Harry’s Corner – Here We Go Again – “6-2-5” is Back

Submitted by Harry Stephens, President/CEO of DATAMATX
June 19, 2017

In my experience, few things are more true than the fact that knowing you need to do something—and then actually doing it—are two very different things. There is perhaps no better example of this than the longstanding (and ongoing) conversation about the financial difficulties of the U.S. Postal Service and what to do about them.

I read two articles on the subject in the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal this past month, reporting that the latest entrant into this often controversial conversation is President Trump, by way of his 2018 budget plan. The plan leaves the door open for reducing the current six-day mail delivery “where there is a business case for doing so.”  You can expect that if this proposal materializes it will be met with upset, just as it did when then Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe attempted to unilaterally end Saturday mail delivery in 2013. That attempt stirred up strong resistance from members of Congress and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, among others, and ultimately failed. Since then, proposals to address the Postal Service’s financial woes have not included reducing delivery.

Back in 2008, I floated the idea in this column of eliminating Wednesday delivery, recognizing that direct mailers prize Saturday delivery, when most of us are at home and have more time to look at our mail. Then in 2009, I wrote another column urging the need to take a hard look at eliminating Saturday delivery, and to step forward and propose other cost-cutting ideas if you have them.  Mail is important to all of us for many different reasons, so I am sure reducing mail delivery is still a difficult pill for many to swallow. However, I continue to maintain it may be a necessary step to help end the financial struggles of the USPS, which have been a problem for more than a decade now. We need to accept that we are going to have to reach a compromise somewhere. Corporate enterprises as well as postal customers, especially rural America, may have to give up something to keep postage rates affordable.

We all know that having a difficult problem to solve can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. But even taking small steps can make a difference. It reminds me of a story I like about a little boy on a beach littered with washed-up starfish. As the boy was throwing them back in the water one by one, a man came up to him and said, “Son, what are you doing? There are thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy picked up a starfish and threw it in the water and replied, “It made a difference to that one!”

Of course, eliminating one day of mail delivery—whether that day is Wednesday or Saturday or another option—won’t solve all the financial concerns of the USPS. But when you consider that it will take carriers off the road for one day a week, and the savings that will be realized in terms of labor costs, gas and truck maintenance, it will certainly make a difference. And for that reason alone, I think it is worth talking about again.

My fundamental point has been and still is this: The financial viability of the USPS isn’t just the USPS’ issue to solve. It is an issue for everyone who relies on the mail, whether for business or personally. It is our issue, and I think the one thing we can agree on is that something needs to be done to address it. The problem is that actually doing something, as we all know, is a very different thing.

Until next time – Harry

Harry Stephens

Harry Stephens is President/CEO, and founder of DATAMATX, one of the nation’s largest privately held, full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions. As an advocate for business mailers across the country, Stephens is actively involved in several postal trade associations.  He serves on the Executive Board of the Greater Atlanta Postal Customer Council, Board Member of the National Postal Policy Council (NPPC), Member of Major Mailers Association(MMA), and member of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service.  He is also immediate past president of the Imaging Network Group (INg), an association for Print/Mail Service Bureaus.  As an expert on high-volume print and mail, he has frequently been asked to speak to various USPS groups, including the Board of Governors, about postal reform and other issues affecting business mailers.  Find more information about DATAMATX at www.datamatx.com