If the U.S. Postal Service is taken off the federal budget as a way of reducing the deficit, it means no more tax dollars to support mail delivery. Managers will have to run a more efficient operation in order to maintain reasonable postal rates.

Removal of the Postal Service from the federal budget was agreed upon recently by White House and congressionmal negotiators as a way of knocking $2.2 billion from the deficit without really doing anything - a tactic decried as "smoke and mirrors" accounting.Yet there may be advantages to having the Postal Service function as a quasi-independent federal agency instead of living under the thumb of Congress and the problems of the federal deficit.

Postal officials and unions have long sought freedom from federal control, insisting that as long as tax dollars are not contributed toward their operation, they should have the chance to operate like any other business. Revenues from selling stamps, for instance, should go directly improving mail delivery - not toward reducing the deficit.

Beverly Burge, communication manager for the Salt Lake City postal division, says the post office needs "more flexibility to run as a competitive business." Every day, the post offices along the Wasatch Front process 3 to 5 million pieces of mail. High technology equipment is needed to keep pace. Changing to off-budget status would provide a chance to use revenues to purchase needed capital expenditures.

However, postal officials are not making any promises or predictions regarding postal rates.

"What will happen to rates? We can't speculate where the off-budget status would take us. But it's a positive move for us to be more in control of our money," Burge contends.

Some Congressional aides fear the Postal Service may be asked to begin to pay cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. And they point out that postal workers wages are determined by collective bargaining with unions. The average postal base salary under federal control is $27,658.

Lawmakers who support removing the Postal Service from the federal budget should warn postal officials that Americans demand efficient management and reasonable postal rates.

The country's largest business must remain competitive with private mail services to ensure the kind of service Americans expect - and deserve.