Senator: Cutting Postal Service 'Should Be A Last Resort'

Robert Siegel talks to Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine) about the Postal Service announcement that it will stop delivering letters and other mail on Saturdays, but continue to handle packages. The struggling agency said the move would save about $2 billion annually as it looks for ways to cut cost.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has been very much involved in attempts at Postal Service reform, and she joins us from her Capitol Hill office. Welcome to the program, senator.

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Last year, the Senate bill that you worked on called upon the Postal Service to wait two years before suspending Saturday delivery. Can you sympathize, though, with the postmaster, who says, we're losing money, we've got to do something faster than that?

COLLINS: The Postal Service certainly is in a financial crisis, but cutting service should be the last resort, not the Postal Service's first choice. My concern is that the decision to eliminate Saturday delivery threatens to drive still further away its customers. It's also inconsistent with current law.

SIEGEL: The postmaster says he's checked and it's legal. It's within his authority to do that. You disagree?

COLLINS: I completely disagree. There is a very specific provision in current law that prohibits the Postal Service from going from six days a week to five days a week in its delivery schedule. Now, the Postal Service has lobbied to change the law and it wishes it were different, but right now that's what the law says.

SIEGEL: But if they can't cut back on, say, Saturday service and save some money that way, is there any way the Postal Service can become profitable without, say, shutting down thousands of post offices and moving postal services into supermarkets or other stores and ultimately reducing its workforce by the tens of thousands?

COLLINS: Well, the key is the workforce. Nearly 80 percent of the Postal Service's costs are workforce related. And the bill that the Senate passed last year, which regrettably died in the House, would've provided for buyouts in order to reduce the workforce in a compassionate way, and it would've reformed the postal workers' compensation program, which would've saved substantial money.

SIEGEL: But as you say, the bill didn't pass in the House. It died there. So there was no reform.

COLLINS: That's true. And certainly, Congress gets some of the blame for that. But I still believe that the postal regulators are right in saying that the Postal Service is greatly overstating the amount of savings. In fact, the estimate by the regulators is that the Postal Service has inflated the savings by over a billion dollars.

SIEGEL: One other point, the postmaster has said that any business with as many stores that lose money as there were post offices that lose money would obviously close them. One frustration they face over there is that if they were to shut down a post office, members of Congress will hear from their unhappy constituents who'll be put out by that and Congress will say, no, don't do that. Don't do that even if it's rational.

COLLINS: Well, what I have encouraged the Postal Service to do is to co-locate its post offices within grocery stores, within convenience stores. And I think the public would accept that because in some ways it would be more convenient. So I believe that the Postal Service could reduce some of its cost and overhead without reducing service. In fact, many seniors might find that it's an improvement in service to have the Postal Service available when they go to the grocery shop or pick up a prescription at the local drug store.

SIEGEL: But just in a word, would you say that you will work to maintain Saturday service beyond this year?

COLLINS: Well, I had proposed that we try to preserve it for two years, and if at the end of that period the Postal Service was unable to reduce its costs so that it became viable, then Saturday delivery would end. I think it's a mistake to move to reduce Saturday delivery, to eliminate it now when the Postal Service has other means of reducing its enormous cost.

SIEGEL: Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Republican, thank you very much for talking with us today.

COLLINS: Thank you.

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