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“Thank A Postal Worker”: The Assault On This Constitutionally-Mandated Service Service Must End

Postal workers are giving it their all this holiday season, as cards and packages and returns must be collected and delivered amidst ice storms, snowstorms and wild temperature drops.

They deserve our thanks in 2013.

And our support in 2014.

Postal workers are still under assault from political slackers in Washington—like House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, and the wrecking crew he has assembled to diminish the United States Postal Service to such an extent that it can be bartered off to the highest bidder.

That assault has made this holiday season even tougher. Under pressure from USPS executives and privatization-prone members of Congress, the service has implemented closures and forced reductions in hours. That’s led to delays in some regions. “Much of the delayed mail is in areas where plants and post offices have been consolidated or closed or where hours at post offices have been reduced,” explains Debby Szeredy, the executive vice president of the American Postal Workers Union.

True, the Postal Service had a significantly better Holiday season than FedEx and UPS, both of which were on the naughty list amid reports on how “packages that were supposed to be delivered in time for Christmas didn’t make it to their destinations.”

But the Postal Service can’t maintain universal, high quality service if closures, consolidations and cuts continue.

The assault on this Constitutionally-mandated service service must end in 2014.

It is true that the Postal Service faces challenges. But is wrong—and, frankly, absurd—to suggest that the only fix is downsizing. That’s precisely the wrong route. Schemes to cut services and sell off parts of the service begin with the false premise that its current financial challenges are evidence of fundamental flaws.

In fact, the Postal Service reported an operating profit of $600 million for the 2013 fiscal year.

Unfortunately, despite the operating profit, the Postal Service balance sheet showed a $5 billion “loss” for the 2013 fiscal year.

Why? “Only because of an unprecedented and onerous requirement imposed by Congress that it pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits in just 10 years,” as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders notes. “No other business or government agency is burdened with this mandate.”

Ending the mandate and requiring the Postal Service to operate along the lines of the most responsible private businesses would make the USPS viable.

Indeed, the service could thrive if members of the House and Senate were to embrace the proposals of Sanders and Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon.

Sanders recognizes what the rest of Congress should: “The way to save the Postal Service is not to dismantle it piece by piece, but to allow it to generate more revenue by offering new and innovative products and services that the American people want.”

Those reforms embrace many of the proposals advanced by National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando in a July letter to Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Government Oversight and Reform Committee. In it, Rolando writes that comprehensive postal reform must:

1. Stabilize the Postal Service’s finances by reforming or eliminating unwise and unfair pension and retiree health financing policies that have crippled the Postal Service’s finances since 2006.

2. Strengthen and protect the Postal Service’s invaluable first-mile and last-mile networks that together comprise a crucial part of the nation’s infrastructure.

3. Overhaul the basic governance structure of the agency to attract first-class executive talent and a private-sector style board of directors with the demonstrated business expertise needed to implement a strategy that will allow the Postal Service to innovate and take advantage of growth opportunities even as it adjusts to declining traditional mail volume.

4. Free the Postal Service to meet the evolving needs of the American economy and to set its prices in a way that reflects the cost structure of the delivery industry while assuring affordable universal service and protecting against anti-competitive abuses.

There is a future for the United States Postal Service. And for the letter carriers and other postal workers who are hustling to deliver cards and packages this week.

In this holiday season, thank a postal worker. In 2014, tell Congress that it is not just possible but necessary for the United States to have a strong Postal Service.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, December 27, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Congress, United States Postal Service | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Sometimes Things Don’t Work Out As Planned”: UPS’s Christmas Screw Up Is Comeuppance For Private-Sector Triumphalists

At the heart of the great big pile-on of ridicule for the flawed healthcare.gov rollout the past few months was a large helping of private-sector triumphalism. Just imagine, the chorus went, if tech giants like Amazon or Google had been in charge of the Web site instead of those clueless, fusty bureaucrats – first, the problems would not have happened in the first place, but even if they had, the private sector would have held those responsible for the mistakes to account.

