Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

The Ho-Hum Case Scenario

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 29, 2009

It’s no secret that some Federal officials have an overblown sense of their importance and that of the agency they work at; still, sometimes they manage to surprise.

Take Postmaster General John E. Potter, for example. Holding a title that sounds like something from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta (He is the very model of a modern Postmaster General…), Mr. Potter is the gentleman currently responsible for upholding that credo we all learned as children about neither rain nor snow nor the attack of 93 foot long wasps with peptic ulcers preventing the brave boys and girls in blue from stuffing our boxes with legacy SPAM.

According to Mr. (Gen?) Potter, the economy is about to do to the mail service what even those ornery mutated insects could not– prevent the delivery of mail on Saturdays to every address in the United States. At least that is what Mr. Potter has described as the “worst case scenario” in testimony before a Senate subcommittee.

The horror.

You see, the economy has caused a downturn in the amount of mail being sent, which is causing the Postal Service to lose not only the usual birthday cards and checks but also roughly three billion dollars last year. Eliminate Saturday delivery and you save somewhere between two and  three billion dollars. This seems like a no-brainer to me– is Saturday delivery really terribly important, Mr. General?

It would seem that to Supreme Mail Commander Potter it is, in fact, critical to the very fabric of our nation. I myself see other things that could be counted as “worst case” scenarios for the Postal Service. How about massive layoffs? Pretty bad. Let’s try on the concept of eliminating door-to-door delivery entirely and dropping mail at central points, a la many of the suburban subdivisions built in the first years of this decade? Not a disaster, but surely more inconvenient than no mail on Saturday. How about the deep discounts for bulk mailers becoming financially untenable, which would set off a vortex effect of loss of demand for the mail service entirely? If that came to pass we wouldn’t just be talking about eliminating needless Saturday deliveries.

What Lord High Admiral of the Post Potter is failing to recognize is that his service is becoming anachronistic. There will of course be a need for the delivery of physical mail for the foreseeable future, but mail is no longer the integral form of communication that it was when the concepts and even the “modernizations” of the system were codified. Looking at the usual population of my own daily mail, advertisements outweigh actual content by about 1.5:1. While the ads are annoying, we must recognize that they keep employed a large number of Americans, from printers to marketers to salespeople and, yes, the good General’s field troops. Still, I do not need them six days a week. When I look at the stew of bills, official docs, greeting cards and the occasional check that make up the balance, I see efficiencies to be made that the market has already started to dictate. Many of us use electronic bill pay and electronic statements for all of our repetitive bills. The Evite has replaced the paper invitation for many people under the age of 50; the greeting card should be headed for the same fate. Electronic transmission of documents is an old story, goign back to the fax of the ’80s through email and now e-signature. Why the DMV, IRS, and other government agencies can’t move to those models and away from legacy paper mystifies me; send me an email when it’s time to renew my car registration and I’m a lot more likely to deal with it than if I receive a piece of paper that the kids will probably grab off of the counter top and draw lions battling clone troopers on.

So, in the end Mr. Postmaster General, I’m pretty sure that the old saw about a crisis for you not translating into a crisis for me applies to your “worst case scenario”. Give me two days without mail rather than just one and I’ll be fine. Give me one day without email and it’s a disaster.

Sound the retreat, Sir.


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