BEHIND THE PG’S MOVE - You know that feeling of pleasure you get when you see someone stand up to a bullying, incompetent boss? It’s viscerally satisfying, isn’t it?
That’s the way I felt this morning when I heard Postmaster General Patrick Donahue announce that the US Postal Service intended to move forward with a plan to stop Saturday delivery of mail, effective sometime in August. In doing so, Donahue stuck his thumb in the eye of the US Congress, the mail agency’s ultimate boss. Bravo, Mr. Donahue.
You may think I have incorrectly identified the incompetent party here. After all, it’s a deeply ingrained part of Americans’ worldview that our postal service is the epitome of inefficiency and bad management, the perfect example of a bungling, poorly run government bureaucracy. That view gets reinforced from all kinds of sources – jaded journalists, editorial cartoonists given more to clichés than to cleverness, free-market economists, and others.
And it’s certainly true that the Postal Service faces serious problems. Mail volume is falling. The organization’s annual deficits are rising. The postal system is slowly circling the drain. If you pay any attention to postal issues, you’re familiar with some of the proximate causes of these problems: Email is eroding first-class mail volume; Congress forces the Postal Service to prefund retirement benefits for employees it hasn’t even hired yet; etc.
But the deeper source of the Postal Services woes is the US Congress, not some imagined incompetence on the part of its managers and executives. In fact, the Postal Service is quite well managed and operates as efficiently and effectively as we have any right to expect, given the constraints we have imposed on it.
And the main constraint is political: We have allowed the U.S. Congress to control the agency, and for decades – centuries, really – Congress has dictated that the Postal Service operate in ways that are politically useful for members of Congress even though they make no economic sense. In the process, our elected representatives have steered the agency into a ditch. (Read the rest … including what happened in 1970 that changed your mail delivery forever … here)
Vol 11 Issue 12
Pub: Feb 8, 2013