Preserving the People's Post Office: A Postmaster's View
December 3, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
A couple of weeks ago I filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission requesting access to the documents related to the Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) on the program to deliver Amazon parcels on Sundays. As I write this, the PRC has not yet ruled on my request, but regardless of what happens, I hope a useful purpose will have been served. (There's more about the motion and the oppositions filed by the USPS and Amazon in this post.)
In making this request and writing about it, I hope to draw attention to the PRC cases that administer the competitive products list and review new NSAs. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 has long been vilified as the major source of the Postal Service’s problems because it mandates $5.5 billion in annual payments for the prefunding of retiree health benefits, which has been the major cause of the losses reported by the Postal Service since 2007. I would suggest, however, that in the long term, the most damaging and dangerous part of the PAEA was the separation of the Postal Service’s activities into categories of market-dominant and competitive products.
For those who view the activities of the Postal Service as a public service and the postal network as part of our nation’s infrastructure, the language of the PAEA ought to be seen as troubling. Since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1971, there’s been a push to make the Postal Service more businesslike. For many, the term “businesslike” was intended simply to mean “efficient,” and there was no reason to question the virtue of efficiency, but there were others, including the leadership of the Postal Service and majorities in both parties in Congress, who took the language quite literally: The Postal Service was to become more of a business, with its behavior and incentives guided by a corporate mindset and perspective.
By viewing the service of delivering mail in terms of commercial products, the concept of the postal network as a form of open-access infrastructure was replaced by the idea of the Postal Service as corporate entity. The goal of managing and regulating the Postal Service shifted away from maintaining an efficient, cost-effective means of delivering an essential public service. The goal instead became restraining the conduct of a corporate monopoly.
Dividing postal products into market-dominant and competitive products further undermined the notion of the Postal Service as a provider of a public service. The division codified the view that some aspects of the Postal Service were extraneous to its public service mission and existed solely to compete with private sector offerings and presumably earn profits.
The problem with this view is that it quickly undermines any rationale for public service, replacing it with a full-speed-ahead approach towards turning our nation’s postal network into little more than a business proposition. Placed in a situation of serving two distinct and often opposing missions, policy makers and postal leadership have not surprisingly taken the easier road of defining the Postal Service as a profit-seeking enterprise.
A public service mission is difficult to fulfill. It requires constant evaluation, assessment, and institutional self-examination. Defining efficiency and success in a public service is much more complex than the more clear-cut metric of profitability in a business enterprise. A business can content itself with measuring success in dollars and cents, whereas the success of a public service is measured, at least in part, by intangibles like enhancing social value, maintaining community identity, and promoting universal service and access. These measures may be less concrete than profit, but they are certainly no less valuable.
We don’t ask our national parks to make money, and we don’t ask them to cover their costs by generating sufficient revenues in access fees. NASA and the NIH aren’t required to turn a profit because we recognize that basic research and the intellectual property it generates return tremendous value to our society. We don’t make our interstate highways toll roads nor do we limit them to only the highest populated areas. We realize that a transportation network offers opportunity that results in enhanced economic potential. And we don’t ask our military to break even. We consider defense of the Republic to be an essential public service.
We understand that these infrastructures and the services they provide are useful and productive. We don't expect them to be accountable in terms of profits and losses. We are wise enough to recognize that the benefits they provide cannot be calculated in the terms of a ledger sheet.
For some reason, however, many people believe the case of the Postal Service is different. Because paying postage fees for using the postal system is taken for granted, we have been led to believe that the entire value of our postal infrastructure is limited to the fees it generates. It clearly isn’t.
November 26, 2013
INTRODUCTION BY MARK JAMISON
For the past couple of weeks, the media have focused, almost obsessively, on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 22 being the fiftieth anniversary of his death. I found myself wandering through some of JFK’s speeches and came across his commencement address at Yale University, delivered on June 11, 1962.
In this speech President Kennedy focuses on three questions — the size and shape of government’s responsibilities, public fiscal policy, and confidence in America. In all three areas, he says, “there is a danger that illusion may prevent effective action,” and his speech seeks to distinguish myth from reality and to “separate false problems from real ones.”
As I read the president’s words, I saw obvious parallels to the situation we find ourselves in today, particularly with respect to our approach to solving the problems of the Postal Service. While we choke a great national institution and an essential piece of our infrastructure, trying to force it into a mold it can never fit, we also eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, dismiss opportunity for future generations, and, worst of all, abandon the basic principles of our country’s founding.
The populist demagoguery of the Tea Party enflames Republicans to rhetoric that portrays government as bad. The result is predictable — bad government. Most Democrats are not much better, seeing government as the handmaiden of corporate America, forgetting that this country is more, much more than a series of stakeholders and special interests. We may be a melting pot of people and interests, but the whole has always been greater than the sum of those parts — something we seem to have forgotten.
In this speech President Kennedy talks about the myths that obscure reality. He questions the myth of big government and, by implication, the related myth that government ought to be more like business. He takes on myths of budget and fiscal deficits, the very ones that drive our thinking today, like the myth that taxpayers would rather see government operations privatized than pay for them, which is used to excuse the expropriation of public services and goods. He also speaks passionately of employment, full employment, as the engine that drives our economy.
The problems of the 1960’s are not the problems of today. In many ways, we have regressed to 1929, or perhaps to an even earlier time, the Gilded Age of the 1890s. Though our problems may be different today than the one’s President Kennedy discusses, they are not all that dissimilar. I have argued in many posts here on Save the Post Office that the problems facing the Postal Service and the proposals to solve them are a reflection of our greater economic problems and the way we have approached them. Millions are without employment, yet we cut hundreds of thousands of jobs. Our infrastructure crumbles, and our approach is to privatize it. Our safety net is shredded leaving millions more vulnerable, and our answer is demand even further cuts. Wages and opportunity are stagnant, yet an increasingly small number of us are doing quite well, demanding and taking an ever-greater slice of the economic pie.
President Kennedy ends his speech with a call to arms. I don’t believe it is the same cynical and nihilistic call that drives much of our political discourse today — the call of “I’ve got mine so cut everything and everyone that is not of direct benefit to me." In his inaugural address President Kennedy asked us to remember country and community. It is past time that we began rebuilding this country, our economy, our infrastructure, our confidence, and yes, our Postal Service, in ways that benefit the great mass of Americans and the communities they live in — that should be our call to arms.
We would do well to listen and reflect upon these words of President Kennedy. Here’s what he told the graduating class that June day. (Some introductory and miscellaneous remarks have been edited out. The full text can be found here, and an audio version of the speech can be found here.)
October 15, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The postal monopolies have been the subject of much discussion recently. In last month’s Senate hearings, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma offered his view that the monopolies weren’t worth much anymore so the Postal Service doesn’t need much regulatory control. In the same hearing, Ruth Goldway, Chairman of the PRC, expressed concern that eliminating or modifying the price cap regimen for setting rates would be a serious concern in view of the Postal Service’s continued monopoly position with respect to market dominant products. In her confirmation hearing for reappointment as a PRC Commissioner, Nanci Langley added her concerns about the ability of the Postal Service to abuse its monopoly powers.
The media has been full of comments and press releases from various mailers groups and lobbying organizations regarding the exigent price increase requested by the Postal Service. Most of these groups express dismay at the thought of a price increase but also at the idea that the Postal Service would abuse its market dominant position if allowed to raise rates outside of the CPI price cap.
The road to perdition
One of the loudest voices has been that of Gene Del Polito, president of the lobbying group PostCom. In a recent commentary, Mr. Del Polito takes Senator Coburn to task for his remarks about the postal monopoly and then goes on to chide every member of Congress who deviates from the Gospel According to Gene.
“One could say there are two roads to postal reform,” writes Mr. Del Polito. “One is a narrow and winding; the other is a road that’s broad, well-paved, and straight. One leads to postal nirvana; the other to postal perdition.”
Mr. Del Polito’s idea of postal nirvana is one in which rates are kept low for the benefit of mailers — at the expense of infrastructure, postal workers, communities, and consumers. Giving the Postal Service the authority to set prices without outside regulation, on the other hand, would take us down the road to perdition and expose us to all the evils associated with an unregulated monopoly.
Mr. Del Polito tends to get abrasive in his criticisms of those who disagree with him, using terms like “knotheads” and “socialists” to describe people (like me) who view the postal network as a piece of national infrastructure that must be protected for the sake of the many rather than the few. Ironically it’s Mr. Del Polito’s sense of entitlement — his view that a few large mailers should be provided with artificially low rates and unnecessary discounts — that smacks of what economist Joseph E. Stiglitz describes as “America’s socialism for the rich.”
September 27, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The Postal Regulatory Commission recently dismissed two appeals on post office closings — Freistatt, Missouri, and the Franklin Station in Somerset County, New Jersey. Both appeals were dismissed because they were filed late – in both cases, less than a week after the deadline.
There’s no question that the PRC has rules of procedure that it must abide by, but it frequently grants extensions to deadlines, more often than not to the Postal Service. The PRC’s rules of procedures and the regulations that govern post office closings can be tough to sort through, especially for the average citizen who might not be familiar with bureaucratic and legal language.
For its part the Postal Service doesn’t make it easy on folks who wish to appeal the closing of a post office. If the post office is a station or branch, the final determination doesn’t even mention that the community has a right to appeal to the PRC. That’s because the Postal Service believes that only independent post offices are permitted to appeal, even though the Commission regularly hears appeal on stations and branches.
There are other problems with the discontinuance notices. In Freistatt, because the post office had been suspended, two discontinuance notices were posted in post offices several miles away, and a third was taped to the back of a cluster box unit that replaced the post office. In some cases the Postal Service has failed to produce a complete administrative record documenting the discontinuance process; in a few cases, there was more than one version of the discontinuance notice, and they contained conflicting information.
The appeals process could be made fairer for communities if there were a few simple changes in the discontinuance procedures that the Postal Service follows and in the process that the PRC uses to review appeals.
September 26, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The Senate held another hearing on the Postal Service on Thursday, September 19. The hearing was titled: “Outside the Box: Reforming and Renewing the Postal Service, Part I – Maintaining Services, Reducing Costs and Increasing Revenue Through Innovation and Modernization.” Part II, scheduled for today, Thursday, September 26, promises to address workforce issues.
The first hearing didn’t break any new ground, let alone escape any boxes. It did offer some interesting testimony from the OIG, David Williams, and there were a few interesting exchanges, but like most Senate hearings, it was a fairly scripted event with panelists giving written testimony and senators asking many of the same old questions. There was one brief exchange between Senator Coburn of Oklahoma and the Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe that’s worth noting.
The exchange, which comes at about the one hour and eight minute mark of the hearing, involves a question from Senator Coburn and an answer by PMG Donahoe. (The video is here.) They are discussing the impact of labor on costs.
Senator Coburn: It is presently the law that an arbitrator cannot consider the financial health of the Postal Service in arbitrating a contract. Is that correct?
PMG Donahoe: That is correct.
What could be simpler and more direct? The senator asks a question and the PMG responds, “That is correct.”
The problem here is that the senator offered a false premise— in point of fact, arbitrators can consider the financial health of the Postal Service — and then Mr. Donahoe confirmed the senator’s premise. The PMG thus gave false testimony in a Congressional hearing.
September 24, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
On September 12, we reported this story on Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the Postal Service apparently attempted to end delivery service for the island’s residents and businesses in exchange for maintaining a post office. The island is owned by the state and administered by the Jekyll Island Authority. The attorney for JIA in charge of negotiations with the Postal Service thought the post office might be closed and trading away home delivery was the best way to keep it open. Many people in the community disagreed and argued that JIA had no right to make this tradeoff.
In an undated letter delivered to Jekyll Island residents on September 18, the Postal Service reversed course and announced that both delivery service and the location and hours of the present post office would remain the same, at least for now.
The letter, signed by USPS District Manager Charles J. Miller, begins by saying: “There has been some misinformation recently circulating in your community regarding the future of mail delivery service on Jekyll Island.”
The misinformation Mr. Miller refers to began when the JIA circulated a letter indicating that the JIA had decided, after discussions with the Postal Service, to trade the residents’ current city delivery for guarantees that the island would continue to have a post office, which will soon relocate to space the JIA owns in the island’s historic district. Those discussions were laid out in a series of e-mails between Chris O’Donnell, the JIA attorney, and Damian Rawski, postmaster for Brunswick, Georgia, the office that administers mail service on Jekyll Island.
