We recently sat down with former Postmaster General and current SG360° board member, Patrick Donahoe, to get his thoughts on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s recently released task force report United States Postal System: A Sustainable Path Forward.
Q. As the former Postmaster General, what are your overall thoughts regarding the Task Force’s report?
A. The fact that a Task Force was appointed by the President is a very positive move. It potentially signals to Congress that the Executive Branch is interested in pursuing legislation to address many of the problems the Postal Service faces. Most of the issues identified by the Task Force can only be resolved via legislation. There are a few actions that can be addressed through administrative means, but a long-term fix requires legislation.
The other positive point that can be derived from the Task Force activity is the recognition of the value of the Postal Service, both as an economic and social force in the United States. Our US Postal Service is second to none in the world and serves at the hub of an equally important mailing and shipping industry. The value stream generated by the industry is a powerful force in the economy and the postal network is critical for continued growth in the e-commerce market.
Q. What in particular stood out to you?
A. Several issues stood out in the Task Force report. I think the discussion around universal service was interesting. From a postal point of view, we always looked at universal service in terms of universal service at a universal price. Even though there is a substantial cost to maintaining the universal service network, I always felt, and still do today, that it is the defining strategic advantage that the Postal Service possesses. The ability to reach everyone in the country with a defined, time sensitive network cannot be replicated by anyone within a reasonable cost. The Task Force opens the discussion around a product-centric universal service definition. I think this approach warrants further examination and could help define which products remain in the market dominant realm versus competitive. I think retaining the network requirements are critically important.
I was disappointed that the retiree health benefits (RHB) issue was not discussed in more detail. Referring to it as a taxpayer issue does not address the issue with the importance that it requires. Any legislative decision requires that RHB be resolved in order to address both balance sheet and income statement problems for both the short and long term. It should have been discussed in more depth by the Task Force.
Finally, I was disappointed in the discussion of revoking collective bargaining rights by the unions. The unions stepped up and helped to address long term labor costs when the Postal Service faced serious financial difficulties in the 2010-11 time frame. This issue would also be a nonstarter in legislative discussions.