Have a Happy New Year: privatize @USPS
**Posted by Phineas
This is a bit of a personal rant to end the year on, but a recent experience with the US Post Office and trying to get a package delivered has lead to the conclusion that one of the best “little things” a new Republican Congress could do in 2015 is privatize the danged thing. First, my recent travails:
On Christmas Day I received some Amazon (1) gift cards. Being a good little consumer, that afternoon I ordered some goodies, including a highly-rated electric skillet (This one, in fact. It’s a great price.) that Amazon promised to deliver for free by the 28th. Great!
So, on the 28th I stayed home to wait for the delivery. By that afternoon, I was curious, so I checked Amazon; “delivery attempted.”
“Really?” I thought. So I checked the USPS site: “Delivery attempted at 9:37 AM. Notice left.”
By now a bit concerned, I went down to the front of our apartment complex to check the mailboxes: no package, no notice, no nothing. Like I said, I had been home all day. My cell phone was on, the ringer set to “loudest.” At 9:37 AM, I was letting in my writing partner for a day’s work. In other words…
I WAS HOME!
Apparently the schmuck carrier couldn’t be bothered to actually try to contact me. I understand he couldn’t come to my door (it’s a large, winding complex), but… he could have called. I’d have come right down. But, I guess he didn’t want to make the effort. Maybe he was tired.
Checking the USPS site again, I saw a redelivery option (2) held out the promise of delivery Monday (yesterday). So, I filled out the form and printed the receipt. Problem solved — yay!!
You can guess what’s coming.
I waited at home all Monday, not daring to leave my apartment lest I miss the carrier and my new toy. By 5PM, I went downstairs to check and found the regular mailman. I asked her about the package — she’d never heard of it. “What about redelivery,” I asked.
Jay Carney gives more informative answers.
Finally, she helpfully suggested the other carrier might have left it with the building managers. Nope. Not on on their list.
So, this morning, I walked to the post office, waited for the lone clerk at the counter to finally call me forward only to tell me to go to “the door on the left.” After a half-hour or so, I was beginning to fear my package was really “out for delivery” this time, probably to the wrong address. But, no, I was rewarded at the end, the package was mine. Happy New Year, indeed. I then trudged the 1.5 miles home, this time carrying a bulky box and swearing eternal vengeance on the Post Office.
Okay, so, as far as horrible experiences with the USPS goes, and as maddening as it was, that was fairly minor. I’m sure any of you reading this could come up with far worse. But the whole experience had me wondering…
Why do we put up with this garbage?
Private companies have a much harder time getting away with poor service. Not only are there irate customers who can go elsewhere, but angry shareholders to wonder why they’re not making money. And, at the end, a poorly run, money-losing company goes out of business.
The USPS, which lost over $20 billion from 2007-2010 –and $5 billion in FY 2013, goes chugging on. This report from the Cato Institute well-documents their problems. For example:
A key driver of mail delivery costs is the congressionally mandated obligation to serve virtually every mailing address, regardless of volume, six days a week. Fulfilling this “universal service” obligation results in the USPS having large fixed costs, including the costs of more than 36,000 postal outlets, 215,000 vehicles, and 600 processing facilities.
However, even given the universal service obligation, the Government Accountability Office and USPS officials believe that more than half of these processing facilities aren’t needed. Why aren’t they closed down to save money? The GAO notes that the USPS faces “formidable resistance” from members of Congress and postal unions when attempting to close or consolidate facilities.
The USPS is required to provide services to all communities, including areas where post offices have low traffic and are not cost effective. Before closing a post office, the USPS must provide customers with at least 60 days of notice before the proposed closure date, and any person served by the post office may appeal its closure to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The USPS cannot close a post office “solely for operating at a deficit.”
Members of Congress whose districts would be affected by a post office closure often raise a big fuss. Last year, for example, the USPS proposed consolidating 3,200 postal outlets, but following a congressional outcry, the number under consideration was reduced to a paltry 162. That is no way to run a business.
No, it’s not. Labor costs are also a problem:
While the USPS has been able to eliminate a substantial number of employees through attrition, the USPS’s predominantly unionized workforce continues to account for 80 percent of the agency’s costs despite increased automation. The USPS estimates that, in the absence of changes, its total workforce costs will soar from $53 billion in 2009 to $77 billion in 2020.
And at the root of these costs are restrictive union contracts:
Another factor that reduces postal service efficiency is that union contracts inhibit the flexibility of USPS leaders in managing their workforce. For example, most postal workers are protected by “no-layoff” provisions, and the USPS must let go lower-cost part-time and temporary employees before it can lay off a full-time worker not covered by such provisions.
There’s a lot more in this report, which makes a great case that the postal service should be privatized and its monopoly on first-class mail ended. The benefits would redound to the benefit of taxpayers and customers, providing the service the Founders had in mind when they gave Congress the power to “…establish Post Offices and post Roads.” In this day and age, that does not require a government-run, inefficient, and monopolistic postal service.
It’s time to privatize the USPS.
I might then get my packages on time.
(1) By the way, if any Amazon employees are reading this, tell your boss, Jeff, to stop using USPS for deliveries. It’s your two-day guarantee to Prime customers they’re breaking and your reputation they’re harming. Fire them.
(2) The page for which apparently works as well has the healthcare.gov payment system — not at all. I sense a trend in government-built web sites.
(Crossposted at Public Secrets)