It is no secret that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is facing serious budgetary challenges. In a new paper, “Delaying the inevitable: Political stalemate and the U.S. Postal Service,” Elaine Kamarck highlights many of those challenges, tackles some of the major questions facing this two century-old institution, and proposes a solution to help rehabilitate this struggling government entity.
Unlike the simplistic finger-pointing of some commentary on USPS, Kamarck notes that the challenges facing the Post Office are multiple and blame should be spread around. The Post Office is suffering from budgetary shortfalls due to usage changes (a rapid decrease in first class mail), technological substitution, unfunded employee benefit mandates, and a legal and regulatory governing framework that cripples USPS’ agility and innovation. The result is a struggling institution unable to fix its own problems, sometimes despite its best efforts.
Because USPS’ problems are existential in nature, Kamarck offers a series of questions that cut to the core of the Service’s mission, function, structure, and purpose. They include whether USPS’ universal delivery mandate is still in the interest of the government and its citizens? How can USPS compete in a new, technological age? How can USPS shed its liabilities, capitalize on its advantages, and generate efficiencies that bring it back into the black?
These are all serious questions that scholars, inspectors general, and the Postal Service have grappled with for decades. Yet, Kamarck notes, that the biggest roadblocks to solving to the underlying problems that plague USPS are the Postal Regulatory Commission and Congress who create bureaucratic, political and legal hurdles that make overhaul essentially impossible.
One solution Kamarck offers is to break USPS up into two divisions that can each pursue different goals with different levels of autonomy and flexibility. One, public institution would respond to the universal mandate to deliver mail nationwide, daily. The second institution would be privatized and work to compete with other private sector institutions to enter new markets, generate new products and services, and innovate out of the shadow of handcuffing government regulation.
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