With Thanksgiving behind us and the holidays firmly underway, the U.S. Postal Service faces a busy season of delivering packages and greeting cards to homes across America.
Even in an age of email and the Internet, as it turns out, we still need a postal service in the 21st century.
But the postal service we have is more of a mid-20th-century institution, and that’s why the next Congress needs to reform the agency to reflect new realities. The Carper-Coburn Postal Reform Act of 2014 is a good way to advance the discussion and get something done.
The postal service’s challenges are self-evident. Email has drastically reduced the volume of postal mail, and competition from commercial carriers has eaten away at the agency’s bottom line, too. That commercial competition is a good thing; if the free market can answer a need more efficiently, then it should be allowed to do so.
But America still needs a way to get postal mail to everyone — even those citizens along those routes that aren’t that attractive to commercial interests. There’s a continuing need for traditional mail delivery, even on a limited basis; certain documents, for example, can’t practically be transmitted through cyberspace. And even in 2014, a sizable number of Americans lack Internet service — a reality especially vivid in Louisiana, where connectivity has lagged behind the rest of the nation.
We need a postal service but a leaner and more efficient one. The current institution, hemorrhaging red ink, is simply no longer sustainable. The quasi-government agency has reduced its workforce from 800,000 workers in 1999 to 490,000 today and cut the number of its facilities from 614 in 2008 to 323 today.
But the agency needs additional changes to make it more nimble, and an array of special interest groups, including unions and commercial mailers who benefit from keeping things the same, have thrown up barriers.
The Postal Reform Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, seems like a reasonable compromise, granting the agency some financial relief in exchange for commitments to implement more efficiencies. The legislation also gives the postal service more leverage with the postal unions, allowing its financial condition to be considered in arbitration.
Americans hungry for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill can look to The Postal Reform Act as an example of two members of Congress stepping across the aisle to address a big problem. We hope other members of Congress and the president follow suit.