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Weigh in on Postal Service changes

By Staff | Jun 17, 2011

The U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging red ink. Data released May 10 show it ended the second quarter of the current federal fiscal year with a net loss of $2.2 billion. That sobering number was much worse than the already bad $1.6 billion loss during the same time frame the year before.

Joseph Corbett, chief financial officer and executive vice president of the Postal Service, had a somber appraisal of the disturbing financial news.

“Sluggish economic growth and diversion of First-Class Mail to electronic alternatives continue to cause record losses, despite a reduction of over 130,000 full-time equivalents … in the last three years,” he said, according to the May 10 media release.

The simple truth is that the marketplace in which the Postal Service operates has transformed rapidly in recent decades. The network of post offices designed to meet quite different consumer requirements in the 19th and 20th centuries is out of sync with what makes economic sense today.

That’s why the Postal Service has been engaged for several years in a rethinking of its infrastructure with an eye to closing or modifying facilities and services that cannot be justified on the basis of a sensible cost-benefit analysis. The end result of this process will almost certainly be the closing of many post offices in lightly populated rural communities and modifications in postal operations in larger communities.

In Fort Dodge, for example, one consequence of this restructuring could be the shift of mail-sorting functions now carried out at the Maple Drive mail-processing facility to Des Moines. Several small north central Iowa communities are faced with the likely disappearance of post offices that have existed in these towns since long before anyone who presently lives there was born.

These changes are hard to accept. However, unless the federal government elects to subsidize uneconomic Postal Service operations, many of the targeted closings and other operational alterations seem likely to occur. Given the tenor of the debate in the nation’s capital regarding the federal budget, the likelihood that funds will be allocated for that purpose is zero – or close to it.

Restructuring the Postal Service to make it more efficient is necessary. Even so, well-intentioned analysts can make mistakes. The Postal Service – to its credit – has conducted forums to allow residents of affected communities to provide input. The turnout at the meetings held thus far has been excellent. This communication process can help ensure that all options are discussed and evaluated before decisions are implemented. Farm News applauds this dialogue and urges residents who have yet to make their voices heard to speak up. In its cost-benefit calculations, the Postal Service may have overlooked important information or issues that warrant consideration.

If so, now is the time to bring them to the fore.

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