Siri in action
Siri, what is mail? (Associated Press)

The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday that it is going to continue with Saturday mail delivery — not just Saturday parcel delivery, as planned. And I’m sure there must be a good reason.

Surely, the decision not to cut the day of delivery that would save the Postal Service an estimated $2 billion was made in response to clamor from a public hungry for glossy catalogs and postcards addressed TO CURRENT RESIDENT. Sure, it was costly, but we were willing to pay whatever it took to keep ferrying those glossies from mailbox to wastebasket.

Nope. 71 percent of Americans polled supported the cut. (Heck, Netflix has said they’d be fine with an end to Saturday delivery, although they are admittedly trying to force us into the arms of digital and might not be the best to ask.)

Well, maybe the USPS discovered that the cut would not save as much money as they thought and decided there was a better business approach to take.

Nope. The statement from the postal Board of Governors announcing that Saturday will stay notes that “The Board continues to support the transition to a new national delivery schedule. Such a transition will generate approximately $2 billion in annual cost savings and is a necessary part of a larger five-year business plan to restore the Postal Service to long-term financial stability.”

So if all this is true, why the sudden change?

Well, the Board of Governors decided that cutting a day of delivery, as scheduled, would violate the will of Congress. “The Board believes that Congress has left it with no choice but to delay this implementation at this time. The Board also wants to ensure that customers of the Postal Service are not unduly burdened by ongoing uncertainties and are able to adjust their business plans accordingly,” the statement continued.

There’s a rider attached to the most recent continuing budget resolution, as there usually is, that has been the bugaboo of any changes to delivery frequency, mandating that service be maintained at 1983 levels. It’s a strange vestigial requirement from when the USPS was a needed lifeline that now functions as a kind of appendix to the body of legislation, serving no visible purpose but occasionally flaring up and costing billions of dollars. The Atlantic Wire’s piece on the subject was headlined “Congress Insists That You Get Mail on Saturdays, Like It Or Not.”

As far as the Postal Service is concerned, Congress is about as fond of change as “Downton Abbey” ‘s Earl of Grantham, which is to say, not at all, because they still think it’s 1903. Downton was broke for a reason. And when actual members of Congress get up on the floor and announce that the way to fix the Postal Service’s mounting fiscal woes is to urge kids to send thank-you notes, you know that your business is in good hands.

I’m sympathetic to the plight of the USPS. It’s in a difficult position; neither flesh nor fowl, it straggles along with too much oversight from Congress to function like a business but too much potential liability to taxpayers in the event it fails to be allowed to wander off. It executes, with grace, skill and reliability, a highly complex service — that fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for. “To restore the Postal Service to long-term financial stability, the Postal Service requires the flexibility to reduce costs and generate new revenues to close an ever widening budgetary gap,” the USPS statement pleads. “It is not possible for the Postal Service to meet significant cost reduction goals without changing its delivery schedule — any rational analysis of our current financial condition and business options leads to this conclusion.”

Given what they know of what they’re up against, could they not have sallied forth with the plan?

As The Post reports, some in Congress, including Rep. Darrell Issa, thought the continuation of Saturday packages would be sufficient to meet this obligation. “This reversal significantly undercuts the credibility of Postal officials who have told Congress that they were prepared to defy political pressure and make difficult but necessary cuts,” Issa fumed in a statement.

This won’t get any easier. The money quote from the Board of Governors statement: “Delaying responsible changes to the Postal Service business model only increases the potential that the Postal Service may become a burden to the American taxpayer, which is avoidable.” You said it. Right now, the Postal Service is supported by ratepayers, not taxpayers. Last year it lost almost $16 billion dollars, between the continued drop in mail volumes and the need to pre-fund its employee retirement benefits before it becomes (as seems increasingly inevitable, given the pace of responsible change) completely insolvent.

The poor Postal Service has a lot to struggle against. Time and technology are taking their toll. First-class mail volumes are not returning. The labor costs of delivering through sleet and hail and dark of night are considerable. And now that people are buying homes again, the range of places to which they must deliver is expanding.

The news that the USPS is not, in fact, canceling its Saturday mail delivery makes me think of an elderly man with thick spectacles, a hip plate and suspenders announcing that he has changed his mind: He is going to the club to pick up ladies, after all. Either way, we know how this ends.

Whether you put yourself out there or not is immaterial. Who’s lining up? And that’s my money you’ll be wasting.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.