April 20, 2012

Unfortunately, except for its secondary headline “The time for real postal reform is now,” The Post’s April 15 editorial “Dead letters” was completely wrong. We do need real postal reform, but we can do it without eliminating up to 200,000 jobs.

While everyone agrees that first-class mail is down because of the digital revolution, The Post ignored the most important reason for the U.S. Postal Service’s financial difficulties. At the behest of the Bush administration, the service is required to set aside $5.5 billion every year for future retirees’ health benefits. This payment accounts for more than 80 percent of the service’s deficit and is a requirement that no other entity in government or the private sector comes close to having to fulfill. With $44 billion already in the fund, the postal service’s inspector general says, the service need not put in another dime to pay all required benefits.

Congress must lift restrictions to allow the postal service to become more entrepreneurial. Right now, for example, a clerk cannot notarize a letter, package a gift, cash most checks, sell a fishing license or accept wine or beer for delivery. Further, the Postal Service must be allowed to raise significant revenue by aggressively entering the digital world, as postal operations in many other countries are doing.

The Postal Service does need a new business model. But that approach should not include slowing down mail delivery and shutting down 3,600 rural post offices and half of the mail-processing plants. The service plays a vitally important role in our economy. It must be saved, not dismembered.

Bernie Sanders, Washington

The writer, an independent, represents Vermont in the U.S. Senate.

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The editorial on the U.S. Postal Service argued that real postal reform is overdue but did not outline a real solution. What is needed is not tinkering but true privatization of operations and assumption by the federal government of legacy personnel obligations.

Germany offers a model. The German post office was privatized in 1995, acquired the express delivery firm DHL, sold off most post office buildings and today operates mostly from counters in retail stores.

Unlike the U.S. Postal Service, the German postal company is not burdened by legacy pension and other obligations incurred before privatization, which are the responsibility of a German government entity.

A. Ross Johnson, Vienna