The announcement of the proposed trade-off stirred local residents to action and generated news coverage by the Jacksonville-based Florida-Times Union as well as Save the Post Office. Officials at the USPS North Florida District in Jacksonville did not respond for requests for clarification from STPO, and they told residents that they had no knowledge of the negotiations between Mr. O’Donnell and Postmaster Rawski, even though a chain of e-mails indicates that Frank Stephens, Manager of Operations Programs Support, was cc’ed throughout. In the letter from Mr. Miller, Mr. Stephens is also listed as the postal contact for any questions the residents may have.
Still left unresolved is the ultimate fate of the post office on Jekyll Island. The office is currently housed in a temporary trailer with a lease running through May of 2014. The JIA has indicated that the temporary trailers, which also house other Jekyll Island businesses, will be removed after a new shopping center is completed. In a meeting of the JIA on Monday, September 16, C. Jones Hooks, the executive director of JIA, stated that the authority would leave the matter of delivery up to the Postal Service, according to Bonnie Newell, a resident who attended the meeting. No mention was made of the JIA’s previous offer to house the post office in the historic district.
It appears for the moment that the issues on Jekyll Island have been resolved by maintaining the status quo. That’s good news for the folks on the island, but what happened on Jekyll Island illustrate several problems with how the Postal Service operates, and it’s not good news for those concerned about the future of postal services in this country.
September 12, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
Off the Georgia coast just above the Florida border lies Jekyll Island, a popular tourist destination that boasts a beautiful beach, a historic district, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. A couple of hundred miles up the road is Augusta, Georgia, where the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, grew up.
The Postal Service has a new strategy for providing postal services to Jekyll Island that might best be described as a version of Brown’s early hit “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag.” The Postal Service "ain't too hip now" but it's got a new bag, too. It wants to end door delivery for the nearly nine hundred homes and businesses on Jekyll Island and instead have everyone go to the post office to pick up the mail. According to postal regulations, the Postal Service can't change a customer's mode of delivery without permission, but that's not how it's going down on Jekyll Island.
The island is owned by the state of Georgia, and it is administered by a state board called the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA). The residents of the island own their homes, but they lease the land on which their houses sit.
The island is served by a small branch of the main office in Brunswick, on the mainland, over twelve miles away and on the other side of a six-mile causeway. The office is currently open just four hours a day (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). For many years the Jekyll Island post office was housed in a retail mall, but when that mall was torn down, retail services were moved to a trailer. The rent on the original facility was $10,500 per year, but the JAI didn’t charge the Postal Service any rent at all on the trailer.
The homes and businesses on Jekyll Island receive mail delivery from two city routes that originate in Brunswick. Mail is addressed to individual street addresses and bears a Jekyll Island zip code – 31527. Currently the carriers deliver to the door – a mode of delivery that has been around for as long as anyone on the island can remember.
The JIA has been constructing a new retail shopping center in the historic district at the south end of the island. It is a small area serviced by a few small roads, and according to residents, it's mainly frequented by tourists. After the new shopping center is completed, the temporary trailers that have been used since the old mall was taken down are going to be removed. The JIA has offered the Postal Service a place for a new post office in the new mall.
According to this article in the Florida Times-Union and other documents, at some point in the discussions between the USPS and the JIA, the scope of the negotiations expanded beyond the topic of the new post office. It appears that the Postal Service suggested — or at least implied — that it would close the Jekyll Island post office unless the residents agreed to give up home delivery. The Postal Service isn’t talking, and the attorney for JIA, Chris O’Donnell, has offered varying accounts, but that seems to be what happened.
According to Mr. O’Donnell, the JIA — fearing that the community might lose its post office — reached an agreement with the Postal Service to give up home delivery in exchange for a new post office in the tourist-oriented historic district. The Postal Service will pay a nominal $2,700 per year in rent.
The new facility is supposed to be sort of old-timey to fit in with the character of the historic district. It will have fancy brass boxes, a special postmark, and other “vintage” design features.
It isn’t clear who is going to pay for all of this. Mr. O’Donnell says he has the deal in writing, but he hasn’t offered it for inspection, and the JIA has not responded to my FOIA requesting documents related to the negotiations. Originally Mr. O’Donnell indicated that the deal included keeping delivery to the island’s businesses, but he has since backed off that assertion.
In several of his statements to the press, in the FAQ page describing the deal, and in an email responding to a resident’s questions, Mr. O’Donnell has sometimes sounded like he was reading a set of Postal Service talking points. He refers to legislation in Congress that would eliminate home delivery, but it’s not clear which legislation he’s referring to, and there's a big difference between proposed legislation that may never be enacted and the current statutes and regulations.
The Postal Service certainly hasn’t been shy about pressing for changes in modes of delivery across the country. In most cases, it would prefer cluster boxes to door or curb delivery because centralized delivery costs less. But according to current postal regulations, the Postal Service can’t change a customer’s mode of delivery without the customer’s permission.
August 30, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
One of the cornerstones of PMG Pat Donahoe’s plans for the Postal Service is the transfer of postal employees and retirees from the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) into a plan run by the Postal Service itself. Mr. Donahoe has assured everyone that a Postal Service plan would offer the same level of benefits at similar or even cheaper cost to employees and retirees while saving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Postal Service.
The General Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report evaluating the Postal Service proposal. The report (GAO-13-658) is entitled "U.S. Postal Service: Proposed Health Plan Could Improve Financial Condition, but Impact on Medicare and Other Issues Should Be Weighed before Approval." The GAO examines the components of the plan, potential costs for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for those covered by the plan, some of the legal and legislative pitfalls involved in making the switch, and potential costs to other entities such as Medicare and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The GAO report considers various aspects of the proposal and what it would do, but it also helps raise some important questions about institutional prejudice and how economic numbers and issues get reported. It’s worth taking a look at the Postal Service Plan, the GAO report, and some of those larger issues. First let’s look at the Postal Service Plan (PSP) itself.
August 25, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there. – Yogi Berra
It’s August and Congress is on its annual five-week summer break. Despite statements by folks like Senator Tom Carper and Congressman Darrell Issa, we don’t seem to be any closer to postal reform than we’ve been for the last three years. Back in January, Senator Carper, who likes to use sports analogies, summed up the state of postal reform with a football metaphor: “I think we narrowed our differences…. In terms of negotiations, we’re in the red zone.”
Maybe we should switch sports to baseball. Rather than the game being almost over, it looks like we’re in for an extended rain delay. Very extended.
Christmas in August
When Congress returns from its break, it will have a lot to deal with besides postal reform. First off, it will need to take up the spending bills that fund the government for the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. That’s likely to degenerate into another protracted battle. Some of the more radical Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, have insisted that threatening to shut down the government would be a perfect opportunity to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. It’s likely the House and Senate will spend precious time arguing back and forth before they come up with a continuing resolution to keep the government going.
