Zaleski: 'Postal' and 'service' don't go together
There is a value to small-town post offices that goes well beyond a profit-and-loss statement. The U.S. Postal Service, that quasi-private, misnamed, bureaucratic monster, doesn't get that. Since it became a curious private/government hybrid, the...
There is a value to small-town post offices that goes well beyond a profit-and-loss statement. The U.S. Postal Service, that quasi-private, misnamed, bureaucratic monster, doesn't get that. Since it became a curious private/government hybrid, the concept of "service" has been shunted aside by a drive to be a profit-making enterprise.
Benjamin Franklin, the nation's first postmaster, would not approve.
There's no telling when the latest round of small post office closings will crank up. The service (just writing it makes my teeth hurt) has not released a list of targets. But if the criteria for closures are remote location, mail volume and availability of alternative service, it's not too difficult to identify offices the service would shutter.
Before the nonperforming agency became the U.S. Postal Service, it was the U.S. Post Office. Fees were reasonable; mail service was excellent. Mail carriers and postmasters were in sync with their communities. They walked the neighborhoods, delivering to each home, not to a bank of boxes at the end of the street.
Before unions got greedy, before the post office decided it had to compete (read, make a buck) with private parcel services, and before e-mail supplanted letter-writing, Americans could count on daily mail delivery wherever they lived.
That was the original purpose of the post office. It was to be a government service that guaranteed delivery of mail to the biggest cities and the most remote, rural locations. It worked like a charm for generations, in large part because it was a service, not a for-profit company.
So along the line, someone (Congress surely is culpable) had the bright idea that a partial privatization would keep the post office in the black and incorporate private-sector business practices into the agency. The Postal Service would be a new, efficient hybrid. Everything would be peachy keen.
The rest is history - quite dismal history.
The promise of a private-sector-type mail service was empty, not because private business practices are unsound but because the Postal Service's mission and mandate are not amenable to corporate priorities. The service is required to do things no for-profit venture would undertake because there is no money to be made.
Ergo, the Postal Service as a money-making, in-the-black business will forever be unattainable if Franklin's vision of efficient, affordable mail delivery to all Americans is to be honored.
I know the arguments for a Postal Service that makes money. I don't buy them, any more than I would expect national defense, national parks or interstate highways to be profit-making operations. Delivering the mail should be a universal service that is part and parcel a responsibility of the federal government. Post offices, no matter how small or remote, should be about service, not profit. A small post office in a remote place in North Dakota's Badlands is just as important as the office in downtown Fargo.
That's what Franklin had in mind.
Contact Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at(701) 241-5521.