Through Rain, Sleet, Snow -- But Perhaps Not Lean Times

The U.S. Postal Service projects that it will deliver 9 billion fewer pieces of mail in fiscal year 2008 than it did the year before.
The U.S. Postal Service projects that it will deliver 9 billion fewer pieces of mail in fiscal year 2008 than it did the year before. (By Mollie J. Hoppes -- Associated Press)
By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things are looking bleak for the U.S. Postal Service.

It projects that it will deliver 9 billion -- that's with a "b" -- fewer pieces of mail in fiscal year 2008 than it did the year before. That drop is about 10 times greater than the 902 million decline in deliveries between 2006 and 2007.

This drastic plunge can be traced to the surge in e-mail, the nation's general economic malaise and the Wall Street meltdown.

"A lot of advertising mail volume is from financial institutions and the housing industry," said Gerald McKiernan, a USPS spokesman. "That accounts for a lot of that loss."

Postal officials expect the service to lose $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2008. The loss was even steeper -- $5.14 billion -- in 2007, which was the first year USPS was required to make a payment into the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund.

The dire financial situation prompted William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, to warn that the Postal Service itself is in danger of dying.

In an open letter to Postmaster General John Potter, Burrus wrote that a "half-century of service qualifies me as a knowledgeable observer of our revered institution. Throughout these many years, I have never seen the level of uncertainty now confronting us. Without significant adjustment to its business strategies, the Postal Service will not survive as a government institution and a public service."

In an interview, he insisted that is not hyperbole.

Referring to Potter, Burrus said, "On his watch, unless something dramatic happens, he's going to see the demise of an historic institution . . . I'm serious. It's not scare tactics."

Of course, it's hard to imagine Congress allowing the Postal Service -- the one tangible sign of government service people see everyday -- to die.

It's a point William H. Young, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, is quick to make: "I think the Postal Service is a valued treasure to the American public, and I think Congress will do whatever they need to do to make sure that the Postal Service survives."

Potter was not available for comment.


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