Won’t miss the Saturday mail
Thursday, February 7, 2013
It was a pretty exciting day in the mail Wednesday. Let’s see what came. There’s my favorite sandpaper catalog, a solicitation for discount dental care, a subscription offer from a quilting magazine (we could win a sewing machine!), a card saying I have been selected to receive two airline tickets and seven nights in a luxury resort, and the L.L. Bean men’s catalog featuring a nice-looking casual Friday guy in a button-down shirt who hasn’t shaved in three days. He’s sitting on a sailboat. I don’t think it’s his.
Other than the lack of bills and credit card offers, this is pretty typical. I know the United States Postal Service and the flow of hand-delivered communication is crucial to American commerce and I am a big supporter, and some of the nicest people I have ever met were letter carriers, but the importance of this service in my life is on a steep decline. Fewer and fewer people choose to communicate with me this way. Those who do want to sell me something or collect my payment. Even the stalwart readers who take exception to my published points of view have chosen other media (thanks for the 10-minute voicemails, guys). My little cubbyhole mailbox at work, once crammed full daily, is now empty most of the time. At home we pay a few bills by mail, mostly because we haven’t bothered to go digital. When I do those chores I usually have to check the Internet to see how much first-class postage is this week.
So will I miss Saturday mail delivery? Frankly, I barely notice it now unless I have Netflix coming. The Saturday mail seems even lighter and more junk prone than the rest of the week, as if the mail folks are just going through the motions.
The Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced Wednesday that the Postal Service will go to five-day mail delivery this August, to save $2 billion per year. They will continue Saturday package delivery, which Donahoe said is important to the service’s future as a conveyor of online commerce. No more Saturday junk and catalogs.
Judging from reports this proposal was met with a few gasps of disbelief in Washington, D.C., because Donahoe had the gall to sidestep his congressional overlords. The Washington Post had a list of influential members of Congress who “don’t like the move.” “The issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the Postal Service,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Congress has difficulty with perspective. The Postal Service lost $16 billion last year alone. It soon will be losing $20 billion a year and more. Ending Saturday delivery will save $2 billion a year. It’s just a modest step toward rebuilding. Many members of Congress apparently see the Postal Service as a puppet with them at the strings, its subsidized workforce serving in nostalgic duties while the public-customers-taxpayers have long since moved on to other forms of communication.
There is concern here in North Central Washington for the future of rural mail service, which is surely important. Secretary of State Kim Wyman pointed out that the Postal Service is a key player in our electoral system, as it delivers all our ballots, and returns many for counting. Voters who count on Saturday mail pickup are going to have to change habits.
The rest of us have already changed. Donahoe at his press conference said he sees growth for the Postal Service as a deliverer of packages, mostly containing goods purchased online. The Postal Service can do this efficiently and at a profit. The traditional business of delivering letters is fading. Congressional oversight that stifles change to keep employees working in unused services, is just wasting public money. Contrary to popular belief, that is not what the Postal Service is for.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.
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