Benjamin Franklin would not be happy.
Mr. Franklin was appointed our first postmaster general by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. He was a dedicated proponent of the post office and believed it bound the country together in important ways that could not be duplicated.
If he were to review our American postal system today, he would no doubt be horrified by its inept management and the active hostility of Congressional conservatives toward it.
Let’s get something straight right now. The people who work at what is now known as the U.S. Postal Service – about 600,000 Americans, many of them veterans – are doing a terrific job in a broken situation. These are the hardworking people who ensure the billions of mail pieces make their way to their destinations safely and quickly.
But these postal workers have two very big and aggressive foes: U.S. postmaster general Patrick Donahoe and conservative members of Congress.
Mr. Donahoe is under the very much mistaken assumption he can cut the postal service to prosperity. That, of course, has not worked because the financial chips are all stacked against the postal service. He can cut post offices, workers and processing centers until doomsday and it will not work.
It won’t work because Congress has made absolutely sure it won’t work.
Our post office hummed along pretty nicely for nearly 200 years. The U.S. Post Office Department was part of the Cabinet, along with the Department of Defense, the Department of Education and all the others. It was a service of the federal government as provided for in the U.S. Constitution. Mail delivery was very good and, in the 1960s a first-class stamp was a nickel. A very good deal!
However, two things happened that changed everything. The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 abolished the U.S. Post Office Department and created the U.S. Postal Service. The latter was not a Cabinet-level organization but, under the Act, would operate as a sort of quasi-government corporation. It would still hold the official monopoly on mail delivery, but federal funding for this important service was eventually going to go away. The postal service would have to make money on its own.
Let’s ask ourselves a quick question here. Have we ever asked the Defense Department to make money? How about the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, or the Department of Transportation? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
In 2006 the big Congressional whammy came down. Conservatives in Congress got the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed. This insane piece of legislation obligated the U.S. Postal Service to prefund 75 years worth of future health care benefits – over a 10-year time span!
Please go ask any company president, CEO or CFO how something like that would impact his or her company. Immediate bankruptcy comes to mind!
What this all comes down to is pretty simple. Do we, as Americans, want to preserve our Constitutionally-guaranteed post office, or do we want to see it wither and die?
Oh, we’ve all heard the arguments about email destroying traditional mail, and how private companies can take over postal operations, no problem.
Both are crazy. The postal service continues to haul billions of mail pieces annually – and right to your door! And have you ever heard of the “last mile?” Millions of homes across the U.S. would be left out of private company mail delivery because their homes happen to not be on a “profitable” route.
Do you have relatives, possibly elderly, who live in a small town or in the country? Do you think they count on the postal service? Of course they do! Do we really think it is right to suffocate our postal service and leave these people without this important connection? It would be absolutely tragic.
There are many good, solid reasons to remake our post office as our Founding Fathers planned it. The best reason is that it is an essential government service that millions of Americans count on – six days a week.
Tom Bolitho is a local businessman and former publisher of The Ada News.