Ending Saturday mail could save billions, GAO says

March 30, 2011

The U.S. Postal Service could save billions of dollars by ending Saturday mail deliveries, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Postal officials — eager to stave off an estimated $7 billion in losses this year — think they can save about $3 billion annually by stopping weekend mail deliveries while still keeping post offices open on Saturdays.

A new GAO report agrees USPS could save $3.3 billion by cutting the work hours of letter carriers and reducing operational costs to better match declining mail volume. Auditors said total savings would depend on how quickly the Postal Service implements any changes and whether they’d have any impact on overall service.

The report also warns that any change would negatively impact loyal mail customers, including catalog businesses, local newspapers, the elderly and rural Americans. Eliminating Saturday deliveries could also “diminish USPS’s image, in part by reducing public contact with carriers,” the report said.

In a statement, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe agreed with GAO that careful planning and implementation would be necessary to end six-day deliveries, adding, “We are prepared to make that happen.”

Any final decision on curtailing mail deliveries rests with Congress, which maintains a constitutional mandate to provide universal mail delivery. Lawmakers have yet to act on several proposals that would give Donahoe the flexibility to cancel Saturday deliveries, partly because they’re worried how any change would impact small businesses and the elderly — two loyal, vocal voting blocs.

Republicans controlling the House have yet to introduce any postal reform legislation, but are holding a series of hearings to review the mail agency’s finances. Several congressional aides privately acknowledge lawmakers must act this year as the Postal Service’s $15 billion borrowing limit with the U.S. Treasury is set to expire. Failing to do so would likely require passage of a bill exempting USPS from billions in annual payments required to prefund future postal worker retiree benefits — legislation that some critics contend amounts to a taxpayer bailout.

GAO’s findings come as postal regulators are also raising concerns about ending Saturday deliveries. The Postal Regulatory Commission concluded last week that USPS has overestimated by about $1.4 billion the potential savings from ending Saturday deliveries and also faulted USPS for not studying any potential impact on customers and said any savings wouldn’t be realized until three years after the changes.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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