The Post Office Should Take Cues from Ben Gibbard

postal serviceThe Postal Service, an indie rock band fronted by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, is set to reunite 10 years after releasing its only studio album. The US Postal Service, meanwhile, is shutting down Saturday delivery in an effort to cut $2 billion out of its bloated budget. The USPS lost nearly $16 billion last year, as mail volume declines and pension obligations skyrocket.

Listen: Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

Last year, the USPS defaulted twice on its pension obligations. As the second largest employer in the US (behind Walmart), with generous benefits and an aging workforce, the postal service has tremendous outstanding obligations. Its obligations wouldn’t be so large without the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the USPS to contribute $5.4-5.8 billion into the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund every year from 2007-2016. This money is not only covering the USPS’ annual benefits, this is a prepayment of 75 years of estimated costs with money raised in only 10 years. In addition, the Act stipulates that the USPS cannot raise this revenue by increasing postage rates. This effectively ties the USPS’ hands behind its back by requiring the it to aggressively raise large sums of money while simultaneously blocking the its main means of doing

Cutting back on Saturday delivery would certainly raise cash flow. It’s popular too – 7 out of 10 Americans favor eliminating Saturday delivery, as does the Obama administration. But this does not address the larger problem that the USPS faces: the fact that it has to prefund 75 years of estimated costs with money raised in only 10 years. I repeat this point because it’s so ridiculous. Do you think FedEx or UPS have to set aside that kind of money?

If we want the USPS to be run “more like a business,” as its critics claim, then let’s start with ending this ridiculous mandate. Or just say, “fuck it” and bail the USPS out with taxpayer funding (the USPS currently receives $0 in taxpayer funds). But don’t leave it in this lurch where it is bound by excessive government regulations and expected to behave like a normal business.

The Postal Service’s reunion was set back for 10 years due to the band members’ other musical obligations. When interviewed about the future of the Postal Service, Ben Gibbard said in 2007 that The Postal Service is “crawling right now, and whether that crawl turns into a walk remains to be seen.” The USPS seems to be on the same uncertain path.

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