Bret Stephens wrote an entire column in the Wall Street Journal listing all the ways that the kludgy healthcare.gov launch had failed to live up to Amazonian standards: “For an ‘Amazon-like’ experience, it isn’t enough to have a website that functions on the front end, the back end and in between. Nor is it enough to have a site that can handle 800,000 users a day without crashing, as the administration now boasts of the health site. Amazon.com handled 26.5 million purchases on Nov. 26, 2012, a company record and a rate of 306 items per second. You also need an Amazon-like culture, which is the product of other Amazon-like realities. Such as: Jeff Bezos as the boss, demanding results and innovation from his employees, providing results and satisfaction for his customers and shareholders.” California congresswoman Anne Eshoo, a Democrat, questioned the contractors’ excuse that the website’s problems had been exacerbated by the large number of visitors after the launch: “There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with,” she said. “Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.” And the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein mocked healthcare.gov’s performance by noting that during the 2011 holiday shopping season, “nearly half of [large retail] websites (such as Amazon and eBay) were up 100 percent of the time. The lowest performing was Foot Locker, which was at 98.573 percent.” He added: “Imagine what a disaster it would be for sales if, during the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s website were down for about a day and a half.”

Yes, just imagine the disaster: the presents might not make it to people’s homes on time!

Oh, wait, what’s this I see in today’s papers?

A surge in online shopping this holiday season left stores breaking promises to deliver packages by Christmas, suggesting that retailers and shipping companies still haven’t fully figured out consumers’ buying patterns in the Internet era. Companies from Amazon.com Inc. to Kohl’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., having promised to deliver items before Dec. 25, missed some delivery target dates. United Parcel Service Inc. determined late Tuesday that it wouldn’t deliver some goods in time for Christmas, as a spike in last-minute shopping overwhelmed its system. “The volume of air packages in the UPS system did exceed capacity as demand was much greater than our forecast,” a UPS spokeswoman said…. Although weather, Web glitches and late deliveries from manufacturers played a part in late deliveries, the sheer unanticipated volume of holiday buying this year may have been the biggest problem, retail analysts said.

…In notifications to some Amazon customers, UPS said there were some shipping delays because it had “not yet received the package from the shipper.” “Amazon fulfillment centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery,” said an Amazon spokeswoman Wednesday. “We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers.” The spokeswoman also said Amazon refunded any shipping charges associated with the impacted shipment and provided a $20 gift card. She declined to say how many customers had been impacted or offered such a rebate.

On Christmas Eve, Brandon Scott was still waiting for a 46-inch Samsung TV and Kate Spade watch he ordered from Amazon on Saturday. “I’m frustrated because these items could have easily been purchased at various retailers in my area, something I would have gladly done had Amazon not ‘guaranteed’ their arrival before Christmas,” said Mr. Scott, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Well, then. There’s little schadenfreude to be had in people being left empty-handed of presents to give their family and friends, or in underpaid, overworked warehouse employees and drivers rushing unsuccessfully to get the goods to their destinations on time. And as my colleague Jonathan Cohn noted recently, the comparison between healthcare.gov and Amazon was deeply flawed from the outset. But still, the Great Christmas Delivery Screwup of 2013 should inject a bit of perspective and humility into the ranks of the loudest private-sector champions. The fact is, the clichés are true: life is complicated, stuff happens and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. As amazing and wonderful as technology is, there are still limits to what is possible in narrow windows of time – sometimes you just need a few more weeks to get the complex new health insurance Web site for 36 states working properly, or you just run out of hours to beat Santa to the house – to millions and millions of houses. (And sometimes it’s not just the government web site that struggles with keeping personal information secure, but also one of the largest retailers in the country, in a breach far wider and more potentially damaging than anything that has happened with healthcare.gov.)

So, how about it: if not an outright truce, maybe some de-escalation of the anti-government triumphalism. And a little forgiveness all around. Happy Boxing Day.

 

By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, December 26, 2013

December 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Private Companies | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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