NAPS Response to Congressman Darrell Issa’s
September 29 Remarks at the Heritage Foundation
October 8, 2010
Congressman Darrell Issa, in recent remarks at the Heritage Foundation, suggested that if he becomes chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, he will push the Postal Service to reduce its workforce by 200,000 employees – a dramatic cut of one-third of the total number of postal workers. The Congressman also criticized the Postal Service for employing too many supervisors, as many as one supervisor for every seven employees, according to his estimates.
Trash talk about downsizing postal workers in gargantuan terms makes for good politics in an anti-government election season. But Congressman Issa’s downsizing targets for the Postal Service are wildly off the mark, and so are his numbers.
First, let’s look at the Congressman’s comments about the postal supervisory ratio. In the hundreds of large mail processing plants across the country, where postal workers sort mail and prepare it for delivery, the ratio of supervisors to employees stands at 1 supervisor to every 25 employees. And in thousands of large post offices from which delivery operations originate, the ratio of supervisors to employees is around 1 supervisor to every 30 employees. Supervisors are not even employed in the thousands of small post offices spread across America, where postmasters roll up their sleeves, along with a small staff of clerks, to wait on customers, selling stamps and providing services at the counter.
Where Congressman Issa gets especially tripped up in his supervisory math is in his inclusion of USPS support personnel. These are the thousands of postal employees, both in the rank-and-file and the management ranks, who work in engineering, maintenance, finance, human resources and other support services, just as their counterparts do in large businesses in the private sector. For the Postal Service, these employees are indispensable to the success of moving millions of pieces of mail around the world every day. But very few of them are actually and technically supervisors. Without doubt, the supervisory ratio within the Postal Service is far, far higher than 1:7.
Does the Postal Service need to downsize? It already has. Over the last several years, it has eliminated 100,000 employee positions, bringing the size of its workforce to approximately 625,000 workers. My organization – the National Association of Postal Supervisors — worked with the Postal Service in facility restructurings that resulted in the elimination of over 3,000 supervisory positions last year alone. Our members have worked tirelessly with fewer resources than ever before to assure that the mail gets delivered – miraculously at all-time service records.
Indeed, the Postal Service is going through incredibly difficult times. The severe recession has thrown its finances into a tailspin, driving down mail volume by 20 percent and driving the Postal Service into the red, compounded by a huge Congressional blunder in 2006 that required the Postal Service to sock away billions of dollars for its future retiree health care costs, far more than the Service needs or can afford to put away right now.
The good news for the Postal Service is that as the economy improves, mail volume will rebound and slowly return to the system, most experts predict, increasing USPS revenues. The Postal Regulatory Commission pointed to those favorable trends in its recent rate decision. Of greater long-term concern, though, is the internet and the challenge to mail it presents, just as it has to newspapers, magazines, and anything else that’s hard-copy and embodies information. But the Postal Service is different from these other vehicles of communication, and dramatically so. None of them bear the same obligation to the American people as the Postal Service, which is required by law to provide universal mail service, guaranteeing delivery to every point in the country at the same price, whether in a skyscraper in Manhattan or at an outpost at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
The Postal Service’s business model, which has worked successfully for the past 40 years, is today nearly broken. That model assumes that volume and postage revenue will perpetually increase, in turn satisfying the rising costs created by an ever-expanding number of delivery points, growing at the rate of one-million homes and business delivery points each year. That business model will fail, and the Postal Service with it, if the internet continues to eat away at Postal Service mail volume and revenues – and the Postal Service fails to adapt. Releasing one-third of the Postal Service’s workers will only compound the Postal Service’s problems, not deal with their root cause. This is not to say that more, targeted workforce cuts in the Postal Service are unnecessary. But more than workforce cuts must come about.
Congress needs to provide greater authority to the Postal Service to expand its electronic footprint in new ways in the twenty-first century that advance its historic mission to bind the nation together. My association is committed to working with the Postal Service to finding new opportunities in a host of new product areas that advance and transform that mission, some even in partnership with the private sector.
The Postal Service needs help from the Congress in other immediate ways. It needs Congress to remedy the gross unfairness of the retiree health prefunding payments Congress in 2006 imposed upon the Postal Service, the only federal agency required to make such prefunding payments. In addition, the Postal Service needs Congress to help find a just solution that reverses the estimated $75 billion dollar overpayments that the Postal Service made over the course of nearly 40 years to the Civil Service Retirement System – at the insistence of the Civil Service Commission and the Office of Personnel Management. These two remedial efforts by Congress will contribute enormously to a healthier financial bottom-line and greater stability for the Postal Service.
Many of the men and women whom my organization represents — the managers, supervisors and postmasters of the Postal Service — provide outstanding and selfless service to our country. But they lose faith when their agency becomes a political football. Those games must stop.
Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch, which Congressman Issa pledged at Heritage to vigorously pursue, represents a fundamental Constitutional responsibility. My organization looks forward to working with him, regardless of November’s outcome. In the coming Congress, responsible Congressional oversight of the Postal Service will demand not only persistent patience in curing its infirmities, but also unyielding desire to reinvent the Postal Service in new ways that serve future generations.
Louis M. Atkins
National Association of Postal Supervisors