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AS I SEE IT

Posted 2/09/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Where are you going to go pick up your mail, mail a package or buy stamps in the future? If you answered that question by saying your local post office, you could be wrong. Especially, if your local post office is one of the 2,000 that is being targeted by the U.S. Postal Service for closure beginning in March of 2011.
Why in the world would the U.S. Postal Service think of closing 2,000 of their post office locations that are serving America’s public?
The answer the Postal Service is giving is that it must close offices in an effort to stop the flow of massive financial losses that it is experiencing. During 2010, the Postal Service posted a record $8.5 billion in losses. By law, the Postal Service can only close a post office for maintenance problems, lease expirations or other reasons that don’t include profitability. But postal authorities are pushing Congress hard to change the law so that it can close the most unprofitable offices.
Should the Postal Service successfully argue that it should be able to close unprofitable offices, guess where the Postal Service will find these unprofitable offices? A disproportionate number of the thousands of post offices under review, by the agency’s own administration, are in rural or smaller suburban areas. So if you are living in anywhere except the eight major cities in North Dakota, your local post office could very well be on the chopping block.
And that is where the disconnect between the U.S. Postal Service and its customers really becomes apparent. Who needs a post office more? A person living in a large metropolitan area where there is whole host of mail service options? Or is it a person living in a community of less than 2,000 people where the next larger town with a post office could be more than 50 miles away? The answer should, and must, be everyone is entitled to the same service.
The Postal Service needs to remember that by U.S. law, mail delivery is a “basic and fundamental” government function that was meant to “bind the nation together” by providing service to “all communities” at a reasonable price.
For years, the U.S. Postal System was the envy of the world. Mail moved across the country in a matter of days, the price of a postage stamp was insignificant to businesses or the individual. But that was before e-mail and the introduction of electronic bill paying, online shopping, and the rapid expansion of private carriers who dramatically cut into the post office’s profitability.
So, profitability, not service, became the buzzword in the Postal Service. And that shift in priority is largely to blame for today’s delay in mail delivery across the country as the Postal Service has tried without success to consolidate its sorting and distribution centers in an attempt to save money. And which is why the Postal Service is now looking at closing another 2,000 post offices in an attempt to stop the flow of red ink.
Granted, the Postal Service is struggling with massive debt because of a decline in first-class mail. But it’s financial difficulties are also tied to huge employee costs and associated employee benefit packages brought on by union agreements as well as its inability to effectively deal with competition from private enterprise.
But the Postal Service must remember it is in the business of service. Without providing quality service to all Americans, whether they are in a large metropolitan area or a small, rural community, the Postal Service will continue to struggle and ultimately, not only lose the support of the American people, but of members of Congress alike.
While closing 2,000 post offices this year may make some financial sense to some bean counter in Washington, D.C., the question remains, “How will closing those post offices better serve all Americans.” And if those closings don’t save the Postal Service enough money, one has to wonder how many more post offices will have to be closed next year and the year after that.