The U.S. Postal Service is receiving enormous media attention. With it having a critical role during the pandemic and through the election with mail-in voting, this is likely to continue.
Misinformation and wrong claims regularly appear in news stories, social media, press statements, campaign fundraising letters, and elsewhere. The American public and reporters deserve more from the politicians, late night talk show hosts, political pundits and others now weighing in on the Postal Service.
Much of the attention has been focused on Louis DeJoy, who became Postmaster General on June 15 after a successful career as a logistics executive where he created 9,000 jobs. Mr. DeJoy was also a major fundraiser for President Trump, including leading fundraising efforts for the 2020 Republican National Convention. He is also a philanthropist.
Here are the Top 10 wrong claims about the Postal Service and the reasons they are incorrect.
Postal Service operations will grind to a halt by November. This dire warning was repeatedly made from April-June at the start of the pandemic and still arises periodically. The reality, though, is that the Postal Service has enough cash to operate until at least August 2021, based on its August 7 Form 10-Q legal report to the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The Postal Service won’t be able to handle mail-in voting. The Postal Service has the experience and network to handle a surge in mail-in voting and is ready to do so. If 60 percent of the electorate – or 90 million people – vote by mail, this will be less than one percent of the mail volume the Postal Service handles in a typical month. Mail-in voting is also going to be spread out over several weeks.
The Postmaster General works for the President. The Postmaster General reports to the U.S. Postal Service’s bipartisan Board of Governors. Only the Governors can hire or fire the Postmaster General. The President nominates individuals to the Board of Governors, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. No more than five of the nine Governors can be members of the same political party.
The Postal Service would be fine financially if it did not have to pre-fund its retiree health benefit obligations. The funding obligations are unduly high and nearly everyone agrees there should be a new actuarial table implemented or a new funding approach. The Postal Service’s central problem, though, is that it has a broken business model and needs improved operating efficiencies, including better understanding of its costs on a per product basis. For related information, see the discussion here.
The Postmaster General can stop the mail. Even if the new Postmaster General wanted to stop the mail, there is no legal or practical way that he could do so. Preventing the delivery of just one piece of mail is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Postal Service has put in place radical new mail delivery practices. The new practices and procedures are aimed at addressing inefficiencies, productivity declines, and high costs, which have been documented for some time. A central provision is to delay shipping some mail for one day to reduce overtime expenses and improve processes. While this has created hiccups, it is highly unlikely to fundamentally change delivery times.
The Postal Service alone determines the success or failure of mail-in voting. While the Postal Service’s role is indispensable for mail-in voting to work smoothly, it is not the only link in the chain. Election boards have an equally, if not more critical, role to play. If they fail to get ballots out in a timely and orderly manner, chaos can ensue.
Now is not the time for the Postal Service to implement operational changes. It is actually the perfect time. For years, the Postal Service has had well-documented inefficiencies in its operations that need to be wrung out. The pandemic, and the increased shipment of packages and decreased shipment of mail, also makes logistical changes timely and necessary.
There has been a wholesale management purge and overhaul at USPS. Changes announced in an August 7 press release were modest. Ross Marchand with the Taxpayers Protection Alliance provides a thorough examination of these matters here.
The Postal Service workforce is apolitical. It is not, and with proper safeguards it does not have to be. Like practically all workforces in the United States, the employees at the U.S. Postal Service are free to spend their off time advocating for political change. And, with the American Postal Workers Union an early and strong supporter of Senator Sanders, many have done so.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
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