Q&A: U.S. Postal Service
Q: Does the United States Postal Service (USPS) need financial help?
A: The U.S. Postal Service touches every household and business in the nation.
Benjamin Franklin served as the first postmaster general, leading the mission to build a trusted network of public infrastructure and connect people and commerce with a universal mail delivery service. For many Iowans, the local post office is a vital service provider in the community, connecting people with a trusted means of correspondence and delivery, including government payments, medicine and voter ballots. Americans depend on the Postal Service to deliver mail in a reliable, timely and inexpensive manner.
Unlike a regular federal agency, the USPS does not receive congressionally appropriated funding. Instead, the USPS self-funds through revenue from postage and packages. For many years, the USPS has faced a significant decline in first-class mail volume and has operated with revenue losses, including a loss of $8.8 billion in 2019. Revenue projections worsen over the next decade.
Previous administrations, lawmakers and government watchdogs have recommended reforms to strengthen the Postal Service’s ability to modernize its operations, uphold commitments to its workforce and maintain its fundamental mission of universal service.
Congress in March unanimously approved a $10 billion loan for the Postal Service to respond to pandemic-related uncertainties. However, the USPS has assured lawmakers the Postal Service has enough cash on hand to maintain operations through next year even without that loan.
In fact, the USPS reports a record amount of cash on hand due to the increase in package deliveries during the pandemic. And yet, the House of Representatives in August manufactured an election-year crisis and approved an unnecessary $25 billion bailout for the Postal Service while blocking necessary reforms to keep the USPS solvent.
Q: Do you support more funding for the USPS?
A: Yes. I supported the $10 billion included in the CARES Act and am open to additional funding as part of legislation that includes operational reforms.
Iowans don’t want to pay for unconditional bail-outs that don’t fix what’s broken. Turning the Postal Service into a political football is wrong, especially during an election year. Stirring the partisan pot and choosing to ignore much-needed reforms that previous Postal Service leadership had recommended and implemented don’t help. Ignoring fiscal mismanagement at the USPS keeps it on an unsustainable path.
And raising doubts about its ability to process and deliver mail leading up to Election Day undermines confidence in the election and its outcome.
The last thing Americans want in 2020 is more uncertainty.
Q: What kinds of organizational changes are needed?
A: The Postal Service inspector general (IG) identified mismanaged overtime pay as a major source of cost overruns, reaching more than $5 billion in 2019.
In a new audit, the IG found more than 40 percent of postal workers logged unauthorized overtime and calculated approximately $522 million in questionable overtime pay. Remarkably, the Aug. 25 report said more than 4,000 workers made more in overtime pay than regular pay last year.
For example, a mail handler accrued more than 3,300 overtime hours, adding more than $141,000 on top of an annual salary.
The audit underscores the need for operational reforms to ensure the U.S. Postal Service can continue serving the American people with “honest, efficient and economical” management as provided by federal law.
Just consider its mail volume has decreased by more than one-third since 2006. The Postal Service needs to reorganize mail flows for better efficiency. That’s why organizational changes, including moving or consolidating excess processing capabilities and removing underutilized collection boxes have been taking place for years. These reforms were recommended by previous independent inspectors general and task forces, not pulled out of thin air by the new postmaster general.
Critics claim the new postmaster general is taking direction from President Trump. That’s false. The postmaster general was elected by, and answers to the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service, not the president.
The postmaster general hasn’t been a member of the president’s cabinet since 1971, when Congress passed reforms that separated the USPS from the rest of the executive branch, notably, to separate the mail from politics. The past few weeks show what happens when elected leaders politicize the USPS. Again, these misguided efforts are doing more harm than good by unnecessarily undermining faith in our election.
As a champion for rural America and Iowans, I support the U.S. Postal Service and will continue working to put it on stronger footing and improve cost-effective services for the American people in every ZIP code for generations to come.
Q: Do you have confidence the USPS can handle mailed ballots in 2020?
A: Yes. The proof is in the pudding.
Consider Iowa’s June primary. In the midst of a pandemic and social distancing protocols, our county auditors, absentee ballot system and voters proved Iowa is up to the job.
In addition, the postmaster general announced no operational reforms, such as reductions in overtime, would proceed until after the Nov. 3 elections to put to rest claims that streamlining postal operations could impact the election.
For Iowans who choose to vote in person, Iowa’s secretary of state and 99 county auditors have a safe and effective system in place that is fully aligned with the USPS delivery standards. For those who choose to vote by mail, Iowans have extra peace of mind because our election mail is sent first class and return envelopes have a traceable bar code to certify when a ballot was mailed, so it won’t be disqualified for lack of postmark if mailed on time.
Be mindful of guidelines and deadlines. Check with your county auditor or Iowa’s secretary of state for more information.