Thursday, August 13, 2009

Post Mortem

Dear President Obama:

With the national debt in the trillions of dollars, every little bit of savings helps. So, Mr. President, I've come up with a proposal to save a few billion dollars, not much by Washington standards but, what the heck, a billion here, a billion there adds up.

My plan is quite simple. Dump the U.S Postal Service. That's right, shut down the post office. Or at least, make it a shadow of its former self.

Let's face it, the post office ranks up there with pay phones, curb feelers and forward artillery observers when it comes to concepts made irrelevant by the march of time.

Oh sure, Mr. President, closing it down would be bad news to stamp collectors and those who can't get their fill of rudeness at the DMV.

But as I'm sure you know, sir, the post office is leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez.

This is not news to postal authorities. They plan to offer early retirement to 150,000 workers, cut management and close offices. The Postal Service lost $2.8 billion last year and is facing even larger losses this year.

Postmaster General John Potter has even asked Congress to consider allowing the agency to cut mail delivery back to five days-a-week to save money.

Over the past year, the post office by its own estimates has cut 50 million work hours; stopped construction of new postal facilities; frozen salaries for postal executives; began selling unused facilities; and cut post office hours.

The pony express probably faced the same sort of downsizing.

I've come up with this plan by watching my own mail over a long period of time. We get the occasional letter, an assortment of bills and enough junk mail and unsolicited catalogs to clog a landfill.

Like most Americans, we do most of our letter writing now via e-mail, pay bills and do banking online, buy tickets to movies, theater and sporting events and even do a bit of shopping by computer. Our kids Facebook and tweet to their heart's content without so much as licking a stamp.

The reality of it is you can buy a house, furnish it, purchase a car, find a lifelong soul mate, home school your children and, when it's all over, buy a burial plot on the Internet. Getting your mail electronically is not a big stretch

.I understand, Mr. President, that a lot of what passes for junk mail reflects the flow of commerce on which much of our economy is built. And I know there are rural areas in this county where computers are as rare as gourmet wine shops and spa showrooms.

But there are more than 227 millions computers users in the U.S. and that's about 75% of the population. According to Fiserv, Inc., a financial services technology group, 64.4 million households --nearly four out of the five households with Internet access -- pay at least one bill online, either at a bank or a company Web site.

And consider this, Mr. President: A Westlake Village company called Zumbox is offering consumers the equivalent of an online mailbox that is linked to their postal addresses. The virtual boxes can be used to receive electronic versions of documents such as personal correspondence, bills and promotional mailings.

The company claims to have created a digital mailbox for every street address in the United States. Companies would pay to send electronic versions of paper catalogs or other marketing materials to the mailboxes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Zumbox plans to provide the mailing service for free to government agencies, non-profits, consumers and businesses for bills and other non-promotional purposes.

Users' mailboxes would be organized in the equivalent of folders, so that advertising-type messages are kept separate from traditional correspondence; they will also be able to block messages from specific senders.

Innovation breeds imitation. Zumbox is the first; there will be others.

The handwriting, Mr. President, is on the wall. Keep post office service where it is absolutely necessary, rural
areas with no viable alternative. Let it continue to service the military.

After that, I'm guessing you could reduce the size of the U.S. Post Office by 75 per cent. Since the post office will lose an estimated $6 billion this year, that's a fair chunk of change.

Providing less service will not improve the product, Mr. President.

You can't deliver what's not there.

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