Critics of the United States Postal Service seem to rally around the idea that the root cause of woes of the venerable government agency is its inability to run like a business. They argue simply: Make the USPS run like a business.
And we couldn't agree more.
If we allowed the USPS to run like a business, instead of following draconian and bureaucratic mandates issued by Congress, we question whether the service would draw much more than well-deserved thanks.
It seems like Congress has done everything it can to ensure the postal service's failure. It has set a financial burden on it that no private-sector business would employ. And the losses the service continues to sustain, are -- in part -- accounting tricks.
Congress requires the USPS to put away benefits for future employees - ones that aren't even in the workforce now. That means the USPS has to continue to fund pensions for its former employees, sock away for current employees, and bank money for employees it doesn't yet have. The financial burden and weight of that Congressional mandate is stifling, according to many reports.
We wonder with the cuts that have been proposed, which only serve to send business away from the postal service, if the USPS is really saving for employees it will never need? That is, it won't have to worry about future employees if the business continues to plummet.
This isn't an argument about current pension funds, either. Critics who try to draw analogies to other state-run pensions which were perennially underfunded are making a false comparison. It's not analogous to automakers who were saddled with legacy pension programs. Instead, the United States Postal Service reported that its pensions are fully solvent, and indeed overfunded by more than $40 billion.
What other business in the private sector would put away pensions for employees it can't foresee? What other business would financially handcuff itself so as to chase away a loyal customer base?
We know the answer to those questions. For all the free-market, regulations-be-damned members in Congress, they sure are good at squelching the free market and putting onerous regulations on an institution that is both a business and provides a valuable public service.
Would modifying the pension requirements for the postal service suddenly flip the USPS into a financial winner? It's not exactly clear. But, it would make the situation a less dire.
The sad thing is that Congress continues to paint a picture of the postal service as nothing more than an antiquated relic chocked fully of half-competent workers living off government largesse.
The truth is that while the postal service has seen a decrease in some mail, it continues to do a strong business in shipping. According to the Huffington Post, in the first 10 months of last year, shipping business increased 56 percent from the prior year. Ironically, the businesses that are supposedly rendering the postal service obsolete are exactly where the USPS has a marked advantage.
We believe reform and a search for efficiencies might be a good exercise regardless of the finances. After all, the idea of sending a letter to anywhere in the U.S. for less than a couple quarters seems like a money loser any way you look at it. And, having a post office virtually everywhere might be a concept worth retiring in favor of the Internet and email.
Yet isn't it ironic that Congress, which can't seem to do much remedy institutions that hemorrhage cash, can break an agency that has a $45 billion (with a b) surplus?