U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday delivery

by Lisa Rein and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post

The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday that it will stop collecting and delivering mail on Saturdays starting in August, a cutback that would defy the oft-stated will of Congress to maintain a 150-year-old hallmark of the mail system despite the post office’s massive financial losses.

The change to Monday through Friday delivery, starting Aug. 5, would result in a $2 billion savings annually for the mail agency, which lost $15.9 billion in the last fiscal year. Packages, a growing and profitable part of the mail business, will still be delivered on Saturdays, and post office boxes will continue to receive mail that day ‘ but magazines, some newspapers, catalogs and Netflix movies would not reach customers’ homes.

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, citing the sweeping decline in mail volume brought about by the Internet as Americans switch to communicating and paying bills online, called the end of Saturday service a ‘responsible decision’ that reflects ‘changing market demand.’

‘It’s irresponsible for us not to pursue this course,’ he said at an announcement at postal service headquarters in L’Enfant Plaza. ‘It’s too big of a cost savings to ignore.’

While Americans ‘Do value the mail they receive, they like to pay their bills online.’ Donahoe said.

The announcement drew swift opposition from postal unions representing letter carriers, clerks and mail sorters, all of whom would lose jobs, mostly through attrition, postal officials said. As many as 12 percent of city letter carriers now receive overtime pay routinely, officials said, and much of that would be saved by eliminating Saturday delivery. It was unclear how many jobs would disappear.

Union officials accused the postal service of circumventing the legislative process to cut costs.

‘This maneuver by Mr. Donahoe flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery, which remains in effect today,’ Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said in a statement.

The executive board of the union representing rural carriers held a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in Donahoe.

Postal officials have long sought approval from Congress to eliminate Saturday delivery, but they have been met with resistance from lawmakers in rural districts and those supported by labor unions, who oppose the change and are avid political donors.

But Donahoe said he can make the change unilaterally by taking advantage of the stopgap budget funding the federal government until March 27. Since 1983, the annual appropriations bill giving agencies spending authority has contained a rider requiring the postal service to deliver the mail six days a week.

Donahoe hinted that the stopgap budget, known as a continuing resolution, may not be binding. But even if it contains the rider, the postal service is gambling that Congress will keep it out of any spending measure lawmakers approve after the current one expires.

‘We think we’re on good footing with this,’ Donahoe said. Asked what he would do if Congress continued to pass legislation blocking five-day delivery, he said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’

‘This is not like a gotcha or anything,’ he said. By trying to gain an upper hand over Congress and move forward with the change, lawmakers would have to act to stop it.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to offer a definitive opinion on the plan, saying the administration only learned of the decision Tuesday and that the postal service is independent.

Carney said the White House prefers a comprehensive package of reforms, and blamed the Republican-led House for the lack of movement on that front.

‘We put forward a year and a half ago a series of proposals for reform of the postal service that would put it on much more firm financial ground and it passed the Senate,’ Carney said. ‘Unfortunately the House failed to take it up.’

Postal officials say they have broad support from the public for ending Saturday delivery. They cite a study showing that about seven in 10 Americans support the switch.

But support in Congress for letting the agency move forward is not guaranteed ‘nor does it fall along partisan lines. House and Senate leaders were unable to reach consensus in the last Congress on legislation to improve the postal service’s financial footing. The Senate passed a bill that would have delayed five-day delivery for two years, among other changes. A more aggressive House bill that would have allowed five-day service to proceed right away did not reach the floor.

Republicans who supported that bill applauded Wednesday’s announcement.

‘Supporting the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to move forward with five-day mail delivery is one such solution worthy of bipartisan support,’ Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said in joint statement.

But Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the committee that oversees postal operations, said he was disappointed. ‘For nearly three decades, it has been the clear intent of Congress that the Postal Service provide most communities with six days of mail delivery,’ he said in a statement.

The change could be felt most in rural areas, where remote communities rely heavily on mail delivery.

The announcement comes as the postal service continues to hemorrhage money, much of it because of a 2006 law requiring the agency to set aside $5.5 billion a year for health benefits for future retirees. Postal officials defaulted twice on the payments last year after reaching their legal borrowing limit.

Post offices would remain open on Saturdays so that customers can drop off mail or packages, buy postage stamps or access their post office boxes, officials said. But hours likely would be reduced at thousands of smaller locations, they said.

Most newspapers are delivered by the newspaper companies themselves

Those that are sent through the mail to other locations go periodical rate.

The annual loss for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, reflecting the decline in first-class mail volume and the default on the payment for future retirees, was the largest in postal service history.

The agency is scheduled Friday to release financial results for October through December, typically its most profitable quarter.