If any government task resembles that of the mythological Greek king Sisyphus, constantly rolling a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, it is postal reform. That’s why it was surprising this week to hear that Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz is taking it on, and that he is optimistic.
Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is working on a solution, at least the House’s version of it.
Getting that rock over the hill is important. The Postal Service is vital to national security, even if no one writes letters any more. But it’s one of those looming crises that dances in and out of the spotlight like a moth, depending on how many billions it fails to pay into a prefunded retirement account this year, or how many billions its deficit is reported to be.
The word “billions” is always there, and never in the same sentence with the word “profit.” And yet people don’t pay much attention because the mail keeps showing up.
The last time I wrote about this was in 2014, after interviewing then-Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, who, not coincidentally, also said he was an “eternal optimist.” That must be some kind of code for dealing with impossible problems.
At the time, people talked about eliminating Saturday mail delivery, or maybe Tuesday, or maybe both. Donahoe talked to me about delivering groceries, something the Postal Service has since started in a few markets.
People reacted to these ideas, if they reacted at all, by emailing thoughts to each other; which, of course, just illustrated the problem.
But that was then, this is a different time, maybe.
Chaffetz told a meeting of the Deseret News/KSL editorial boards this week to forget about eliminating days.
“My original premise was that we might move to five-day delivery and get rid of Saturday — but the reality of ecommerce, we’re moving to seven-day delivery, not five-day delivery.”
Chaffetz says you can’t make cuts, raise rates and expect to be more competitive. But he also wants to keep the Postal Service from competing unfairly with the private sector, which may mean an end to postal groceries.
As for the optimism, Chafftez said his committee is close to drafting a bill that will pass. That is what you expect a politician to say, of course. The only reason I’m writing about this now is that the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, is saying the same thing.
Cummings recently told GovExec.com, “We are probably closer than we’ve ever been” to passing a bill. “We may not resolve every postal issue, but certainly I’m of the belief that we will address those things that we can agree on and be able to come up with something that makes sense.”
When both parties say that, it may be time to listen.
But then, the prefunded retirement deficit (in the billions) still looms. Chaffetz wants to fix that by moving retirees to Medicare, which would solve the lion’s share of the deficit. The unions involved may have something to say about that.
I appreciate the optimism, but this is still Congress we’re talking about, and it’s still an election year, so don’t get too excited, yet.
Bob Mullins: The Deseret News lost a giant last week when retired reporter Bob Mullins died at age 91. He is forever remembered around here as the only person from this paper to win a Pulitzer Prize, which was in 1962, although many have been nominated in the years since.
Mullins tracked down a murder story in southern Utah so thoroughly he was a step ahead of the law, and even was considered a suspect for a time. He was determined, thorough, had great instincts and was capable of operating with little sleep, and he had an exceptional support crew in Salt Lake, including Maxine Martz, who took his rough dictation and wrote the stories.
As a young reporter, I was in awe of Mullins and his accomplishments. He just shrugged them off with a modest, “Yeah, but what have I done lately?”
Nearly 30 years after he retired, I’m still in awe.