An open letter to the U.S. Congress:
I am hopeful that each of you is well-rested after the summer recess. While you were away, it became apparent that the United States Postal Service is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
This sad matter should come as no surprise to any of your peers, as an act passed by your august body is directly responsible. Allow me to refresh your group memory:
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 allowed the USPS more flexibility in following proven business models — something it had been prohibited from doing since its reorganization in 1971. This was a good thing.
However, the act also required the service to pre-fund future retiree health benefits costs — something no other government entity or business is required to do. This was a very bad thing, it turns out.
Though USPS had the cash to pre-fund this new obligation at first, market realities (revenue levels) and modernization needs (efficiency investments) became incompatible with the artificial pre-funding requirement under the act.
The USPS is a gargantuan enterprise. Yet despite all the warts inherent with an organization its size, it still provides universal service at the lowest cost. This is common knowledge about an uncommon entity that is indisputably unrivaled worldwide.
As you read this, the Postal Service is about to go broke. This will have an adverse effect in varying degrees on every one of your constituents and every single business within your districts. And it's all your fault.
Don't even think that this is simply about declining volume and revenue. Your own legislation allowed the USPS to anticipate and react to the market as it never could before. (Remember: A good thing.)
But you guys couldn't keep your mitts off the cash cow that the service represented in 2006, and that is a very bad thing.
Since then the service has dumped $5.5 billion annually into the Treasury. That translates to more than $20 billion that it cannot use now to adapt to the effects of severe changes in consumer habits.
During an average month, the service pays out $6 billion to $7 billion in employee and operating expenses. But revenue is dropping hard and fast as economic contraction and customer usage changes.
Current cash on hand is $1.4 billion. That's about $4.1 billion short of your mandated annual kiss due the Treasury. The Postal Service simply doesn't have the extra cash for something they should not have been billed for in the first place.
What to do?
Well, you can each stop pointing fingers and jostling for position before the news cameras for just a moment and put Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch's USPS Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act (H.R.1351) to a vote. It has been sitting around since April 4 even though it has 181 co-sponsors. It truly is as nonpartisan as things can be in D.C. these days.
It is long past time for all of you to do the right thing and get this measure to the Senate without delay.
Should you allow the Postal Service to close shop by your inaction, know this: FedEx and United Parcel Service — neither being anywhere near as universal a carrier as the USPS — are as disinterested in assuming your franking privileges as they are in handling your political fliers next year.
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Dan Flathers of Peabody, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee and member of Local 301 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, has contributed to the opinion pages in the past.