Why the Postal Service Really Wants to Skip Saturday

Postmaster Donahoe wants Congress to get moving on stalled reform efforts
Postmaster General Donahoe delivers tidings of cutbacks at a news conference in Washington Photograph by Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe caused a stir on Wednesday, when his agency announced that it would end Saturday mail delivery as early as August. This was surely his intention.

Donahoe has made no secret of his frustrations with Washington’s political leaders. Ever since he officially took office in January 2011, he has been trying to staunch the USPS’s mounting financial losses—$25 million a day—as first-class mail volume declines in the digital era. He has pleaded with Congress to eliminate some of the red tape that keeps the USPS from reducing costs on its own. So far, leaders of the House and Senate have failed to grant his wishes.

This is where Wednesday’s announcement becomes intriguing. Until now, the USPS has taken the position that it needs congressional approval to end Saturday delivery. “Congress must elect not to renew the legislation requiring the Postal Service to deliver six days a week,” it says on its website.

However, Bloomberg News’s Angela Greiling Keane reports that Donahoe now thinks the USPS can get around this legal obstacle by taking advantage of a technicality. She writes: “Cutting Saturday delivery is allowed under Congress’s continuing resolution funding government operations that expires March 27, Donahoe said. ‘It is our opinion with the way the law is set, with the continuing resolution, we can make this change,’” he said.

The strategy sounds legally tenuous, but it might be politically savvy. Donahoe is tired of begging. The USPS frequently points to public opinion polls showing that Americans are fine with five-day mail delivery if it enables the agency to continue operating in their communities. The service would continue to deliver packages and mail to post office boxes on Saturdays.

Still, the entire gambit is risky for Donahoe. There could be a backlash from postal workers’ unions who oppose his plan, as well as from their congressional supporters. On the other hand, the cutback could force Congress to get serious about postal reform.

This is a tactical shift for Donahoe—one that may be long overdue. He has tried being polite. Considering how much money the USPS is losing, it’s probably time for him to try something else.

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