PORTLAND – For 235 years, the U.S. Postal Service has helped America grow and prosper by delivering the mail.

It has overcome trials of distance, weather, economic upheaval, world wars and more.

However, the 21st century poses multiple, unprecedented challenges for our business. Misconceptions about our organization are all too common. Dispelling these myths will show that we can continue to deliver affordable, universal service to the nation.

n “The Postal Service wastes taxpayer dollars.” Reorganized in 1971 as an independent agency of the executive branch, the Postal Service operates as a commercial entity. We’re required by law to cover our costs, and rely on the sale of postage, mail products and services for revenue.

Other than a small annual appropriation from Congress — as reimbursement to USPS for free mail for the blind and absentee-ballot mailing for overseas military personnel — we have not received taxpayer funds to support postal operations since 1982.

n “The Postal Service is inefficient.” Consider this: Ten years ago, it took 70 employees one hour to sort 35,000 letters.

Today, in that same hour, two employees process the same volume of mail.

In addition, the number of addresses in the nation has grown by nearly 18 million in the past decade, but the number of employees who handle the increased delivery load has decreased by more than 200,000.

Contrary to these opposing trends, since 2002 the Postal Service has cut its costs by $43 billion, including by $6 billion in 2009. We do more with less.

Despite these efforts, however, the Postal Service was added to the Government Accountability Office’s “high-risk list” last summer to help put it on a more sustainable financial path. We agree that the GAO’s assessment accurately reflects the Postal Service’s fiscal condition, and that many of our actions to reduce costs should continue. ‘

n “Mail is not reliable.” The Postal Service has achieved record reliability levels, as confirmed in independent surveys conducted by IBM. In the last quarter of 2009, on-time overnight delivery of single-piece first-class mail was at 96 percent for the fifth straight quarter, an agency best.

We’re not only punctual, we’re trusted and secure. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as little as 2 percent of identity crimes occur through the mail. Theft of a wallet or purse is responsible for 5 percent — meaning your documents are safer in the mail then they are in your pocket.

n “The USPS is not environmentally friendly.” The Postal Service is greener than you think. Our fleet of 44,000 alternative-fuel-capable vehicles is one of the largest in the world and employs cutting-edge technologies.

More than a half-billion packages and envelopes that we provide free annually are recyclable and made of environmentally friendly materials.

Last year we recycled more than 200,000 tons of paper, plastics and other waste — the equivalent of saving 1.67 million barrels of oil.

The EPA reports that standard mail represents less than 2.1 percent of the material in our nation’s landfills. (comparison, disposable diapers represent 2.2 percent, glass beer and soft-drink bottles 3 percent, and yard trimmings 6.9 percent.) We also operate sustainable building designs across the country.

n “The USPS can’t compete with the private sector.” We can and do compete. Our closest competitors, UPS and FedEx, don’t threaten our business; as two of our biggest customers, they help build it.

They pay us to deliver more than 400 million of their ground packages every year in residential areas and on Saturdays.

While stamp prices have increased about 33 percent over the past 10 years, this increase is in line with inflation. comparison, private carriers raised their prices by as much as 60 percent between 1999 and 2009. The Postal Service is, and has always been, a bargain.

It’s no secret that the Postal Service has been losing money since 2007. What is not well known is that in 2006, Congress required that the USPS prefund 80 percent of future postal retiree health benefits.

This will cost more than $5 billion a year through 2016. No other federal agency or private company carries such a heavy burden. In 2008, pre-funding contributed to a loss of $2.8 billion. Without it, we would have been $2.8 billion in the black.

We operate in a difficult legislative and economic environment, but we are prepared to move ahead. In March, Postmaster General Jack Potter released our plan for future financial viability and greater business flexibility — a plan that will keep the Postal Service thriving for years to come.


– Special to the Press Herald