The beginning of the end

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
The words of Herodotus in 500 B.C. were used to describe the Persians who developed a system of mounted couriers known for their reliability and devotion.
In modern times, they have come to represent the work ethic of the U.S. Postal Service. While not an official motto, the quote was inscribed on the outside of the New York City general post office during construction in 1897.
Some 115 years later, it appears a variety of factors are prepared to do what Mother Nature could not — bring the Postal Service to an end.
The Postal Service was not able to make a $5.5 billion payment to the U.S. Treasury today for the health benefits of future postal retirees. It appears a second payment of $5.6 billion due in September also will not be forthcoming. As it loses an estimated $25 million a day, the Postal Service is symbolically telling the Treasury “the check is in the mail.”
According to The Associated Press, the Postal Service is “an independent agency of government that does not receive taxpayer money for operations but is subject to Congressional control.” We know how efficient Congress can be if ever “in control.”
A five-year profitability plan would have cut Saturday delivery, reduced the number of low-volume facilities and ended the $5 billion health-benefit obligation.
In April, the Senate approved an $11 billion funding measure that would have delayed the cuts. It appears unlikely that the bill will reach the House floor before the August recess.
Technology has begun to overwhelm the Postal Service: email, Facebook and Twitter make it cheap and easy to stay in touch with loved ones; online bill pay and direct deposit are now commonplace in most households; FedEx and UPS have taken a bite out of the package-delivery business.
Despite all of that, there is still a need for the Postal Service. Whether it’s greeting cards on a holiday or income tax returns in April, few businesses can match what they currently offer — taking a personal letter from one end of the country to the other for a mere 45 cents.
Our hope is that this is not the beginning of the end. Residents in many rural areas have few, if any, alternatives. It appears administrators are offering solutions that have gone nowhere in Congress.
Hopefully, that will change before it is gone for good.