published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

House inaction hurts USPS

The United States Postal Service lost $5.2 billion in the third quarter. It is on track to lose several times that for the year. The agency has worked to trim costs and increase revenues to put its finances in order, but that has not helped. Neither has the U.S. House of Representatives.

If the Postal Service is to survive, it must modernize. It needs assistance from Congress to do so. Members of the Democrat-controlled Senate have done their part to make such modernization possible. The Republican-controlled House has not. Its GOP members left Washington without acting on the subject. That's shameful, especially since a proposed House-Senate compromise addressed the issue without overly politicizing it.

The House failure means the postal service will continue to hemorrhage money. That seems to be acceptable to recalcitrant House Republicans, more concerned that corrective steps — post office closures, for example — to stem the losses could haunt them at the polls next month. That's political opportunism seized at the expense of those who still depend on the postal service.

Hundreds of millions do. The USPS still processes an average of more than 550 million pieces of mail a day and its more than 213,000 vehicles travel about 4 million miles daily to deliver it. Those numbers continue to fall, though, as more and more individuals and companies turn to the Internet and other forms of communication to conduct personal and business affairs.

The Postal Service hopes to better balance its books by reducing operating hours where it can. The tristate area is not immune to such cuts. About 60 rural post offices in the region, including those in Apison and Birchwood in Hamilton County, face reductions in operating hours in the next two years. The overall cuts in hours could save about $500 million annually.

That' hardly enough to end the crisis. Other steps are necessary, too. The Postal Service reasonably proposes five-day rather than six-day delivery, changes in prefunding requirements for retirees, a refund of billions in overpayments to the pension fund, changes in worker's comp programs and revamping rules so the agency can offer new products. All should help the post office to compete more effectively.

For all their talk about wanting government to operate more like a business, House Republicans have shown little interest in those proposals. That's a heavy blow to the post office. It can't survive without change and the House is holding up that change. That's because the post office operates under congressional mandates, even though as an independent agency it gets no appropriated funds. That problem requires resolution.

House Republicans should approve legislation that allows the Postal Service to modernize so that it can compete successfully and profitably. Until they do, the agency will continue to lose customers — and its continued existence will be increasingly uncertain.

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