Taxpayers Might Have to Fund the U.S. Postal Service

Postmaster general says mail service could become a taxpayer burden if big changes aren’t made.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Postmaster General John Potter, in the midst of a huge effort to keep his agency private, has a new warning for the feds and the public: Unless Congress breaks ties with the U.S. Postal Service or at least lets it implement major cost-savings plans, taxpayers will be stuck funding the mail.

"We have to make a decision now because we are at a fork in the road," says Potter, who has headed the agency since 2001.

At issue: Business is bad, robbed by the Internet, the recession, and the ways people communicate now. Facing a potential $238 billion shortfall by 2020, the Postal Service needs Congress to let it close post offices, end Saturday delivery, and sell more than stamps. Otherwise, if mail service is to continue to 150 million different addresses, Washington will have to take back control of the private mail service and pay for it.

The way Potter explains it, while the Postal Service receives no tax dollars, Congress still wields power over its policies in a way that is exacerbating its financial woes. The postmaster general has already made many moves to cut costs, but the 10-year shortfall will still be huge. Among the additional things he wants to do is trim the contribution the Postal Service makes in advance to the fully funded pension system, end Saturday deliveries, choose how high rates should be and when to raise them, close some post offices, and expand into different product areas. The Postal Service has already pushed stamp sales into supermarkets and other outlets that have seen growth.

"We need to raise awareness to these issues," he says.

Earlier this month, Potter presented his fix-it plan, which was immediately scrutinized by labor bosses and lawmakers. He said that if implemented, the plan would be a "permanent fix" for the system to keep it private. And he cited polls showing that a vast majority of Americans prefer losing a little service to seeing rates jump or having the federal government resume control.

The Postal Service has cut 25 percent of its workforce since 1999, when it employed 803,000. Making even deeper personnel cuts would sharply reduce the service the agency delivers to 150 million addresses every day. "All I'm asking is for people to be open-minded," Potter says of lawmakers he hopes to win over to his plan. "We cannot stay where we are. We have to change."

  • See a gallery of political cartoons.
  • Read a Q&A with the postmaster general.