The U.S. Postal Service has become sort of like the Gutenberg printing press in the age of the Internet: unwieldy, plodding and antiquated. To borrow a description from Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, the Postal Service's "massive nationwide infrastructure is no longer financially sustainable" given the rapid decline of mail volume. "We are forced to face a new reality today," Donahoe said in September 2011.
So can its leaders save the Postal Service? Should they save the Postal Service? Or can America survive without the mail? Here are seven steps the agency has taken or is considering to live another day.
The semi-independent government agency, which is losing billions of dollars a year, stands to recoup nearly $1.5 billion annually by relaxing its delivery standards by just one day on Priority Mail, First-Class mail and periodicals, according to the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General. The Postal Service is expected to allow two to three days for delivery instead of promising mail the next day, the postmaster general announced in September 2011.
The Postal Service says stopping Saturday mail, an idea that has been floated several times, and moving to five-day delivery would save the agency $3.1 billion. Under five-day delivery, the Postal Service would no longer deliver mail to street addresses - residences or businesses - on Saturdays. Post offices would remain open on Saturdays, though, to sell stamps and other postal products. Mail addressed to post office boxes will continue to be available Saturday. The Government Accountability Office has raised questions, though, about whether the Postal Service could realize $3.1 billion in savings by ending Saturday mail.
The idea of cutting mail delivery to just three days a week was hypothetical and not yet under consideration in 2011, even though the agency was facing yet another year of massive deficits. But that doesn't mean Postal Officials dismissed the idea of cutting mail to just three days a week - or even down to one day a week in some places. "I think in 15 years, we'll probably be talking about delivering mail three days a week, just because the Internet will take up a lot of what we do today in first-class mail," Donahoe told USA Today in July 2011. "At some point we'll have to move to three. Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so you have the ability to make substantial cuts; you can cut your vehicle numbers in half, for example."
Postal carriers deliver mail right to the front doors of more than 35 million American households and businesses. But door to door postal services are by far the most expensive and labor intensive - not to mention dangerous - mode of delivery. The Postal Service's Office of Inspector General believes it's time to end it. Door to door postal services cost the agency more than $12 billion every year, and getting rid of them could erase half of its multibillion-dollar annual deficit. "Converting existing door-to-door to curbside delivery could save the Postal Service more than $4.5 billion," its study found. "If the Postal Service converted all delivery modes to centralized delivery, it could save an additional $5.1 billion."
The Postal Service suspended bonuses and other incentives for its top managers and executives in summer 2011 as a result of its "dire financial situation." The suspension of bonuses and other incentives for top Postal Service managers and executives was described as a "temporary policy change" that was to remain in place "until further notice," the Postal Service said. It did not effect Postal Service clerks, mail handlers and union workers. The ban prohibited awarding cash, cash equivalent or non-cash tangible items intended for employee recognition. Cutting the bonuses saved the agency about $7 million in 2011. The Postal Service also suspended contributions to the Federal Employee Retirement System earlier in the year.
The Office of Inspector General analyzed travel spending among Postal Service workers in 2009 and 2010, and what it discovered wasn't pretty. The scathing report detailed widespread Postal Service waste, fraud and abusive credit-card use, including one instance of an employee who used a government-issued travel card more than 50 times at adult entertainment establishments. "Postal Service employees did not comply with prescribed travel policies resulting in over $600,000 in excessive travel costs for lodging and airfare," the OIG reported in February 2011.
Believe it or not, the Postal Service spends millions of dollars a year paying thousands of employees to do absolutely nothing. It's a practice called "standby time." Standby time cost the Postal Service about $30.9 million in 2009, the equivalent of some 1.2 million hours. The agency paid out $22 million in 2010 in standby time, according to the Office of Inspector General. Standby time represents a relatively small portion of the overall work done by the Postal Service. Still, it's about the same as having more than 1,000 workers on the clock but not having anything for them to do.