Despite his high-sounding title of postmaster general, Donahoe’s job also isn’t a glory position. The U.S. Postal Service is neck deep in debt, it has defaulted on Treasury payments, and its business is in a free fall.
All this red ink has led Donahoe to sing the blues for a long time. With a regularity that approaches a rote performance, he has begged Congress to give USPS more flexibility in an attempt to stem losses that reached $15.9 billion last fiscal year. There has been a 37 percent drop in first-class mail since 2007, largely because people pay bills online.
“The biggest issue we face is whether we can adapt to these changes in the marketplace,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “Unfortunately, our business model and the laws that govern us do not provide a lot of flexibility to adapt.”
But like a quarterback eyeing a hole in the defensive line, Donahoe and eagle-eyed USPS attorneys have found an opening in the law binding the service to six-day mail delivery. When a temporary funding measure expires March 27, there will be no congressionally imposed six-day requirement — a provision that has been in place since 1983. Donahoe hopes to break through that breach and implement five-day mail delivery starting in August. Saturday delivery of packages and mail to post office boxes would continue, as would Saturday post office hours. Most staffing cuts would come through reduced overtime and attrition, he said.
“Reading the law . . . we think that we are on firm ground,” Donahoe said during an interview. Not everyone on Capitol Hill agrees. “Even if we aren’t,” he added, “I would say to Congress, ‘Hey, let’s take the opportunity in the next couple of weeks to amend the law and just get this behind us and get on our way.’ ”
But Donahoe knows that Congress isn’t likely to move quickly enough to stop his move in the seven weeks before the temporary budget measure expires. Congress could stop him anytime after that, too, but Donahoe apparently is betting that it won’t.
It’s a bold move. Risky, too.
Some in Congress, including members with key committee assignments, such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), support Donahoe’s plan. Others, also well placed, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), don’t like the move.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “The issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the Postal Service.”
When Donahoe started as a postal clerk in his home town 38 years ago, it’s unlikely that he could have imagined letter carriers, who once delivered mail twice a day, not going door-to-door on Saturdays.