Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Congress ignores postal crisis

January 03, 2014 08:08 AM

Congress once again left Washington for the Christmas holidays without addressing the United States Postal Service and its continuing financial crisis.

That leaves the issue to yet another Congressional session, with no sign from lawmakers that they have come close to closing the huge gap between the USPS costs and its dwindling stamp revenues.

Blame it on the Internet, which has crippled first-class mail by offering a cheaper alternative to stamps.

There is also a gap between rural and urban lawmakers over which postal services they want the USPS to abandon, a gap that seems too wide to be bridged.

Rural lawmakers and unionized letter carriers want to keep Saturday deliveries, one of the big targets of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s cost-cutting plans.

In the end there was not enough support for the postmaster general’s plan, leaving the USPS to sweat another year of retirement costs it cannot pay.

It is rather sad to see a government institution that is older than the Constitution itself with so little support on Capitol Hill.

For some of the inaction, Adweek, an advertising industry magazine, suggested blame may fall on the Postal Service and its advertising campaigns.

In 1976, it noted the USPS published a “saccharine ad” urging sales of stamps to children for their stamp collections.

Those were the salad years for the USPS, noted writer Robert Klara. There was no e-mail. FedEx was a five year old company used by businesses, and United Parcel had just secured the right to deliver.

“With its dominance assured, the Postal Service could relax — and pick an advertising theme as fatuous as kids having a blast collecting stamps,” Klara wrote Dec. 12.

Today, he argues, the USPS “has to get serious.”

“And contrary to popular assumptions, it really does have some competitive advantages, especially when it comes to package delivery. It’s cheap, reliable and there are 26,755 post offices in this country.”

Yet, as I found during the recent holiday mailing period, it often fails to tout its advantages.

Sure, there were glossy ads with attractive models showing off those flat rate boxes, Klara notes.

But when I went to the Fairfax, Va., post office to send a small parcel to my son in suburban Philadelphia, I was told that the two-day Priority Mail service would actually take six days.

I was stunned when the clerk told me that. But there it was printed on my receipt. The “two-day” service would take from Dec. 18 until Dec. 23.

UPS ground service was more expensive, but it would deliver them the next day.

Actually, the USPS did a lot better. The package was delivered to my son in Narberth, Pa., Dec. 21, two days ahead of the promised Dec. 23 delivery date.

I came away from my mail experience like Klara did: convinced that the USPS is underselling Priority Mail, one of its best products.

Maybe that’s what happened with Congress. The USPS seems to have undersold itself and its services to lawmakers.

To succeed, the Postal Service needs to show that it’s not an obsolete organization.

As Klara noted, “Snail mail isn’t irrelevant: 160 billion pieces of mail were delivered in 2012.”