Will the Postal Reform Act of 2013 Be a Step Forward – Or Backward?

Which Postal Service do you want?  One that acts like a competitive private sector business?  Or, one that behaves like a government entity that does not compete with the private sector?  The arguments for either choice are sound and often loud.

Generally Americans want more from whoever they purchase services and goods.  More choice.  More convenience.  More value.   As taxpayers they see themselves as part owners of the USPS – even if taxpayer funds are not used to support postal activities.  When they see a private sector enterprise provide ‘more’ they expect their Postal Service should be doing the same.   These people are not interested in debating the fine points of public policy.  More is better, it’s that simple.

Conversely, there are those who philosophically believe that, as a government entity, the Postal Service’s job is to enable, not compete.  Not surprising, those in businesses that compete with USPS for the same customer dollars tend to be the loudest advocates of this point of view. It may also include businesses that do not want to see postal entrance into undeveloped or underdeveloped markets, or to expand along the mailing industry value chain.

I believe both views can and should be accommodated through Reform (Merriam-Webster definition:  to improve (someone or something) by removing or correcting faults, problems, etc.) and Transformation (Merriam-Webster definition:  to change (something) completely and usually in a good way).  So too, apparently, does Congress.  Unfortunately, the versions of a Postal Reform Act of 2013 proposed in S. 1486 and H.R. 2748 offer a few reforms that create faults rather than correct faults along with a number of transformative concepts that will change things in a bad way rather than good way.

Don’t get me wrong, the proposed Bills do contain some important fixes reforms such as providing relief from the excessive pre-funding of retirement health benefits requirement created by Congress in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (even though the cow has no more milk to give it’s still important that they formally correct their fault).  And, there are a few transformative concepts that have promise.  For example, encouraging the enhancement of federal, state and local services by leveraging Postal assets (people, property and processes) is exactly the kind of idea that satisfies both those who want a more business like Postal Service as well as those who believe the Postal Service should be an enabler and not a competitor.

However, there is far too much of what I would call, ‘Stakeholder Wish List’ junk in these proposed bills.  So much that I’m fearful that just like the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, the Postal Reform Act of 2013 could end up doing as much harm to the future of America’s Postal Service as it does good.  I see in the them dysfunctional and complicated bureaucracies being proposed, mandates to be profitable without allowing the necessary operating freedoms to accomplish the task and, additional oversight by a Congress that isn’t capable of making/taking timely decisions or actions (good or bad).  I can assure you the leadership at the Postal Service is wondering how in the world they, or anybody else, will be successful in navigating to a better Postal Service if some of the ideas in these Bills are enacted.

 By Rod DeVar

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2 Replies

  1. Bryan Klepacki

    It will be interesting to see how the current state of affairs in Washington impacts postal legislation in 2013. Assuming both sides of the aisle have to make sacrifices to get a deal done, it could be even more tricky now that we will likely have a budget debate. John Boehner and Harry Reid may be less inclined to put this sort of legislation up for a vote if either bill makes it out of committee by the end of the year. Unfortunately we may not just be looking at whether or not postal legislation is ineffectual, we may be faced with the possibility that Congress does nothing with this issue.

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