Twenty-one Attorneys General (AGs) have taken the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to task for seeking to further degrade first-class mail service effective September 1 and for pursuing competitive package business at the expense of its long-standing and most vital mission: delivering the mail.
On June 21, the AGs filed a joint statement of position with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), regarding a proposal by USPS to lengthen delivery times for 40 percent of first-class mail. The PRC will issue an advisory opinion to USPS’s proposed action and has received more than 77,000 comments opposing the longer delivery times. In 2014, USPS also lengthened mail delivery times significantly.
The AGs review how delayed mail service would harm their citizens, especially those in cities and low-income communities. They express concerns about the impact on the administration of government services, such as sending vehicle registrations, financial assistance, birth and death certificates, other legal documents, and election mail.
The AGs make clear that by law USPS is supposed to prioritize the delivery of mail – a public service which only USPS can provide – over packages, a competitive service.
In the AGs’ words, “It (USPS) proposes these changes to further a flawed philosophy that would prioritize the services it offers in competitive markets over those it alone provides and on which countless Americans depend.”
They continue: “Under its new policy, the Postal Service seeks to degrade service in its market-dominant products in order to facilitate growth in its competitive products. But a policy that prioritizes competitive packages above First-Class letter mail cannot be squared with the statutory requirements that the Postal Service, ‘give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.’”
And they offer a dire prediction, “If the response to future declines (in mail volume) is to further degrade service in the Postal Service’s market-dominant products in order to favor its competitive products, it will lead to a continued eroding of the Postal Service’s obligation to ‘provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas, and to render postal services to all communities.’”
The 21 AGs include 20 state-level AGs predominantly from blue states, such as New York and California, as well as the District of Columbia. Also backing the measure are Attorneys for New York City and San Francisco.
With geographically large and rural states, especially in the west, likely to be hard hit by USPS’s service standard changes, Republican elected officials should consider weighing in on the USPS’s planned service reduction soon. The Washington Post discussed the areas expected to be hit hardest in an in-depth June 24 story.
Unfortunately, USPS’s tilt to slower mail service is not new. Since 2012, mail delivery times have continually gotten longer as USPS has focused more on delivering packages than mail. In fact, the United States has the same volume of first-class mail that it did in the 1970s, and it is taking longer to deliver it today than it did five decades ago.
Before USPS proceeds with another delay in mail, it should be compelled to provide information about the costs of meeting the current standards, instituted less than seven years ago in 2014. Based on USPS testimony at a June 9 PRC public hearing, it does not appear USPS has such information or has made a serious effort to determine what those costs would be.
The AGs and others should also examine a related issue – Section 202 of the Postal Service Reform Act (PRSA) which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. This is a classic example of an innocuous sounding, special interest-driven provision whose fine print will harm the American people. It calls for maintaining an integrated delivery system for mail and packages, which is already in place.
The real impact of Section 202 will be to obfuscate costs so that mail customers will subsidize package delivery, something fundamentally banned by current law. It will be harder to track the costs of each U.S. Postal Service (USPS) product and to set prices accordingly. The known and unknown consequences of Section 202 merit its immediate removal from the PSRA.
Democrats, Republicans, and independents should all be demanding that USPS focus on its primary public duty: delivering the mail. This begins by opposing its planned dramatic service reduction which, left unchecked, will kick into effect on September 1, and Section 202 of the PSRA.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia.
Find Archived Articles: