Popular fixes for the post office

The U.S. Post Office is a business, so it’s a mystery to us why it isn’t being run like one. We suppose it’s having Congress for a boss. Let’s be honest, as frustrating as it is, it’s no surprise USPS can’t function efficiently when its political overseers act like clowns.

What’s hard to believe is Congress’ gridlock on overhauling a public service where the public has coalesced in strong support of a number of common-sense fixes.

In a unique new way of polling, the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy through its Voice of the People project is testing a new way to sound out respondents: “Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that gives respondents information and seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker,” according to a statement released by the organization.

In this case, the project used the Citizen Cabinet process from July 2 to Aug. 12 with 2,256 registered voters in three states, Oklahoma, Virginia, and in Maryland, to analyze various options for the Postal Service. Panelists were briefed on the Postal Service’s financial problems and presented with the pros and cons of solutions proposed to Congress by the postmaster general. Then panelists were asked to make their recommendations.

Their findings, in short, were that large bipartisan majorities “recommend Congress should let USPS act more like a business in ways that would dramatically improve its financial position,” a statement from Voice of the People says.

Eight in 10, for instance, back one of the most sensible reforms: changing the level at which USPS prefunds retiree health benefits. That would allow the post office to end its years of losses — which was an astounding net $5.1 billion in fiscal 2015. Yes. You read that right. Billion, with a big, big “B.”

The irony here, not that this is funny in any way given Congress’ inability to resolve the deficit, is that the U.S. Postal Service reported a $1.2 billion operational profit. The loss was largely caused by Congress’ overly strict mandate that those health care benefits for retired workers be paid for. Those polled recommended lowering, but not eliminating the funding rate.

Respondents in the poll supported other proposals. According to vop.org, they include:

• Allowing the Postal Service to lease its unused space in its warehouses, which it is not currently allowed to do — approved by 76 percent, including 77 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats.

• Closing as many as 5 percent of post offices losing money in a given year — endorsed by two thirds (72 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats) — though only three in 10 are ready to go as far as the Postal Service wants to go, which would be to close the 12 percent of all post offices that are not profitable.

• Ending Saturday letter delivery (while still delivering packages and priority mail) — supported by 67 percent, including 75 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats.

• Permitting postal rates to rise faster than inflation — supported by six in 10, including 56 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats.

There are ways for the Postal Service to become a viable business once again, ways that have strong support from the public. The question, as always, is, will Congress listen?

Commentary from The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) and distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Commentary from The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) and distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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