Also looming on the horizon is another battle over the debt ceiling. Who knows how much time that will waste? There are probably a few surprises on the horizon that will manage to chew up a few more news cycles. Before you know it, it will be time for Congress to take its traditional Christmas break.
Maybe by Christmas time Pat Donahoe and his friends on the Board of Governors will have brought this postal crisis to a head. CFO Joe Corbett keeps repeating his dire warnings about the Postal Service running out of cash. With the threat of an exigent rate increase being bandied about the industry, apoplectic lobbyists will be making sure every contribution counts. These days nothing is more likely to focus a Congressman’s or Senator’s attention than the promise of a contribution or the ability to proclaim himself or herself a hero for saving the public from another dreaded bailout.
So let’s pretend it’s Christmastime in Postal Land. Let’s pretend that the PMG has been a good boy all year, and Santa Darrell and St. Nick Carper are ready to bring him all the goodies he wants. What exactly does Pat want for Christmas?
The PMG’s wish list
Well, a good place to start would be his testimony before Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on July 17, 2013. During that testimony the PMG referred to the Postal Service’s Five Year Business Plan and offered these eight points to bring the Postal Service back to profitability:
- Create independent USPS Health Care Plan (resolves Retiree Health Benefits prefunding issue)
- Refund FERS overpayment and adjust future FERS payments
- Curtail delivery frequency (Five-day mail/Six-day packages)
- Streamline governance (eliminate duplicative oversight)
- Provide authority to expand products and services
- Require defined contribution retirement system for future postal employees
- Require arbitrators to consider financial condition of Postal Service
- Reform Workers’ Compensation
That may seem like quite a list, but much of it coincides with the various plans and wish lists promoted by lobbyists like PostCom and GCA. In many ways it also coincides with the Pitney Bowes/NAPA plan for partial privatization of the Postal Service.
All of these so-called reforms are aimed at shrinking the Postal Service’s retail network, a continued consolidation of the mail processing and delivery network, and perhaps changes in mode of delivery, moving away from door and curb delivery towards cluster boxes.
Five of the items on the list are directly focused on the postal labor force. Donahoe has continually insisted that changes in the labor force, like moving to a part-time flexible force with lower wages and benefits, is a necessary step. One of the most oft repeated facts about the Postal Service is that labor makes up 80% of its costs. This is cited as a negative, and Donahoe and the BOG have consistently argued that postal workers and the wages and benefits they receive are one of the main, if not the main, sources of the current problem.
Donahoe is also asking for a reduction from six-day to five-day delivery. He’s modified his earlier proposal to totally eliminate Saturday delivery, most likely in response to overwhelming evidence that the loss of a delivery day for packages would harm future revenue prospects and denigrate service.
Donahoe also asks for more freedom from his regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission, along with more freedom for his governing board, the BOG.
The PMG has also asked for additional authority to move into other products and services. The management of the Postal Service has been laser focused on the mailing industry for the last ten years or more. Virtually all of the innovations the Postal Service has engaged in have been designed to enhance the effects and prospects of direct mail advertisers.
Other types of innovation, like those that might help average citizens, are not on the agenda. Donahoe has dismissed calls for the Postal Service to move into small banking services as a complement to its money order business. He has argued that developing cooperative arrangements to use the postal network to assist state and local governments or other Federal agencies would not be remunerative. So “other products and services” would likely mean things like more discounts for mobile barcodes and perhaps the delivery of beer and wine.
August 20, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The Postal Service didn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, should have a post office, so they closed it.
The Postal Service didn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, should get rural carrier delivery like their neighbors, so they tricked the town into accepting cluster boxes.
Now the Postal Service doesn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, ought to have the opportunity to tell their story to the Postal Regulatory Commission, so they filed a motion asking the PRC to dismiss the appeal because it was submitted a week late.
As reported on STPO back in March 2013, the Postal Service closed the Freistatt office on two-days’ notice by emergency suspension — and on Good Friday no less. But that was not the end of the story. It was only the beginning.
The first push to close Freistatt: The 2011 RAOI
Freistatt is an incorporated town of 160 people in the southwest corner of Missouri. The town is situated along Highway H, a main road that serves trucks traveling between Missouri and Arkansas, and it has a fairly thriving business sector. There is a major insurance agency in the town, an active non-profit that mails Braille bibles for the blind, a large John Deere outlet, and a housing complex for seniors and the disabled. Although the town’s population decreased between the 2000 and 2010 census, the general area of Lawrence County grew by about 34% during that time.
In 2011 the Freistatt post office was one of 3,700 offices marked for closing under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), and a discontinuance study was initiated in August of that year. Like most discontinuance studies, this was a pro forma exercise that was less a study to determine if the office should close than a means to legitimize the Postal Service’s decision to close it. The plan back then was to replace the post office with rural delivery.
The discontinuance study was flawed by the usual anomalies and misinformation that has become an all-too-common feature of this process. For example, even though the office had both a postmaster and a postmaster relief (PMR), in the cost-savings analysis, all of the offices hours were rated at the higher labor rate of the postmaster, thus giving the impression of greater savings than actually would have been accrued.
The initial letters sent to Freistatt’s customers had more than a few things wrong as well. For example, the mileage to the other post offices was incorrect, and an office that was more than seventy miles away was included as an “alternate” facility. That initial letter, which is not in the administrative record provided by the Postal Service, also apparently had some assertions about the town and the post office that were wrong, including the notion that the town was unincorporated and that the postmaster did not help the elderly.
August 14, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
What if the postal crisis we’ve read about over the last five years isn’t really about saving the Postal Service after all? What if the story really isn’t about an archaic Federal agency struggling to find a business plan in the face of technological change? Could the real story be much simpler than that?
Maybe the real story is about changing the basic relationship between employers and employees in the one sector of our economy where employees have been able to maintain decent wages and benefits.
Since 1980 wages have been stagnant for most people in the economy. Despite continued and steady growth in productivity, wages — especially for those in the bottom 90% — have lagged by a factor of seven against productivity. Since the early 1990’s, wages have essentially remained flat.
During this same period, traditional pensions have mostly disappeared and been replaced by 401Ks and other plans that shift the risk and responsibility for saving for retirement entirely to individual workers. As costs of healthcare and insurance premiums have skyrocketed, workers have been left to bear more of the burden for those costs.
