Postal officials expected to back five-day mail week

Postal officials have talked about eliminating Saturday mail service but must get approval from Congress.
Postal officials have talked about eliminating Saturday mail service but must get approval from Congress. (Nikki Kahn/the Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2010

The end of Saturday mail delivery gets closer to reality in the next 10 days, as Postmaster General John E. Potter plans to formally present his proposals to his board of directors and postal regulators.

Letter carriers would stop delivering mail to American homes and businesses and would not pick up mail from blue collection boxes on Saturdays, according to Potter. But post offices would stay open on Saturdays, and mail would be delivered to post office boxes. Express mail services also would continue seven days a week. The delivery cuts would save the Postal Service $3.1 billion in the first year and as much as $5.1 billion by 2020, postal officials said.

Potter is scheduled to present the plans to the Postal Board of Governors on Wednesday and the Postal Regulatory Commission on March 30. Both panels are expected to approve the plans; Potter would then pivot to the more challenging task of convincing Congress.

Lawmakers must change a law mandating six-day mail delivery before the Postal Service can make cuts. Postal officials also want more flexibility to close post offices in order to save costs, if necessary. The Postal Service anticipates losing about $7 billion in the fiscal year that ends in September, after losing $3.8 billion in 2009.

Defending against accusations that the mail agency is cutting back instead of finding ways to grow its business, Potter argued last week that "often when a business is losing money, they resort to selling a portion of their assets, closing locations, or other options, such as laying off employees."

Appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee on Thursday, Potter cited Citibank, L.L. Bean, Sears, Starbucks and General Motors as recent examples of companies that either closed branches or dropped dealerships to save money.

"If the Postal Service were provided with the flexibilities used by businesses in the marketplace to streamline their operations and reduce costs, we would become a more efficient and effective organization," Potter said. The change "would also allow us to more quickly adapt to meet the evolving needs, demands, and activities of our customers, now and in the future."

The legislative path forward remains unclear amid mixed public support. A majority of American adults support the delivery cuts but don't like the idea of closing post offices, according to a USA Today-Gallup survey released last week. Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue in earnest after the Easter recess and will likely focus first on ending mandated payments to prefund retiree health benefits, congressional aides said. Those payments cost upwards of $4 billion a year, adding to the agency's recent shortfalls.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company