Friday, May 30, 2014

160.2 - USPS under fire by those who want to destroy it

USPS under fire by those who want to destroy it

Okay, they're still at it. They in this case being the people who think that public services, that is, taxpayer-paid, government-supplied services, to the general public or the poor, pubic services in general, are inherently just plain bad and want to destroy them.

They've now taken renewed aim at a perennial target, a target for two reasons, one being that it's successful and has been for a long time: the US Postal Service.

I'm sure you've heard more than once how the Postal Service is on the brink of financial collapse, of fiscal disaster, of crushing bankruptcy; it's on the edge, the precipice, of utter failure and ruin. You might be forgiven if you wonder how this can continue for year after year, how the agency can continue for year after year to be on the precipice without ever falling into the abyss, but that doesn't matter to the true believers in imminent catastrophe - most specifically, Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and who on an almost regular schedule introduces bills to "save" the USPS by slashing away parts of it.

He has, for example, proposed eliminating Saturday delivery, closing post offices, contracting out retail services from the USPS to places like Staples, and closing mail processing plants, which was somehow supposed to speed up delivery. And now, he's gotten through the committee he chairs a demand that the USPS end “door delivery” for 15 million postal customers over the next 10 years, forcing them to use banks of so-called "cluster boxes" at curbside.

Opponents say it's a lousy idea, noting that it just can't work in a lot of urban areas where there is no place to put a cluster box, but Issa just responds that it will save money - about $2 billion a year, he says.

And make no mistake, the Postal Service does have and has had financial troubles. Despite continued cost-cutting, a 2.3 percent rise in operating revenue this year, and increased employee productivity, the Postal Service still reported a $1.9 billion loss for the first three months of 2014.

But here's the thing, the thing that is almost never mentioned in media coverage of this. Remember what I said, what, two weeks ago, about the media failing to inform us, about how we are uninformed. malinformed, and misinformed? This is another example.

The Postal Service is in a truly weird situation. It is a quasi-governmental agency, run independently but still subject to legal restrictions set down by Congress even though it receives no federal money, no taxpayer money at all. It's entirely funded through the sale of postage and postal services. Despite that, despite contributing not a penny to its support, Congress has a huge say in how the USPS is operated.

For example, it has banned the agency from raising the cost of postage beyond the inflation rate. In other words, in real dollars, the only way the USPS could increase its income is by expanding its business - the very thing all the plans to, we're told, "save" the Postal Service would prevent by making it hard if not impossible for the agency even to maintain the level of service it provides now.

What's more, in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, one of those classically misnamed bits of legislation. Among other things, that bill mandated that within 10 years, that is by 2016, the Postal Service fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees out to 75 years in the future. That is, Congress was requiring of the USPS that within 10 years it have enough money set aside to fully fund health care benefits for future retirees who hadn't even been born yet. That is a requirement of, a task taken on by, no other agency, corporation, or organization in or out of any level of government in the US. And it's costing the USPS about $5.5 billion a year.

Hey, there's a way the Postal Service could save a hunk of money: Release it from this onerous, totally unnecessary, and utterly ridiculous requirement! But oh, no, we can't do that. Oh, no, what we have to do is cut services and fire workers.

Which raises the other reason the Postal Service is such a frequent target of attempts to cut it down or undermine it. (Remember I said there are two reasons.) The USPS has a strong union which is also one of the largest unions in the US, with something approaching 600,000 members, a union that has secured decent pay, decent benefits, and decent job protection for its members. Which, in case you've forgotten, is what unions are for! So when someone tries to make you resent the pay or benefits a postal worker has, you keep in mind that the issue isn't why they get so much, it's why you get to little. I keep saying this: Make sure you're mad at the right target.

And the one thing that people like Darrell Issajerk hate more than successful public services is successful public services that have strong unions.

Make no mistake, that, at the end of the day, is what the attacks on the Postal Service are about: They are about breaking the union. And if they have to take the entire USPS down to do it, they will.

Sources cited in links:

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