April 6, 2010
National Journal reports that two key policymakers don’t support the U.S. Postal Service’s desire to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-NY) says he’ll be working with USPS management and the postal unions to avoid service cuts. And House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee ranking member Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced that he too opposes the move.
Chaffetz intends to introduce legislation that would instead eliminate twelve delivery days a year. Twelve days? With the USPS facing $238 billion in losses over the next ten years, it’s hard to understand why the Republican congressman is fiddling around with such small changes.
From the article:
Chaffetz said he is concerned that if the Postal Service cuts Saturday deliveries, it could end up hurting itself in the long run by creating an opening for private delivery companies. "You have got to serve your customers, or somebody else will come in and do it for you," he said.
What private delivery companies? UPS and FedEx are allowed to compete with the USPS on express mail delivery, but the USPS has a government-granted monopoly on regular mail. In pointing out that the USPS’s reduction in services isn’t good for customers, Chaffetz unintentionally make the cases for opening up the mails to competition from private providers.
"The challenge for the Postal Service is to become more relevant to people's lives," he said. "They have been cutting back ... and I applaud them for that. The Postal Service is also one of the few things highlighted in U.S. Constitution. They've got to figure out ways to cut and make it more relevant."
Mr. Chaffetz: The Constitution gives the federal government the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.” It doesn’t say the government has to have a monopoly over the provision of mail. Nor does it say that Congress must perform this service. Today, there are better private options.
The reality is that the USPS is bleeding red ink because it is becoming less relevant to people’s lives because of electronic communication. Surely Rep. Chaffetz doesn’t want the government’s mail monopolist involved in electronic correspondence to make it more “relevant”?
A story out of Finland demonstrates why that would be a bad idea. Finland’s state-owned postal service is testing a cost-cutting idea that would have it open mail, scan it, and then send an electronic copy to a digital mailbox. The original mail would then be sealed up and physically delivered, but delivery would only be done twice a week. Fins are rightly concerned about their civil liberties being violated by the government viewing their private correspondence.
The underlying idea behind the Finnish experiment is nonetheless sound. In a competitive market for mail delivery, electronic scanning and transmittal would be a more cost-effective – and thus perhaps profitable – way of getting people their mail. This could be especially appealing for costly-to-deliver rural areas, which proponents of the USPS often cite as a reason why mail privatization is untenable.