For three years, U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has been trying to maneouver a comprehensive postal reform bill though Congress. His rescue plan for the ailing U.S. Postal Service involves eliminating Saturday letter delivery, closing some money-losing post offices, and consolidating the agency’s sprawling distribution network so it can process declining mail volume more efficiently. European countries such as Norway have done some of the same things with success, but so far, Issa hasn’t been able to sell his ideas to his House colleagues, Democrat or Republican.
Now Issa has scaled back his ambitions. On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, passed a bill to eliminate door-to-door delivery for 15 million addresses and replace it with delivery to local cluster boxes or curbside mailboxes. Issa estimates that the bill would save the USPS $2 billion a year.
That’s not an insignificant sum. The USPS reported a $5 billion loss in 2013. In a hearing on Wednesday, Issa noted that this is the same amount the USPS would save if it ended Saturday letter delivery. If you add the savings from both reforms, the Postal Service would nearly erase its deficit. That’s important because, to make ends meet, the USPS has been underfunding its future retiree health benefit obligations. It would be better if the agency could make those payments now, so that taxpayers don’t have to cover them in the future—when the post office will likely be handling even less mail.
President Obama supports both measures. But neither the full House nor the Senate are eager to debate ending Saturday delivery, particularly in an election year, so Issa is going for something smaller. His committee says the USPS estimates that providing one address with door delivery service costs $380 a year. Curbside delivery to the same address costs $240 per address, the cluster box option a mere $170. The Issa bill calls for phasing in the delivery slowly, converting 1.5 million addresses a year over 10 years.
Postal worker unions were quick to denounce the bill and call its author as an extremist. But Issa, a conservative Republican, isn’t advocating anything radical. Canada Post is pursuing a plan to end door-to-door delivery in cities, too. If liberal Canadians are on the same page as Issa, to say nothing of Obama, there must be something to his proposal.