Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

February 7, 2013

Saturday delivery cut step in right direction, but not a ‘fix-all’ for US Postal Service


Mineral Wells Index

— By CHRIS AGEE



The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday the agency will end Saturday mail delivery later this year in an effort to trim up to $2 billion from its annual expenses.

The change – tentatively set for August – would not affect packages, which will still be delivered six days a week.

According to regional USPS spokesperson Sam Bolen, studies show the majority of customers do not have a problem with the change in service.

Santo resident Charles Fowler said he supports the initiative to save money.

"I'm retired and right now I don't have a problem with it at all," he said. He said he feels the USPS budget is high and is in favor of efforts to keep spending in check.

"I think there are a lot of ways they can improve," he said.

Bolen noted this is just one cost-cutting measure intended to create a sustainable postal service.

Some rural offices are cutting hours rather than shutting down completely, he said.

"Since 80 percent of our cost is labor, that is saving about a half-billion dollars," he said. "All these things are designed to save us $20 billion by 2015."

Lorelei St. James, a Mineral Wells High School graduate, now serves as director of physical infrastructure issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. She spoke to the Index Wednesday about her agency's role in recommending cost-cutting measures regarding the USPS.

"We work for Congress and we look at government programs and spending," she said. "What my agency does is, over the years, we have followed and looked at postal operations for Congress."

Several years ago, she said legislators recognized a troubling trend for the postal service.

"In 2006, everyone came to realize with the increase in online bill payment and e-commerce, coupled with the recession, the first-class mail began to drop significantly." She said that drop translated to revenue losses and necessitated the implementation of cost-cutting measures.

"The key that we have continually pointed out is that no one action like this five-day delivery will save the post office," she said. "We have told Congress for a number of years that what is needed is a comprehensive package that will include changes in delivery, closing plant mail processing centers ... because of the drop in mail, they have too many people. They also face really large liabilities like retiree healthcare."

St. James said the GAO has recommended three models for the USPS going forward – providing a federal subsidy for postal service, allowing the flexibility to make changes such as the five-day delivery schedule, or privatization.

She said privatization faces two challenges.

The USPS has "a high degree of debt. They have borrowed up to the $15 billion limit through the Treasury," she said. Additionally, "it has to deliver to 158 million addresses," which constitutes "a phenomenal challenge for a private industry to undertake."

The end of Saturday letter delivery is a step in the right direction, though St. James said it is not nearly enough to save the postal service.

"Considering their level of losses, it's really just a drop in the bucket," she said.

In addition to cutting hours, other plans to prevent closing post offices include moving operations into existing businesses such as drug or grocery stores, she noted.

Bolen said package delivery will continue on Saturdays, primarily because of market demands.

"As we see a decline in letter mail, we've seen about a 14-percent increase in package delivery," Bolen noted.

In addition to packages, he said letters bound for Post Office boxes will also be delivered on Saturday.

While the impact on the average customer will likely be minimal, Bolen suggested taking certain steps to ensure important mail arrives at its destination on time.

"We won't be picking up mail on Saturday or Sunday now, so people that would normally mail on Saturday should try to mail Friday or make arrangements for the following Monday," he said.

Though the USPS is a federal entity, Bolen explained, "We don't receive tax dollars." The agency is funded entirely through revenue from postage sales and other associated products.