Con­sider value in postal re­form

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -

Of all the en­ter­prises changed by the rise of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the United States Postal Ser­vice might be the most se­verely af­fected. Due largely to the tran­si­tion to the in­ter­net of cor­re­spon­dence and bill-pay­ing, the postal ser­vice lost $69 bil­lion be­tween 2007 and is pro­jected to lose tens of bil­lions more dol­lars over the next decade.

A com­mis­sion cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in April has de­liv­ered its re­port on rec­om­men­da­tions on the USPS’s fu­ture, but Congress must not take it as the last word.

In its re­port, the com­mis­sion rec­om­mended sweep­ing changes to the ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­er­a­tion of the ser­vice, in­clud­ing re­defin­ing the Uni­ver­sal Ser­vice Obli­ga­tion — which re­quires mail de­liv­ery ev­ery­where in the United States — to cre­ate new cat­e­gories of es­sen­tial and non-es­sen­tial mail. That, cou­pled with a com­pan­ion pro­posal to lift a cap on rates by clas­si­fi­ca­tion, would en­able a wider range of rates.

The com­mis­sion seems to ac­cept the pres­i­dent’s claim that the ser­vice has a sweet­heart deal with Ama­zon, for which the ser­vice cov­ers what it calls “the last mile” of ship­ments. Many pri­vate eco­nomic analy­ses, how­ever, have con­cluded that the deal is com­pet­i­tively priced.

Mean­while, the task force does not rec­om­mend re­form­ing what re­mains a huge prob­lem for the USPS. It, un­like any other fed­eral or gov­ern­ment-re­lated agency, is re­quired by law to pre-fund re­tiree health care ben­e­fits 75 years in ad­vance — an an­nual up-front obli­ga­tion of nearly $6 bil­lion.

In any re­form bill, Congress should be­gin with slash­ing that amount. And it should not ac­cept any rec­om­men­da­tion that would di­min­ish uni­ver­sal mail de­liv­ery.

That ser­vice is part of the glue that binds the na­tion. Leg­is­la­tors should con­sider not just cost, but value, in craft­ing postal re­form.

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