurance, and the rise of a model that eschews full-time work for part-time contract labor. A successful postal business model has thus come to involve cheap labor, reduced service, and the privatization or outsourcing of public infrastructures.
Continue reading Epic Fail for the Postal Service: The wrong model and the wrong BOG