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Postal panic

Posted: February 3, 2011 6:27 p.m.
Updated: February 4, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Social Security has been a political football for more years than we care to remember, but there’s another institution that will just as quickly engender “don’t mess with mine” comments from voters: the post office. More times than we can remember we’ve watched the U.S. Postal Service (USPO) announce that a small, rural post office would be closed, only to have it kept open under intense political pressure.

Everybody loves to hate the post office. And yes, we’ll agree that its unions are too strong and that just like many other government agencies (though it’s officially not a government agency), its pension rates aren’t altogether reasonable. But we’ve always felt the USPO has done a pretty darn good job of delivering the mail; sending something from Kershaw County to Alaska or Hawaii or California for 44 cents isn’t a bad deal. But now, with more and more business going toward the Internet -- it’s awfully easy to pay bills online -- the post office is bleeding red ink. When a carrier goes out to deliver, it doesn’t cost the USPO a heck of a lot more for him to take 500 pieces of mail rather than 400, but the revenue shortfall from those 100 missing pieces is serious, indeed.

The USPO has announced that in March, it will begin the process of closing about 2,500 post offices, and it is reviewing another 16,000 -- about half of all post offices. It’s also lobbying Congress to allow it to close facilities based on profitability, something that’s not now allowed. Many of these post offices are in small, rural communities, and it’s understandable that residents want to keep them open. If post offices are closed in those places, residents will still have their mail delivered to their homes, but there won’t be a brick-and-mortar facility.

Unfortunately, as times are changing, so must the U.S. Postal Service. If it is going to survive, it’s going to have to become more nimble, smaller, more unwieldy. That will involve closing small post offices, though there will be a great outcry. Changing times demand changing strategies, especially for the post office.



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