The trials and travails of the U.S. Postal Service have been well-documented. Like many businesses, the Postal Service endured tremendous strain during the global pandemic. But the Postal Service has emerged from the crisis stronger, and there is an optimistic case to be made that its future is brighter than its immediate past.
Public attention and support for the Postal Service is at an all-time high, given the reliance on the service for voting by mail and its role as a “lifeline” delivering medicines and essential goods throughout the pandemic. Another cause for optimism is recent Congressional action.
Having labored over postal reform bills during my tenure in Congress, I can say that every American business and consumer that relies on the Postal Service for affordable delivery services owes Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) a debt of gratitude for moving the bipartisan 2021 Postal Reform Act through the committee process. Also encouraging, Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have followed suit by introducing a bipartisan companion bill in the Senate.
The House and Senate bills include important financial relief and reform provisions that will help ensure the long-term viability of the U.S. postal system. The House and Senate bills also include important policy provisions that reinforce the essential role the Postal Service plays in ensuring fair competition and affordable delivery services for all Americans.
For example, the bills recognize the importance of the Postal Service’s maintaining an integrated delivery network for mail and packages at least six days a week. In one sense, this language merely codifies longstanding postal policy. The Postal Service provided integrated delivery services of mail and packages for over 100 years, ever since Congress mandated that the Postal Service provide a competitive package delivery service to protect Americans in rural and remote areas of the country who were being exploited by private delivery companies.
In another sense, however, the language is an important confirmation of the core strength of the Postal Service and is essential to its future viability. The pandemic accelerated mailing and shipping trends in ways that will require policymakers to think differently about the role of the Postal Service as a critical part of the nation’s economic infrastructure.
By codifying the integrated delivery language, Congress is reaffirming its prior policy direction that the Postal Service should leverage the network efficiencies it generates by delivering mail and packages together. As Congress intended, the Postal Service passes on these cost efficiencies in the form of lower prices to American businesses and consumers, thus, ensuring fair competition and affordable delivery services for all Americans.
An integrated delivery network is essential to the continued vitality of the Postal Service’s letter mail and package businesses and to the ideal of a self-sustaining Postal Service. The network efficiencies of an integrated delivery network have enabled the growth and profitability of USPS’ competitive package business. And the Postal Service uses the profits from its package business ($11 billion above costs in FY2020), to help defray the costs of maintaining a nationwide mail delivery network. Without the positive financial contribution from its package business, the Postal Service would have to look to letter mailers or Congress to fund its operations.
Notwithstanding these obvious benefits — or perhaps because of them — private carriers who compete with the Postal Service oppose Congress’ reaffirming that the Postal Service should maintain an integrated delivery network 6 days a week. The bipartisan language codifies the status quo and reflects the Postal Service’s strategic vision of the future. Abandoning the notion of an integrated delivery network would be a radical departure from the way the Postal Service has always operated. Forcing the Postal Service to operate parallel, duplicative delivery networks would harm, not help, the Postal Service and the businesses and consumers that rely upon it for affordable delivery services. Such a change would only benefit private competitors by making the Postal Service less competitive.
Congress should move quickly to pass the bipartisan 2021 Postal Service Reform Act as a means to help the Postal Service continue to fulfill its vital mission to all Americans.
John M. McHugh is the chairman of the Package Coalition; previously, he was secretary of the U.S. Army and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern and Central New York.
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