Examiner Editorial: The Postal Service needs to enter the 21st century 

Competition improves the breed, and no breed is more in need of improvement than the U.S. Postal Service. Postmaster General John Potter has proposed ending Saturday delivery because his operation, already a chronic money loser, faces a $7 billion deficit this year and an estimated $238 billion in losses for the current decade. Potter may have the toughest job in town because he faces three immovable objects in his quest to stop the red ink and save a government institution that has been with us since the nation’s earliest days.

The three immovable objects are President Barack Obama, Congress and the postal unions. Obama has already said he opposes privatization, the obvious solution to the Postal Service’s ills. The president says a privatized post office wouldn’t deliver “that postcard to a remote area somewhere in rural America that is a money loser.” And Obama’s 2011 budget clearly states that Saturday delivery will continue, so Potter is probably on a fool’s errand in seeking the change, even though it would reduce the Postal Service’s annual deficit by half.

Then there is Congress, which refuses to allow the Postal Service to make anything beyond token cuts in unneeded facilities. Millions of Americans move to new addresses every month, but just try to close a local post office that serves only a tiny customer base. When Potter announced a study for closing of 677 such facilities last year, Congress moved quickly to force Potter to back off. Only 162 of the proposed closings were approved, bringing to 259 the total of closings for the past five years. For the record, there are more than 32,000 Postal Service facilities.

Finally there are the postal unions, which obdurately insist on raises despite the accelerating decline in mail volume. Potter has managed to trim his work force through attrition and retirement from 600,000 to about 520,000, but employee compensation still consumes 80 percent of the Postal Service budget. With the growth of e-mail and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and the success of private package deliverers like FedEx and UPS, it’s time to move this 19th-century relic into the 21st century. The way to do that is to end the Postal Service’s monopoly on first-class mail delivery and privatize it, just as countries around the world, including Britain, New Zealand, Finland and Sweden, are already doing. Ending Saturday delivery is at best a Band-Aid when what is needed is major surgery.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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