August 16, 2012
On Tuesday of this week, Vice President Biden told a largely African American audience in Danville, Virginia, that Mitt Romney wanted to put them "back in chains" by "unchaining Wall Street." Republicans jumped on the VP for playing the race card, Romney called the remark "reckless," and the story was all over the national news.
There's another story coming out of Danville this week, but it won't make any headlines. This Friday marks the last day the historic Courthouse post office on Main Street will be open full-time. Starting next week, the post office will be open four hours a day. And the Courthouse post office is not even part of POStPlan.
It looks like reducing hours at post offices won’t be restricted to the 13,000 on the POStPlan list. According to a brief item on the GoDanRiver.com, as of August 18 the downtown Danville post office will be open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Its current hours are 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. That means it's going from 37.5 hours a week to twenty.
The news item says the Postal Service says the hours are being reduced “in an attempt to keep from closing down the branch.” A letter displayed on the post office door says the reduction in hours is due to “recent economic changes within the postal service.”
There’s nothing very unusual about reducing hours at a post office. According to a 2004 GAO report, the Postal Service has “adjusted hours at existing post offices from time to time to reflect customer demand.” The Postal Service told the GAO that “postmasters are responsible for establishing window service hours based on the needs of the community within the funding resources. Officials noted that they periodically assess the number of transactions and customer visits throughout the day to determine the appropriate hours, and that hours may be extended or shortened in response to customer demand.”
The Postal Service wouldn’t tell the GAO how many post offices had had their hours cut, but over the years, it has happened to a significant number of offices. There are about 1,500 post offices on the POStPlan list that currently operate at part-time hours, and most if not all of them once operated full-time. But unlike the post office in downtown Danville, nearly all of the 13,000 POStPlan offices are small rural post offices.
Section 126.4 of the Postal Operations Manual (POM) reads as follows:
“Postmasters provide all retail services for 8 1/2 or more hours on nonholiday weekdays, unless otherwise authorized by the district manager, Customer Service and Sales. Retail service hours are scheduled to meet the needs of local postal customers. When the postmaster determines that additional service hours are necessary to meet community needs, employee work schedules are adjusted to provide such service. Postmasters must obtain approval of the next higher management level for increasing workhour usage if additional costs are involved.”
“Main Post Offices and other postal units in business areas are usually open during the hours kept by that business community. Stations and branches are not required to be open at the same scheduled hours as main offices. Stations and branches can adjust retail service hours to meet the needs of the local community.”
The POM doesn’t say anything about reducing hours at a post office because of “funding resources” or to save money “in an attempt to keep from closing down the branch.” The POM is more about expanding hours or adjusting them to fill the needs of the local community.
[Correction: The passage quoted from the POM was from the 2002 version; the 2012 version is here, and it omits the reference to 8 1/2 hours.]
The Main Street post office is in the middle of downtown Danville, so according to the POM, its hours are supposed to be aligned with “the hours kept by that business community.” As you might imagine, there aren’t many businesses or anything else in downtown Danville open 11 to 3.
There are dozens of other businesses, offices, stores, and government agencies within a few blocks of the post office. To name just a few:
August 14, 2012
Congressman Paul Ryan, who may be our next Vice President, hasn’t had much to say about the U.S. Postal Service.
He has a statement on his website about the agency’s financial problems, but it basically just nutshells the bills put forward by Darrell Issa and Stephen Lynch. The only thing of substance in the statement is Ryan’s rejection of the claim that the Postal Service has overpaid $50 to $75 billion into the CSRS pension fund.
Ryan has come out in favor of selling government property, which would presumably include the sale of post offices, and he advocates including government entities like the Postal Service in the federal budget. Ryan also sponsored a bill naming a post office for Congressman Les Aspin (1938-1995), who represented Ryan’s district in Wisconsin from 1971 to 1993.
Getting by with a little help from UPS
That would seem to be about all there is to the story, but today the Huffington Post reveals another interesting Ryan-USPS connection. It involves the lobbying career of Ryan’s wife, Janna (Little) Ryan, who worked as a tax attorney and lobbyist for Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Williams & Jensen from 1998 to 2000 — the period just before she married Ryan, in late 2000.
Among Janna’s clients were the Cigar Association of America (which didn’t want cigars regulated like cigarettes), Vermont Yankee (a nuclear power plant that wanted more favorable tax treatment), and several big pharma and insurance companies.
One of Janna’s biggest clients was the United Parcel Service, which basically didn't want the Postal Service's competition.
According to OpenSecrets.org, during the period that Janna lobbied for UPS (1998 – 2000), UPS spent over $5 million in lobbying efforts. The Huffington Post article says that in 1998, Janna was part of a team that received $220,000 in fees for lobbying on behalf of UPS.
