Postal Service Can’t Cut Saturday Delivery, U.S. GAO Says

Photographer: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A postal carrier sorts mail in his truck as he was making his rounds in Silver Spring, Maryland. Close

A postal carrier sorts mail in his truck as he was making his rounds in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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Photographer: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A postal carrier sorts mail in his truck as he was making his rounds in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have the legal authority to cut Saturday mail delivery, the Government Accountability Office said today.

The service is bound by law to deliver mail six days a week, and is incorrect in interpreting that a temporary measure used to fund U.S. government operations released it from that requirement, the GAO said in a letter to Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, who requested that the watchdog agency look at the matter.

The plan to cut delivery of letter mail while retaining package delivery on Saturdays “rests upon a faulty USPS premise,” GAO General Counsel Susan Poling said in the letter.

The GAO’s conclusion sparked different interpretations from parties that support and oppose ending Saturday mail delivery. The labor union whose employees would be most affected said it doesn’t expect the dispute to end in a courtroom.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe last month said the service, after losing $15.9 billion last year and reaching its legal borrowing limit, plans to eliminate a day of mail delivery to save about $2 billion a year. The service said today it “strongly” disagrees with the GAO’s assessment.

“The opinion does not address the Postal Service’s proposal to move to five-day mail delivery, with six-day package delivery, during the week of August 5,” David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman, said in an e-mail. The GAO only addressed what can be done under the Congress’s temporary spending measure that expires March 27, he said.

’Crystal Clear’

Connolly and Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, also asked the Postal Regulatory Commission, which oversees rates and service standards, for an opinion on whether cutting Saturday delivery is allowed.

“This impartial and definitive GAO legal opinion makes it crystal clear that USPS cannot operate outside the legislative authority of Congress and unilaterally implement a change in delivery service that many believe will not only disrupt mail service, but also exacerbate USPS revenue losses and contribute to the decline of this constitutionally-mandated service to all Americans,” Connolly said today in an e-mailed statement.

The National Association of Letter Carriers union, which opposes cutting Saturday delivery and whose members deliver mail in cities and suburbs, said it expects the service to adhere to the law prohibiting the cut.

“We fully expect the Postal Service’s board of governors and the postmaster general to follow the law and the expressed will of Congress about maintaining six-day delivery,” Fredric Rolando, the Washington-based union’s president, said in an e- mail. “We do not expect to have a legal fight.”

‘Perilous Position’

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, praised the announcement last month and today sent a letter to the Postal Service’s board urging it to keep preparing to end Saturday delivery. They said the agency isn’t cutting a day of service, as it has said it will deliver packages on Saturdays.

“We believe that the Board of Governors has a fiduciary responsibility to utilize its legal authority to implement modified six-day mail delivery,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “The deficits incurred by the Postal Service and the low level of liquidity under which it is operating leaves it in a perilous position, one that demands implementation of all corrective actions possible.”

1 Percent

Lawmakers have authority over the Postal Service because it receives an appropriation for less than 1 percent of its operations. That money includes reimbursing the service for mail for the blind and for election ballots for overseas military personnel.

Connolly and McCaskill were among Democrats, also including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who criticized the service’s Feb. 6 announcement that it plans to end Saturday delivery in August while it waits for Congress to pass a comprehensive measure to overhaul its business model.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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