WASHINGTON (UPI) — The President’s Commission on the Postal Service recently delivered its final report to the White House. The commissioners and the staff should be commended for their Herculean efforts. After seven months of intense scrutiny, the commission confirms what postal observers have known for years: the United States Postal Service is a 30-year-old jalopy sputtering down the road to ruin, spewing toxic gases and leaking vital fluids on the pavement.
The commission’s final report recommends repairing the current construct of the service. It does not call for replacing the current structure with the commercial governmental enterprise model the USPS had recommended, nor does it fully endorse the de-monopolized private business model that free-market types advocate and postal unions fear.
Like a seasoned team of professional mechanics, the commissioners looked at each sub-system and asked: what is broken and how do we fix it? This produced a how-to list of critical repairs necessary to get the USPS back on the road.
The recommendations represent a well-reasoned and balanced set of necessary repairs that include: narrowing the scope of activities to mail-related services only; increasing oversight and transparency through a strengthened Postal Rate Commission (Postal Regulatory Board); rightsizing the size and scope of postal operations to match changing demand for mail services; reducing fixed labor expenses through attrition and private sector partnerships.
The commission also recommends increasing postal efficiency and security through more effective use of technology and maximizing the value of the existing postal infrastructure by selling off underutilized assets.
In the next phase of the reform process, each group of postal stakeholders will fire up their public relations and lobby machines to argue that the recommendations create a disproportionate burden on their respective constituents.
*Postal labor unions, despite dodging the privatization bullet and getting taxpayers to pick up their military-related pension expenses, won’t like the recommendations that the “compensation-comparability” requirement be clarified to include fringe benefits, or that work-sharing and outsourcing should be increased.
*Free-market proponents will continue to argue that the commission failed to recommend de-monopolization and privatization and will increase the pressure on Capitol Hill to include reforms leading to that end.
*Commercial mailers won’t appreciate entrusting the rate setting process to a strong regulatory board or losing their ability to litigate rate increases before the fact, despite benefiting from predictable and smaller incremental rate increases.
*Postal management will bemoan the increased oversight and reporting requirements despite receiving increased ratemaking flexibility that they so often advocate.
*Competitors, vendors and consumers will complain that the commission didn’t fully address the nagging issues related to the Postal Service’s sovereign immunity from the antitrust and consumer protection laws, but will benefit from the recommendations that the USPS “stick to its knitting” and be carefully monitored by the new Postal Regulatory Board.
*Small communities and their representatives in Congress will complain about the closing of underutilized Post Offices despite the recommendation that these facilities be donated back to the community when feasible.
On balance there is something for everyone in the report, something to like and something to dislike. In a short seven months, the commission has managed to reach a reasonable, albeit delicate, balance between the diverse interests affected by postal policy.
There are no clear winners, but then again there are no clear losers either, and the $65 billion dollar question remains: Will policymakers maintain the delicate balance by enacting all of the commission’s recommendations, or will they cave to special interest pressure and only pick-and-choose those repairs that require little political will on their part?
The American People will be keeping their fingers crossed, hoping commissioners can adequately convince Congress that adopting the recommendations is an all-or-nothing proposition in their testimony before future congressional hearings.
If you fix the engine and transmission but don’t bother to replace the bald tires or repair the steering and brakes, all you end up with is a fast moving death-trap racing out of control. It can be argued the commission might have been more bold and far-reaching in its proposals. However, nothing less bold, far reaching, or balanced than their current proposal will suffice.
The commission has provided a road map to postal repair; we can only hope that lawmakers don’t take a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
”’Rick Merritt is the executive director of PostalWatch, a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy organization committed to a fair, efficient and accountable U.S. Postal Service.”’
”'”Outside View” commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.”’