Five myths about the U.S. Postal Service

By John E. Potter
Sunday, February 28, 2010

For 235 years, the U.S. Postal Service has delivered your mail in snow, rain and dark of night. However, tough market conditions are creating new challenges for our business. Misconceptions about the future of our enterprise abound; dispelling these myths will show that we can continue to deliver the mail.

1. The Postal Service wastes taxpayer dollars.

The Postal Service, reorganized in 1971 as an independent agency of the executive branch, operates as a commercial entity. We rely on the sale of postage, mail products and services for revenue.

A small annual appropriation from Congress reimburses the USPS for free mail for the blind and absentee-ballot mailing for overseas military personnel. Otherwise, we have not received taxpayer funds to support postal operations since 1982; in fact, though we're often described as "quasi-governmental," we're required by law to cover our costs.

2. The Postal Service is inefficient.

Ten years ago, it took 70 employees one hour to sort 35,000 letters. Today, in that same hour, two employees process that same volume of mail. Though the number of addresses in the nation has grown by nearly 18 million in the past decade, the number of employees who handle the increased delivery load has decreased by more than 200,000.

According to the U.N.-affiliated Universal Postal Union, we deliver nearly half of the world's mail. The World Economic Forum, host of the annual summit of global power players in Davos, Switzerland, consistently ranks the U.S. Postal Service among the top 4 percent of more than 120 nations' and territories' postal services.

But keeping operating costs down is the greatest testament to efficiency. Since 2002, the Postal Service has cut its costs by $43 billion, including by $6 billion in 2009. These savings have come through workforce and overtime reduction, the renegotiation of more than 500 supplier contracts, the consolidation of facilities, the closing of administrative offices, and cuts in travel expenses and supply budgets.

Despite such efforts, the Postal Service was added to the Government Accountability Office's "high-risk list" last July to help put it on a more sustainable financial path. The GAO assessment, with which we agree, accurately reflects the Postal Service's fiscal condition, but the announcement also noted that many of the actions we've taken to reduce costs should continue.

We've also asked Congress to eliminate the statutory requirement that we deliver mail six days a week. A switch to five-day delivery would help us save more than $3 billion a year while still devoting appropriate resources to delivering the mail.

3. Mail is not reliable.

Independent quarterly surveys conducted by IBM confirm that the Postal Service has achieved record reliability levels. In the last quarter of 2009, on-time overnight delivery of single-piece first-class mail was at 96 percent for the fifth straight quarter, an agency best.

We're not only punctual, we're trusted and secure. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as little as 2 percent of identity crimes occur through the mail. Theft of a wallet or purse is responsible for 5 percent -- meaning your documents are safer in the mail then they are in your pocket.

4. The USPS is not environmentally friendly.

There's no way around it: Delivering mail uses fossil fuels, and mail often produces paper waste. Still, the Postal Service is greener than you think. As long as consumers and businesses use physical mail, we're committed to finding ways to process it responsibly.

Our fleet of 44,000 alternative-fuel-capable vehicles is one of the largest in the world and includes electric, three-wheeled electric, hybrid electric, ethanol, fuel-cell, biodiesel and propane technology. More than a half-billion packages and envelopes that we provide free annually are recyclable and made of environmentally friendly materials. The quality of the raw materials in our packaging, including tape and labels, makes the USPS the only shipping company to meet the stringent eco-design and manufacturing standards set by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry in its Cradle to Cradle program.

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