The Public Is More Willing Than Congress to Fix the U.S. Postal Service

When politicians talk about fixing the financially imperiled U.S. Postal Service, they often claim their constituents would be devastated by the slightest changes in service. But what does the public think about postal reform? USPS Inspector General David Williams recently conducted a series of focus groups and found that the participants were surprisingly amenable to proposals that many of their elected officials have described as harebrained and dangerously radical.

Here are three examples.

Ending home delivery. Canada Post announced last year that it would do away with home delivery in urban areas and deposit mail in neighborhood cluster boxes instead. U.S. House Republicans have made such a proposal, but it looks like a nonstarter in Washington because of opposition from postal worker unions. The inspector general found that focus group participants “were generally willing to move to centralized cluster boxes if boxes were relatively convenient, saved the postal service money, and ensured security.” Some said they were also willing to pay extra for home delivery, an idea that has been floated in Australia.

Eliminating six-day-a-week delivery. The USPS wants to cut letter delivery on Saturday and save $2 billion a year. Inspector General Williams found that those surveyed supported a reduction in the number of delivery days. There was a lack of consensus on what day should go. But clearly Americans are less wedded to six-day-a-week delivery than their political representatives: Congress stopped the USPS from altering its schedule last year.

Moving postal operations to local stores. The USPS wants to open postal offices in Staples stores as a means of expanding service without incurring huge costs. It’s tough to see Congress endorsing this idea. The American Postal Workers Union is strongly against it. The public, however, doesn’t think the concept is so terrible. Focus group members reacted “positively” to this notion, saying it would be more convenient for them. Some were concerned about what might happen if store employees rather than USPS employees handled their mail. But clearly this is something Congress needs to consider more closely.

The inspector general found that survey recipients were even more likely to support reforms once they understood that the USPS is supported entirely by postage revenue rather than taxpayer dollars. Surprisingly, almost 70 percent of the focus group members had thought otherwise.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.