Snail Mail Needs a Redux

USPS Priority Mail is shipped via... Fed Ex?!? Yep, they contract out private industry to do the job government can't.

President Obama at his most recent town hall was mystifyingly quoted saying that, “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.” Aside from the fact that the president has, in pitching his government-run health care initiative, presented one of the best examples of myopic government-run programs, another thought sprang to the forefront of this conservative’s conscience. The presidents remarks didn’t stir deep within my soul the desire to nationalize our medical industry, as it might for some of my neo-marxist friends within the left-er nether regions of the Democrat Party. In fact, it actually brought to mind the opposite notion. The United States should privatize the U.S. Postal Service.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is the poster child (no pun intended) of bureaucratic inefficiency. The Government Accountability Office lists the Post Office as one of its “high risk” federal programs, and with good reason. USPS expects to run a $7 billion deficit in F.Y. 2009, which is up $1 billion from the deficit projections in just March 2009. Unlike private companies (in a perfect world—sorry G.M. and Chrysler. And AIG.  And Citigroup, Bank of America, Bear Sterns….oh, who are we kidding?), the USPS is subsidized by tax dollars despite being mandated to operate as a for profit organization.

How does a federal program designated with the task of running profitably—or at least breaking even—find itself so prolifically in the red? Certainly not to ensure quality. Postmaster General John Potter recently requested that federal law be altered so that the USPS could reduce delivery days from six days a week to five to alleviate costs. Fed Ex and UPS ship packages overnight, 24/7 and have effective customer service. The USPS is unreliable and usually more expensive, and if a package is lost, there is little recourse for the consumer. In fact, one might begin to wonder if the Direct Mail lobby didn’t have a direct line to protectionist Congressional legislation, whether USPS could even operate at all.

It wouldn’t need to exist, if it wasn’t illegal for any private entity to compete with USPS, except on deliveries. Even then, USPS Priority Mail is actually contracted out to Fed Ex. USPS contracts two private companies to handle its commercial shipping. Which is probably why the whole organization would be better off in private hands. Objections to this course of action range from general infeasibility of privatization to the idea that our parcel system is far too important to leave to greedy capitalists.

I am uniquely qualified to counter these claims, as I have witnessed privatization’s effects first hand. The Federal Investigative Services Division, an executive branch agency responsible for special investigations for the government’s highest security clearances was privatized in 1996. At that time, the division was approximately 16 months behind on casework and existed solely on tax payer dollars. After becoming the employee owned and eventually corporate US Investigative Services, USIS became current on casework within ten years, and currently employs 6,000 individuals and is on pace to earn $1.1-1.2 billion in revenue each year by 2012, and to grow by 25% during the next three years. USIS is now involved in industries as varied as police training, nation building, physical and personnel security, screening and other consulting and training, security services, information management and investigative services.

If we can trust our Nation’s security to private industry, the question becomes why can’t we trust industry with the sending and receiving of notifications about opportunities to reduce your auto-insurance premiums and for inheritances from royal uncles from Swaziland? Truly, if Fed Ex or UPS or a like corporation were to render our postage, packing, delivery and passport applications, post offices might look a little more like Walgreens or CVS and a little less like the DMV.

David Teesdale, can rest assured that no angry postal workers will go, uh, “Fed Ex-al,” and gun down scores of co-workers any time soon.  Please direct angry flames to david.evans.teesdale@gmail.com or comment here.

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