Between wage stagnation and the decreasing value of benefit packages, average workers are much worse off than they were thirty years ago. During the same period, however, capital has done extremely well. That wealth gap became even more pronounced after the Great Recession.
Those at the top of the pyramid have recovered quite well, while everyone else has gone sideways or downhill. Corporate profits as a share of GDP are as high as they’ve been since 1929. Coincident with all of this is the fact that union membership as a percentage of the workforce has steadily decreased and is at its lowest level in more than a generation.
Attacking public employees
There is one partial exception to all this bad news and that is the public sector. While American business and the corporate sector have generally been at war with the American worker — shifting wealth and productivity gains upward rather than distributing them throughout the economy — public-sector workers have retained most of their benefits and have seen wages at least stay level with inflation.
Paying workers in the public sector a decent wage sets a bad example, so the corporate elite and the Right have mounted an all-out attack by pushing for cuts in the workforce and cuts in wages and benefits. One of the reasons unemployment has been so stubborn, even as the economy improves, is that job gains in the private sector have been offset by job cuts in the public sector. Head count at the Postal Service is down more than 200,000 since 2005, and there have been similar losses in Federal, State, and Local governments across the country. A generation of efforts by American business to erode the share of income flowing to labor has been successful, and now attention has been turned to the public sector.
The Right has celebrated this war against public employees just as it celebrated the war against working folks in general. The phony narrative of trickledown economics and tax cuts for the supposed job creators is a fundamental story of class warfare and redistribution of wealth upwards. It is the phoniest of narratives because in an economy that relies on middle-class demand for growth and profits, the stagnation of wages, the degradation of benefits, and the general attack on labor has hollowed out our middle-class.
As a number of economists have pointed out, our economy is stagnant because we lost over a trillion dollars of consumer demand, and there is no economic theory that allows for the replacement of that demand through more tax cuts for the wealthy or corporations.
An economy built on reducing wages and benefits to the lowest levels possible may lead to Wal-Mart prices and higher corporate profits, but it is a fool’s bargain that leads to low wage jobs that cannot sustain sufficient levels of demand to support the economy as a whole. As the benefits of the economy increasingly accrue to a smaller and smaller group, it becomes clear that the wealthiest one percent cannot consume enough to sustain growth and general prosperity.
Whether or not it’s ultimately a successful strategy, the fact of the matter is that for the last generation the model has been to suppress wages and benefits in pursuit of higher profits. And that brings us to the Postal Service.
June 27, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
I am a card-carrying member of the DAV — Disabled American Veterans. The organization has been a wonderful source of support over the years and does fine work on behalf of veterans.
So I was disappointed to discover DAV on the membership list of PostCom, the postal lobbying association that represents businesses and organizations that use the mail for business and commerce. PostCom has been a vocal advocate for cheap mail rates, which come at the expense of Postal Service employees, consumers, and communities.
PostCom recently released a white paper on postal reform. The paper offers nine principles that the Board of Directors of the lobbying group feel should be the basis of future postal reform. The paper reads like a Christmas wish list from an industry that already enjoys healthy profits.
Postal reform, the PostCom way
The first three principles, presumably the most important given their place at the top of the list, directly attack the wages and benefits of postal workers: pull postal workers from their federal health care program, allow the Postal Service to offer a defined contribution retirement plan instead of FERS, and require arbitrators in labor disputes to consider the Postal Service’s fiscal position. The remainder of the proposals — like giving the Postal Service authority to reduce the days of delivery — place the interests of PostCom and its members above those of the American public generally.
Over the last several years PostCom and its executive director Gene Del Polito have consistently taken positions that seek to solve postal issues at the expense of postal workers. They have advocated for the end of postal participation in FEHB — an idea that was debunked by, of all places, the conservative AEI, in this testimony before Congress in 2012. They would also like postal workers to be withdrawn from the current federal retirement system, and they would like to tilt the collective bargaining process — a process that already restrains labor and mandates arbitration — in ways that would ensure unfair disposition of labor issues.
Del Polito and PostCom have taken the position that their members — they call themselves the “stakeholders” — should have preferential treatment when it comes to postal issues. In their view cheap mailing rates are the only reason for the existence of the Postal Service. They acknowledge no role of public service, no greater mission of binding the nation together, and no activity other than the distribution of advertising mail for the Postal Service. In service of this laser-like focus on cheap preferential rates for their members, they have advocated beggaring the workforce, service reductions for first class mail, and the removal of essential services and infrastructure from America’s communities.
In some ways PostCom is no different than any of the industry lobbying groups that exist to lobby on their members’ behalf, such as the Affordable Mail Alliance, a group of 700 publishers, direct mailers and non-profits; the Alliance of Non-profit Mailers; and various trade associations like the National Newspaper Association. In fact, many of these groups have members in common with PostCom, although many of them do not publish a list of their participating members as PostCom does.
What all these groups have in common is the conviction that their financial interests not only supersede but essentially extinguish any other interests in the American postal system. Even when PostCom offers proposals that might coincide with others’ interests — for example, the return of overpayments into the various retirement systems — their arguments are wholly self-centered and self-interested. In their view, those overpayments are their money and should be returned in the form of even lower rates.
June 17, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The United States Postal Service is not a corporation in the traditional sense of the word, but that hasn’t stopped its leadership — the folks at L’Enfant Plaza and the men and women who sit on the Board of Governors — from viewing it primarily as a corporate entity. The post office is in the Constitution, but that hasn’t stopped some members of Congress from trying to undermine the idea of postal services and the postal network as basic fundamental infrastructure. The Postal Service is supposed to serve the entire country, but that certainly hasn’t stopped the companies and industries that see themselves as the primary stakeholders in the postal system from demanding a more corporatized structure and mission that will serve their narrow interests.
Since the beginning of the country’s postal system, there have been voices chattering for privatization. The Postal Reorganization Act of 1971 represented a major step toward that goal, and the 2002 Transformation Plan was another leap forward. It demonstrated that the leadership of the Postal Service clearly prefers something akin to a privatized corporate entity. In recent months, several think tanks have jumped on board with white papers advocating privatization, including a study reviewed by NAPA and a recent paper by Robert Atkinson, “Postal Reform for the Digital Age.” At this point, talk of privatization has become mainstream in a way unimaginable just a few years ago.
We are now witnessing a postal passion play brought to us courtesy of the national media. It features constant reports of staggering financial losses (sometimes including a reference to the retiree healthcare payments mandated by the 2006 PAEA), Pat Donahoe’s “woe is me — disaster is just around the corner” spiel (usually followed by an announcement of some further cuts to the network or services), and recriminations directed at Congress for not getting out of management’s way (as if giving management more freedom would solve anything). The main storyline has been that the Postal Service is an inefficient (albeit beloved) government entity that is saddled with a bad business plan and impossible future liabilities, but it’s not beyond repair, if only those who know better were given the power to fix it.
That’s not the real story, though, and it never has been. The real story is just beginning to come into focus: The leadership of the Postal Service, using the laws already in place, is engaged in their version of that most American of economic phenomena — the leveraged buyout.
While publicly everyone involved has seemed intent on “saving” some semblance of the United States Postal Service, its leadership, egged on by some in Congress and many in the private arena, has managed the situation like a private equity firm that’s focused on extracting value out of an entity and bringing it to bankruptcy as a means of escaping past promises and contracts. The story is nothing less than a new twist on the piracy of corporate raiders — this time with serious implications with respect to the very fabric of the social contract that developed after the Great Depression.
The unions and employee groups have focused on efforts to staunch the bleeding, the various industries that are dependent on the postal network have lobbied for the maintenance of preferential rates, and politicians have focused on photo ops and tough talk about creating a sustainable business model. They are all focused on their own interests and seem unable to see that the demise of a great national institution is at hand.
This demise has nothing to do with a failed business model or a changing landscape where digital surpasses outmoded technologies. The fall of the Postal Service is about the coming triumph of a resurgent ideology, an ideology that has led to countless financial panics, the abuses and inequality of the Gilded Age, and the Great Depression. What is happening to the Postal Service is one piece of a greater puzzle.
February 18, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
On Wednesday, February 7, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe stood before members of the press and the American people to announce that the Postal Service would end Saturday mail delivery and collections in August. An announcement like this was inevitable. No one who has followed the travails of the Postal Service over the past few years could have been surprised that at some point the agency would take a step so contrary to law and procedure that it would be the very epitome of hubris.
Over the past six years the Board of Governors and senior management of the Postal Service have conducted themselves with unabashed arrogance. They have manipulated what is essentially a crisis of bad accounting policy to pursue a long-held desire to shrink the breadth and meaning of universal service while eviscerating and degrading the postal network.
The actions of postal leadership over the past six years have headed the agency, probably irrevocably, on a path that will either lead directly to privatization or to at least de facto control of this national infrastructure by a few large corporations. The ideologues who have targeted the Postal Service for privatization will soon have their day.
A license to kill jobs
In leading us down this path, Donahoe and the BOG have demonstrated an unrestrained contempt for Congress, the rule of law, and most importantly, the American people. The senior leadership of the Postal Service has championed an attitude that views average Americans — and especially working Americans — with complete and utter disdain.
Over the years the Postal Service has been an entry into the middle class for millions of Americans, particularly minorities and veterans. In his press conference, Mr. Donahoe bragged — and there is no other suitable word for it — that there are 193,000 fewer workers than six years ago. Based on reported percentages of the work force, that means there are about 50,000 fewer veterans employed by the Postal Service, of which nearly 17,000 were disabled. Mr. Donahoe considers that progress.
While it is true that Congress has utterly and completely failed in its responsibilities to the American people with respect to many issues, including the direction of the Postal Service, that does not give Mr. Donahoe or the BOG the authority or license to co-opt a great institution. Congress may deserve our contempt, but this does not excuse Mr. Donahoe’s arrogance or his willingness to manipulate the law, the facts, and the American public in pursuit of unaccountable goals.
While Mr. Donahoe would probably like to see himself as a captain of industry, maybe even an inspirational visionary, he’s basically a plodder following orders. Behind him are some very practiced and practical schemers who see an asset held in common by the American people and believe that it should be theirs. They are determined to take this asset from what they view as an undeserving public and to put it to their private and profitable use. Pat Donahoe is simply following an irrevocable course set by others, “an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.”
The BOG: Who’s who and what are they up to?
At the quarterly meeting of the Postal Board of Governors, two days following the announcement eliminating Saturday delivery, Mickey Barnett, the current chair of the BOG, reiterated the Board’s strong support for the current policy. Mr. Barnett referred to the Board’s instruction to postal management in January to accelerate cost cutting, citing Saturday delivery as the first step in an aggressive series of steps. “We must run the Postal Service as a business,” insisted Mr. Barnett, and Congress, he said, must provide comprehensive legislation allowing the BOG to do that. Last year the Board indicated that it felt that the legislation passed by the Senate was too weak and insufficient in giving the BOG proper control and authority.
The Postal Board of Governors consists of nine members selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The appointed members then select the final two members of the Board — the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General. At any time no more than five of the Presidential appointees may be from a particular political party.
The BOG currently has five sitting members plus the PMG and the DPMG. There are thus four vacancies. Two of the members are politically connected attorneys; the third is the former chair of the Kentucky Republican Party; the fourth is the former chair of a large defense contractor; and the fifth was a senior aide to Vice President Biden. The President has selected three candidates to fill the four vacancies; two are academics, and the other is James Miller, a former BOG member who has advocated vociferously in his writings and testimony before Congress for privatization of the Postal Service. Confirmation for these appointees has languished in the Senate for at least six months.
Looking at the current members of the BOG, the appointees awaiting confirmation, and those who have served on the board in the past, it is striking how insular a board this has been, filled primarily with political operatives and insiders, folks who seem detached from everyday America.
It is also curious that there does not ever seem to have been a board member who comes from labor. We are often reminded that 80% of the costs of the Postal Service are related to labor and that the labor agreements are a large part of the current problems. Never mind that both of those claims are misguided. It does seem that an organization that is the second largest employer in the United States would benefit from a Board member who had a background in labor.
January 14, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The new year has begun, and the country is still waiting for Congress to address the problems facing the Postal Service. In the meantime, the Postmaster General blames the crisis on congressional inaction and the diversion of first class mail to the Internet. His solution is to cut services to the public, eliminate jobs, and dismantle the infrastructure he is charged with preserving.
On January 3, Postmaster General Donahoe released a statement entitled “Congressional Inaction Heightens Postal Service Financial Crisis; More Aggressive Cost Cutting and Revenue Generating Measures Will Be Considered.” Bemoaning the fact that the 112th Congress failed to act, Mr. Donahoe suggests that “legislation could quickly restore the Postal Service to profitability and put the organization on a stable long term financial footing.”
