The Postal Service is thinking of cutting back on service:
Worsening economic conditions and the changing habits of Americans are threatening to do to the U.S. Postal Service what neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night could: stop delivery of the mail, at least for one day a week.
In testimony before a Senate subcommittee yesterday, Postmaster General John E. Potter said the post office may be forced to cut back to five-day delivery for the first time in the agency’s history, citing rising costs and an ongoing decline in mail made worse by the global recession. The potential move, which would have to be approved by Congress and postal officials, could mean the elimination of mail on either Saturdays or Tuesdays, the system’s slowest days, postal officials said.
“It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable,” Potter said, adding that the agency may face a deficit of more than $6 billion in the current fiscal year. “I do not make this request lightly, but I am forced to consider every option, given the severity of our challenge.”
The prospect of a shortened delivery week marks the latest setback for the storied post office, which was founded in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin serving as the first postmaster general. It ranks as one of the nation’s largest employers, with about 700,000 career employees.
An iconic staple of American life, the post office has been buffeted for decades by shifting cultural and economic challenges and has struggled to modernize its operations. Independent delivery companies such as FedEx have taken over much of the upper-end delivery market, while e-mail and Internet bill-paying services have decreased first-class mail volume. The one bright spot has been third-class advertising mail — recently renamed “standard mail” — but that market has also dropped off because of the economy.
“A lot of people look for the postman every day,” said A. Lee Fritschler, a former chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission and a public policy professor at George Mason University. “The Postal Service will tell you that they are a community service. . . . I think a lot of people will wonder what happened to their mail on Tuesday or Saturday if it doesn’t come anymore.”
Or, just maybe, they’ll realize they can live without that Pottery Barn catalog for a day or two.