A task force commissioned by President Trump to evaluate the Postal Service’s business model is recommending a slew of options to make it more profitable. But it did not go so far as to say the financially strapped Postal Service is losing money to Amazon, a company which contracts services from the Postal Service and that has consistently drawn Trump’s ire.
Even though the 70-page report does not specifically cite its contract with Amazon, it does recommend a reevaluation of the pricing for e-commerce packages and other non-essential mail shipped by companies such as Amazon.
Earlier this year, Trump pushed Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon and other firms to deliver packages. Trump also signed an executive order in April mandating a government review of the Postal Service. On Tuesday, that task force suggested steps the Postal Service can take to respond to the rise of e-commerce, but senior administration officials said the findings don’t apply to any particular Postal Service customer.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Specifically, the report recommends a sharpened definition of the Postal Service’s “universal service obligation." The public policy establishes the minimal level of service the government postal service must provide to citizens and businesses.
The rise of e-commerce has challenged long-held ideas about that standard — as businesses rely on the Postal Service to deliver not just letters but also products of all sorts. Pharmaceuticals, for example, are considered essential mail. But, say, a T-shirt or a vacuum cleaner would not be.
For essential items, subsidies can help cover added cost of delivery.
The Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission already have the power to change shipping prices for e-commerce goods. Other changes may have to go through Congress, officials said.
In a statement, Brennan said the Postal Service was reviewing the task force’s report.
“Reforms are necessary to enable the Postal Service to further reduce costs, grow revenue, compete more effectively, function with greater flexibility to adapt to a dynamic marketplace, and to prudently invest in our future,” Brennan said.
The Postal Service has been losing money for more than a decade. According to the report, it is slated to lose tens of billions of dollars more over the next decade. As of the end of fiscal year 2018, the Postal Service balance sheet reflects $89 billion in liabilities against less than $27 billion in assets — a net deficiency of more than $62 billion.
Those losses have been compounded by a decline in mail volume and caps on mail pricing. And while e-commerce has boosted package volumes, that revenue is not enough to offset the decline in mail revenue, the report said.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a statement that the report’s recommendations would slow down service and reduce delivery days, and that the Postal Service is already equipped to meet e-commerce shipping needs. The union represents 200,000 employees of the Postal Service.
“This poorly conceived report makes many of its recommendations based on myth and misinformation that instead of improving mail services, would deliver higher prices and less service for the public,” Dimondstein said.
The report also recommends modernizing the Postal Service’s methods for cost standards and allocation so that it can make better-informed management decisions, government policies and regulatory reporting. The Postal Service should also address its rising labor and operating costs, which are expected to grow as the country’s population expands. And the report suggested the Postal Service consider new ways of earning revenue, such as giving private companies licenses to use mailboxes.
When Trump pressured Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges for Amazon and other firms to ship packages, she told the White House that the Postal Service is bound by contracts and that arrangements would have to be reviewed by a regulatory commission. Brennan told Trump that the Postal Service benefits from its contract with Amazon and noted for him a wide range of other companies that it partners with for deliveries.
Amazon, the tech and retail giant founded by Jeffrey P. Bezos, has boomed to become the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. Since before taking office, Trump has publicly fumed against Amazon and Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. In 2015, Trump falsely accused Bezos of using The Post as a tax shelter that helped Amazon avoid paying taxes. Trump has also incorrectly said that Amazon is being subsidized by the Postal Service and suggested The Post is Amazon’s “chief lobbyist.”
In an April tweet, Trump said “I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”
As he does with other foes, Trump has repeated tweets and comments against Amazon. But his push for this review of the Post Office’s practices has been viewed as an official action taken to penalize the company.
Amazon transports packages to the post offices that are closest to their final destinations, and then the Postal Service carries them through their “last mile” of delivery. Amazon said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it spent $21.7 billion on shipping costs last year, including sorting, delivery center and transportation expenses. It’s not clear how much of that was paid directly to the Postal Service.
The details of Amazon’s contract with the Postal Service are kept under wraps. Amazon has said that making the contract public — as well as publicizing detailed information about Amazon’s own delivery systems — would give its competitors an unfair advantage.