The Norman Transcript

Opinion

May 12, 2012

Truth about U.S. Postal Service reform

NORMAN — Now that U.S. Senate has passed a bill, SB 1789, to reform the ailing U.S. Postal Service, critics are trying to disable the bill on its way to the House of Representatives. Business Week recently catalogued unhappy stakeholders, including postal unions, postal management and some Republicans who wrongly think the bill burdens taxpayers.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose own bill awaits action in the House, blasted “special interests.” But Business Week says, “Considering how many people are unhappy with the bill, it isn’t clear which special interests Issa is referring to.”

Some see the Senate bill as the inevitable product of the sausage machine. But it is neither a budget buster nor processed meat. It is the expression of a better vision of the postal service.

If you consider that survival of the service means maintaining the circulatory system for a $1.1 trillion mailing industry or, in other words, making sure cash, greeting cards, packages and newspapers and magazines arrive on time, the Senate bill is good medicine.

Consider some of the alternative fixes.

Issa’s bill would let USPS immediately end Saturday mail, close half the mail processing centers and thousands of post offices, and put a new board of political appointees in charge. The new board would be expected to trim workers’ benefits and maybe wages and direct the postmaster general to favor profit over service.

At the other extreme might be Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who wanted to keep everything open. Labor unions backing him say that USPS will heal as the economy heals. Then there is the White House’s notion: Raise postage rates.

For Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., neither extreme is suited to long-term survival of USPS.

To many experts, Issa’s approach is likely to frighten away businesses that mail. The Lieberman-Collins bill agrees that USPS needs a more flexible, less costly work force. It keeps mail flowing through today’s network while cost-cutting is under way. For example, they would end Saturday mail delivery in two years, but only if USPS has taken other big steps toward financial viability. They would allow the closing of postal plants now, if USPS preserves local mail delivery speed.

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