Facing $238 billion in losses over the next decade, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced it will end Saturday mail delivery in 2011, unless Congress allows it to change the way it does business. If Congress does decide to save the Saturday mail, it will not be the first time.
As long ago as 1957, the Postal Service, already having financial hardships, actually did end Saturday mail delivery - for exactly one day. On Saturday, April 13, 1975, the mailman did not show up at anybody's house. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, clearly hearing the public's protests, signed a bill hustled through Congress increasing federal funding for the post office by $41 million, and by the next Saturday, you had mail.
Once again in April 2001, the Postal Service Board of Governors, then faced with a $3 billion annual deficit, suggested a five-day mail service. Congress bristled at the idea and by July 2001, the Postal Service dropped the idea.
Postal Times Have Changed: While Congress might again step in to salvage Saturday mail, two important things have changed for the Postal Service between 1957 and today.
In 1957, the U.S. Postal Service was still the U.S. Post Office Department, a regular Cabinet-level federal agency. As such, its entire operating budget was set annually by Congress as part the federal budget process. But in 1970, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 turned the Postal Service into a quasi-federal agency, to be supported mainly by the sale of postage and other postal products and services. The only financial support the USPS now gets from Congress are funds used to compensate USPS for postage-free mailing for all legally blind persons and for mail-in election ballots sent from US citizens living overseas.
In 1957, there was no email, no voice-mail, no Facebook or Twitter. No competition for a First-Class U.S. postage stamp. Today, the USPS says its surveys show that a majority of the public would not object to a 5-day mail delivery schedule.
How Congress Might Help: At least three of the money-saving changes the USPS says it needs to make will require the approval of Congress:
- Restructure the Postal Service Civil Service Retirement System to be consistent with FERS - the Federal Employees Retirements System - the retirement system covering all regular federal employees, including members of Congress.
- Allow USPS to base its prices on demand for each individual mailing product and its costs, rather than capping prices for every postage class at the rate of inflation.
- Permit the Postal Service to evaluate and introduce more new products consistent with its mission, allowing it to better respond to changing customer needs and compete more effectively in the marketplace.
"Lifestyles and ways of doing business have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, but some of the laws that govern the Postal Service have not," said Postmaster General John E. Potter in a press release. "These laws need to be modernized to reflect today's economic and business challenges and the dramatic impact the Internet has had on American life."