Mr. Donahoe goes on to point out the Postal Service had to default on payments to the retiree health benefit fund (RHBF), and he repeats the unsupported canard that the Postal Service is losing $25 million per day. That bit of sophistry overlooks the fact that most of the losses can be attributed to accounting gimmicks forced on the Postal Service by Congress.
The Postmaster General and Board of Governors can't control what Congress does, but they have added to the Postal Service's financial problems by engaging in a direct campaign to undermine the viability of first class mail through extreme service cutbacks and a constant drumbeat of panic and doom. In his Jan. 3 statement, Mr. Donahoe actually celebrates the loss of 60,000 postal jobs, the degradation of a large part of the postal network, and reductions in service to many communities throughout the nation.
In his book At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit, Thomas F. O'Boyle paints a picture of a corporate executive so committed to the soulless pursuit of profit that he would do anything to improve the bottom line and push up the value of GE stock. In his closing chapter, O'Boyle poses a simple question that we would do well to ask of the Postal Service: “Do businesses need a soul to succeed — a sense of purpose beyond just making money?”
The narrow field of debate
The discussion over the future of the Postal Service has been carried on over a fairly narrow field. Postmaster General Donahoe and the Postal Board of Governors argue that the fiscal difficulties of the Postal Service arise from the regulatory structure imposed by Congress. If the Postal Service is liberated from the shackles of regulation, if it’s free to compete, then it can succeed. While Mr. Donahoe acknowledges that the RHBF mandate is a significant impediment to the financial viability of the Postal Service, his argument is much broader, contending that the Postal Service must be freed from regulatory restraints like the universal service obligation.
Many in the mailing community, particularly the component of the industry that focuses on advertising, appear to agree with a great deal of what Mr. Donahoe says. They see the potential for cheap mailing rates if the Postal Service could shed much of its responsibility to rural America. They also see the abrogation of labor relationships as a potential boon to their interests. The mailing industry holds a view that is essentially that of American industry in general over the past thirty years — reduce costs, liquidate or outsource labor, and maximize profit at the expense of all other considerations.
Most of those who disagree with Mr. Donahoe’s vision do so on what amounts to a very limited basis. The unions and other employee organizations disagree with Mr. Donahoe’s tactical approaches to defining the Postal Service’s future, but they generally agree that the Postal Service must compete, that success will be achieved by accepting some of the regulatory strictures imposed on the Postal Service while loosening others, presumably maintaining those things which benefit labor while permitting behaviors that will enhance and increase revenues.
The politicians line up on the issue according to their ideological predispositions. So, many of the Republican politicians advocate for a Postal Service that moves more towards a privatized, lightly regulated model, one that more closely follows the model of the last thirty years of seeing value only in terms of maximized profits. Most of the Democrats appear interested in protecting their traditional constituencies in labor, but they also use the word “compete” as if competition, or what is often termed competition but is actually something much different, i.e. deregulation, will magically provide answers to all questions.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the discussions over the future of the Postal Service represent a concrete example of how stilted and narrow our economic discussions have become generally. We have become so enamored over theories of efficient markets and the value of unbridled competition that we have excised broader views on what makes for both a healthy economy and, more important, a healthy society.
November 26, 2012
BY MARK JAMISON
[The following letter was recently sent to the Postal Regulatory Commission and Chairman Goldway in response to issues arising from the implementation of POStPlan.]
Dear Chairman Goldway,
I am writing to you directly but I hope you will share these comments with the other commissioners.
As you are aware, I was very critical of the decision in the POStPlan docket, not because the PRC failed but because the consequences of what was the ultimate result of the Commission’s legal responsibility fell far short of what would be the real world consequences. I think we are now seeing just how duplicitous the Postal Service can be as we witness emergency suspensions and office closures that are inextricably part of the POStPlan process.
There have been many issues that have arisen in the face of the implementation of this program. I was heartened to see your call for information from the public, although I think the reality is that without a specific investigatory design much of what comes in will be anecdotal. That’s a consequence of the system. Your willingness to follow through is admirable.
The two issues I want to address here are the two most common reasons given for emergency suspensions, lease or building issues and lack of personnel to staff an office. Both are, at base, fallacious and constitute an ongoing example of how the Postal Service uses stilted interpretations to evade its responsibilities under the law.
The PRC already has a long history with respect to suspensions based on building or lease issues. PI2010-1 was opened just to address these issues, and I would refer the PRC to the comments I submitted in that docket. The Postal Service has a long history of being abusive during lease negotiations. The tactics we are seeing today have been used for a long time. The difference is that now they are part of a concerted effort to close post offices.
As a postal lessor I was told that the Postal Service typically begins the renegotiating process about half way through the final term of a lease, generally from two and a half years to a year before termination. This logically would give sufficient time to resolve ongoing issues related to the physical condition of a building or, if negotiations failed, to allow time for the identification and acquisition of suitable alternatives. Realistically in the latter instance the Postal Service has never been particularly enthusiastic about finding alternatives, but as the Commission has seen in many appeal cases, communities are often more than willing to locate alternative facilities.
By shortening the negotiating process and by turning the negotiations over to CBRE, an outside contractor with a limited understanding of postal issues and perhaps with incentives that may not coincide with good faith efforts to renew leases, the Postal Service has cynically created “emergency” situations. Given the circumstances, we should be very skeptical of any suspension related to a failure to negotiate a lease.
We should also look very carefully at suspensions related to unsuitable building conditions. We should ask, how long has the condition actually existed and what previous attempts has the Postal Service made to address the condition? I think the Commission will find that in many cases the condition cited as making a building unsuitable or unsafe has existed, unaddressed, for a significant period. The condition may actually warrant not using a particular site, but is it an emergency if it is only being addressed now when other agendas are at hand?
We should also be very careful in examining exactly what conditions the Postal Service is claiming make the building unsafe or unsuitable. Are the conditions as described by the Postal Service accurate? Are remedies demanded by the Postal Service reasonable or are they excessive, designed to create the circumstances of a suspension? The behavior of the Postal Service merits skepticism.
November 1, 2012
BY MARK JAMISON
Over the last several months the situation surrounding the fate of the Postal Service has become increasingly clear.
How can that possibly be the case, when Congress has utterly failed in its efforts to pass postal reform legislation, when mail volumes continue to drop, when troubling news about financial losses continue to appear, and when the agency has now reached its borrowing limit with the Treasury? How can such an unsettled and unsettling situation seem so clear?
