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Also, prior to the 1971 transformation, the postmaster general had status as a cabinet official appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. Now, though, the top postal executive is hired (and fired) by the board. This helps explain why incumbent Patrick Donahoe — who started as a postal clerk and rose through the ranks to the PGship — has been a willing member of the sledgehammer crew that's out to "save the service" by demolishing it.
The anti-government ideologues have had to concede that profit's not the point, but still they groan that the USPS is losing billions of dollars a year. Why should hard-pressed taxpayers be expected to keep shoveling money from the public treasury into this loser of a government agency?
They're not. Important factoid Number One: Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations — including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices (more service outlets than Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald's combined) — are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.
But wait, what about those annual losses? Good grief, squawk the Chicken Littles, USPS was $13 billion in the hole from 2007 to 2011 — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actual private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.)
Important Factoid Number Two: The Postal Service is not broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored "losses," the Service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).
What's going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that's what. In 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, the post office was whacked with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to pre-pay the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who'll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who're not yet born!
No other agency or corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement. This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That's the real source of the "financial crisis" squeezing America's post offices.
But it's not the only hocus pocus that has falsely fabricated the public perception that our mail agency is "broke." Due to a forty-year-old accounting error, the federal Office of Personnel Management has overcharged the post office by as much as $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. This means that, far from being a drain on the public treasury, USPS has had billions of its sales dollars erroneously diverted into the treasury. Restore the agency's access to its own postage money, and the impending "collapse" goes away.
That's all well and good, claim postal agency opponents, but there's no disputing the fact that government-delivered mail is a quaint idea whose time has gone. They point out that USPS's first-class business has fallen by about 7.5 percent in each of the past couple of years, and even Postmaster Donahoe has said flatly, "That's not going to change." This funereal school of despair breaks into two groups: "Kill it" and "Shrink it."
The killers are the outright privatizers who've pushed for decades to get the post office out of ... well, out of our mailboxes. In the 1960s, AT&T chairman Fred Kappel headed a presidential commission on postal reform, and he told a Congressional panel, "If I could, I'd make the Post Office a private enterprise." He couldn't, but he did set down the marker that remains the Holy Grail of the corporate elite. Unsurprisingly, FedEx CEO Fredrick Smith (a former board member of the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute) has been the leading corporate champion for, as he put it in 1999, "closing down the USPS."
The greater danger at the moment, however, are the shrinkers. They propose to fix the proud public service by cutting it down to size (they mean "fix" in the same way veterinarians use the term). Postmaster Donahoe is presently the shrinker-in-chief, having put forth a plan that will close 3,700 of our post offices, including the historic branch in downtown Berkeley; shut down about half of the 487 mail processing centers across the country; cut more than 100,000 postal jobs (or, as Donahoe prefers to phrase it, "reduce head count"); and, as announced last month, restrict mail delivery to five days a week by eliminating all Saturday postal services. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is among the people of common sense who recognize that the post office "cannot expect to gain more business, which it desperately needs, if it is reducing service." Likewise, Fredric Rolando, head of the National Association of Letter Carriers, sees that compromising high-quality service is a boneheaded business move, telling The New York Times that "degrading standards not only hurts the public and the businesses we serve; it's also counterproductive for the Postal Service because it will drive more people away from using the mail." Such drastic cutbacks, consolidations, and eliminations create a suicidal spiral that will slowly but surely kill USPS.