Not only was Janna lobbying for UPS, but in February 1999 (the HuffPost piece mistakenly says 2000), at just about the time Paul and Janna met, Congressman Ryan took a corporate-funded trip to Atlanta, where UPS is headquartered. According to the Congressman’s financial disclosure report, the trip was paid for by UPS.
In addition to visiting UPS headquarters on UPS’ dime, Ryan has received significant campaign contributions from the shipper. According to OpenSecrets, in 2000, UPS gave him $10,000, making it his fourth-largest contributor for the election cycle. Over the course of his career, Ryan has received over $48,000 from UPS, which puts the company in his top 20 contributors (Koch Industries is sixth, with $63,000).
August 13, 2012
In its never ending search for ways to cut costs and reduce the deficit, the Postal Service may have come up with a real money-saver: stop delivering the mail.
One of the biggest expenses incurred by the Postal Service is delivering the mail to your door or your curb. It would be a lot cheaper if they just put the mail in a centralized location, like a neighborhood cluster box, and had you go fetch it yourself.
This great new idea for saving money came up in a debate last week on the Laura Ingraham show. Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL) and NALC president Fred Rolando were on the show to talk about plight of the Postal Service. Ross made the usual argument that labor costs are too high and the Internet and email are driving down volumes, while Rolando explained that it was all a manufactured crisis caused by the $5.6 billion a year that Congress requires the Postal Service to pay into its retiree health care fund.
In the course of the debate, Congressman Ross explained that he and his co-sponsor on the House bill, Darrell Issa, did not want to dismantle or privatize the Postal Service. “We want to save this institution,” said Ross. “There are many ways we can do this. We don’t have to cut rural post offices. We don’t have to reduce the service delivery.”
Ross even seemed to back off of the plan to eliminate Saturday delivery, although, he noted, “moving from six-to-five day is overwhelmingly favored by the public,” as indicated by a recent NY Times survey. (12 minutes into the tape)
“But before we go to six-to-five,” suggested Ross, “let’s go from door-to-door to curb. That will save anywhere from $3.5 to $5 billion a year. Only 25% of postal recipients receive their mail door-to-door. The rest of them receive it either in cluster boxes, PO boxes, or at the curb. That right there is a tremendous savings that I think is a good way to go about it.”
Ross thus put closing post offices and five-day delivery on the back burner and moved the delivery point issue right to the front. The days of having your mail delivered to your door or even your curb may be coming to an end. The future is in cluster boxes.
It’s a different version of “the last mile” strategy — that’s when FedEx and UPS don’t want to incur the expense of delivering right to your home, so they hand off the parcel to the Postal Service. The difference is, with this new “last mile” strategy, it’s the Postal Service who’s doing the hand-off, and guess who’s going to be covering the last stretch of getting the mail to your house?
August 10, 2012
Yesterday the Postal Service released its Form Q3, the financial report for the third quarter of the fiscal year. The headlines wax poetic:
“No more mail? US Postal Service begs Congress for help; warns it could go insolvent by next year” (NY Daily News)
"Postal Service unstoppable in rain, snow. But red ink?" (Christian Science Monitor)
“Postal Service reports $5.2 billion in 3rd quarter, poised to default again” (Fox)
“'Crisis of confidence' as USPS posts $5.2B quarterly loss” (FedNewsRadio).
The LA Times had the winner, though: “US Postal Service loses $2.4 million an hour in third quarter.”
Over the coming days, there will be more hyperbolic headlines about the losses and last week’s default on the health care payment, more hyperventilating about the House’s failure to pass a postal reform bill, and more lame editorials about why the Postal Service should be privatized. No wonder it's impossible to have a thoughtful conversation about the plight of the Postal Service.
After you get past the headlines, most of the articles do acknowledge that a significant portion of the losses are the result of the retiree health care payments mandated by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA). They account for $3.1 billion of the third quarter’s 5.2 billion losses and over $9 billion of the $11.5 billion loss for the year-to-date.
What the articles fail to mention, however, is that those payments actually represent two year’s worth of contributions to the retiree health care fund. Since the Postal Service couldn’t make its $5.5 billion payment last year, the financial report is showing an ongoing obligation to make double payments this year.
Excluding those payments, the Postal Service is heading for a $3 billion loss for the year. But the double payments will make it look like the Postal Service lost over $14 billion in fiscal year 2012. Thankfully, the headlines on that debacle won’t appear until the year-end financial report is released in mid-November — after the election.
Looking at the numbers
Here’s a summary of the current Form Q3 report, compared to the same time period for the previous two years (gathered from previous forms):