The situation is clear because no matter what Congress eventually does, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the Board of Governors have already won. Their views of what the Postal Service should be, whom it should serve, and how it should serve them have prevailed. The reality is that as the Postal Service has moved forward with initiatives like POST Plan and the “rationalization” of the mail processing system, the PMG and the BOG have degraded the network and its potential in such a way as to make a change in course not just expensive but impossible.
The initiatives to degrade and dismantle the network have worked in conjunction with a business plan focused almost entirely on advertising mail. The leaders of the Postal Service have set the course in a direction that cannot be easily changed. The Postal Service has always been an example of inertia; like a massive oil tanker, it changes direction neither quickly nor easily. The PMG and the BOG have displayed outright disregard for the advice of their regulator and total contempt for providing service to the American public. They have put the postal ship on a course that will inevitably result in fewer jobs, decreased service, and ultimately privatization.
Ignoring the public interest
The politicians both in Congress and in the Administration have essentially abandoned the American people in their handling of the Postal Service. They have allowed the stilted vision of the BOG — a vision born of the same views that have fostered the growth of inequality throughout our economy — to take precedence over the needs and welfare of the American public. They have sanctioned a continued attack on American labor through policies that destroy good middle-class jobs and replace them with temporary and part-time jobs with no benefits. They have set the stage for millions of Americans to lose essential services and an essential infrastructure, while creating the potential for abuse by a predatory financial services industry.
It should come as no surprise that most of those in Congress are willing to sacrifice the Postal Service to limited business interests. These are the same folks that have almost universally perpetuated the myth that “entitlements” — a term that insidiously demeans what ought to be basic social responsibilities of a civilized nation — are the source of our economic policies. These are the folks that insult and assault public workers as if a job in the public sector — one that provides useful and necessary public goods — is somehow less valuable or less important than a job in the private sector.
Politicians of both parties have embraced macroeconomic policies that result in the decline of incomes for the vast majority of Americans while ensuring that the benefits of society are unequally reserved for the few at the top. They degrade the quality of life and economic opportunities for the vast majority of Americans with policies designed primarily to satisfy the financiers.
October 6, 2012
BY MARK JAMISON
On September 30, 2001, the management of the Postal Service published a document entitled Outline for Discussion: Concepts for Postal Transformation. As the title suggests, this document described the terms of future discussions about what the Postal Service was and what it should become. In April of 2002, the Postal Service issued another document, this one entitled simply Transformation Plan 2002.
In light of the current problems facing the service and particularly the problems raised by the recent advisory opinion issued by the PRC regarding Mail Processing Network Rationalization (MPNR), looking back at these two reports is instructive. Both documents question the very basis of universal service, and they are laser focused on a future model of the United States Postal Service as a privatized entity.
What becomes apparent from the 2002 plan, as well as subsequent documents that address the progress of implementing the plan, is that the senior management of the Postal Service saw the future in terms of a greatly reduced network. From the standpoint of retail, Postmaster Jack Potter and then Patrick Donahoe called for the closure of as many as 15,000 post offices. For the mail processing network, the vision suggested that the future was in outsourcing much of the mail processing network through worksharing and similar initiatives.
Finding love in all the wrong places
March 25, 1984 — my second night working for the Postal Service. I’m sent to the basement of the old WPA-era post office for scheme training, the exercise of memorizing the local office’s delivery network so I can sort mail to routes. The basement of the building is a confusing labyrinth of offices, locker rooms, mechanical rooms and the like. Having only been down there once, the night before, I get turned around on my way to the designated room.
I turn a corner and walk into what appears to be a break room off of a boiler room, and before me I see the Superintendent of Delivery Operations having sex with one of the female clerks. I back out of the room quickly before anyone sees me and find the room where I’m supposed to be. Needless to say, my hour-long memorization session isn’t very fruitful. My concentration is somewhat distracted.
During my nine years at that office, the events of that second night come to seem less and less extraordinary. I see a number of fellow employees fired for theft of either mail or postage stock. I see supervisors who appear to be drunk on the job, and more than a few employees have chronic substance abuse and attendance problems. There isn’t much discipline and there isn’t much organization. Those who work, whether they be carriers or clerks, are rewarded with more work, while those who slough off seem to escape much if any scrutiny. Often it seems that promotions to supervisory positions are based on getting the most unproductive employees off the floor.
October 6, 2012
Huffington Post's new streaming television station did a spot on the Postal Service yesterday, and one of the guests was Mark Jamison, former USPS postmaster and a regular contributor to Save the Post Office:
September 8, 2012
[A few days ago, former postmaster Mark Jamison wrote a letter to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, urging her to exert her influence in Congress to change the direction of the Postal Service before it's too late. Mr. Jamison can be reached at Mij455@gmail.com, and his contributions to Save the Post Office are archived here.—Ed.]
Dear Senator Collins:
I am a recently retired postmaster. For the last three years I have written extensively on postal issues, including comments before the PRC beginning with the exigent rate case, and on the blog, Save the Post Office. I have also written to you previously without response or acknowledgement, although I expected neither.
I have been very critical of the positions you have taken with respect to postal issues. Although I have taken great exception with your positions, I also believe that you are one of the few honest brokers when it comes to the future of the Postal Service. Right or wrong, it is clear that you care passionately about the fate of the Postal Service and recognize the absolute importance of the postal network.
The postal network and postal services are critical to the overall health of our economy. It’s true that mail volumes have dropped over the last five years. The initial drop in volume was precipitous and can be tied almost entirely to the economy. The deterioration of volumes due to the recession, combined with the payments mandated by PAEA, caused the collapse of postal finances.
While it is true that structural and systemic problems related to the internet present challenges to the future of the postal network, our current crisis stems primarily from the economy and the PAEA payments. Our response to those problems has been insufficient and misdirected and it has fueled additional deterioration in volumes. More important, the misdirection and distraction caused by the crisis has caused a failure to promote policies that would strengthen the postal network and enhance its utility, now and in the future.
The greatest problem we face today is neither structural nor systemic; it is the failure of postal leadership, beginning with the Board of Governors and senior management. Theirs has been a vision that is keyed to failure. It is a vision that embraces a stilted view of the value of the postal network, a view that ties the fate of the Postal Service much too closely to only one segment of the postal market — the direct mail and commercial mailing industry.