On its website, the United States Postal Service touts first-class mail delivery in “three business days or less.” That gold standard for fast, reliable, written communication that ties the parts of this huge continent together is about to be tarnished.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has asked postal regulators to change that expectation to five business days. Residents west of the Rockies should expect four- to five-day delivery estimates to become the norm. Rural locations are likely to be hard hit.
In March, DeJoy released a 10-year strategy to address the USPS budget that is projected over 10 years to produce at least a $160 billion deficit. The goal is to shift its main function to package delivery.
In other words, the Post Office would become just be another FedEx or UPS. First-class mail would become an annoyance.
Cuts instituted last year by DeJoy combined with massive election and holiday mail volume to drop first-class on-time deliveries below 60%. That number is still less than 80%.
Adopting the strategy of impoverishing first-class mail long-term would be a huge mistake.
Residents of no other country have been able to assume that their letters or small packages dropped in the mail will arrive at domestic destinations quickly and every time. This universal connection helped build and sustain our functioning democracy.
Its remarkable execution fuels economic progress as well—all this for the negligible price of a first-class stamp and the willingness of Americans to pay for it.
Changing electronic communications and some bizarre Post Office retiree benefit funding requirements produced the spectacular deficit projections. Americans are left with the impression that delivered mail is a luxury we can no longer afford.
The USPS Board of Governors, at full strength for the first time in more than a decade, should move quickly to disavow Postmaster General DeJoy of the idea that lowering delivery speed expectations is any way to run the post office.
DeJoy’s strategies are not the underlying problem, however. His working assumption that private-sector measurements of profitability are the right way to judge the true value of public sector services, especially the post office, misses the point.
First-class mail is not a dispensable commodity. First-class delivery is and always has been a part of this nation’s essential infrastructure.
The Post Office, unlike the U.S. military, can charge a fee. Like the military, it should not have to pay its own way.
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