Farewell, first-class mail.
The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t say it quite that bluntly, of course, but that’s the theme of a regulatory filing released this afternoon. By itself, the filing isn’t all that significant–simply a request for the Postal Regulatory Commission to render a legally required advisory opinion. It stands out, though, as a distillation of what USPS leaders have been saying for much of this year: Its most profitable line of business is melting away with no visible hope of return.
“Unfortunately, the Postal Service does not expect first-class mail volume to reverse its decline in the foreseeable future,” USPS lawyers wrote. “While an economic recovery could slow its rate of decline, the growing use of the Internet and other forms of electronic communication will likely ensure that the class continues to lose volume each year.” Newly released numbers show that the Postal Service expects first-class mail flows to slip to 39 billion pieces by 2020, little more than one-third of the 98 billion pieces processed in 2006.
Down the road, this may be remembered as a historic moment. Rather than strive to improve first-class delivery, the Postal Service now wants to weaken it on the premise that fewer and fewer people will be using the mail to pay utility bills and send holiday cards. That plan is tied to one of the agency’s single biggest downsizing initiatives ever: Closing up to 252 processing plants with a loss of 28,000 jobs. It’s not all over yet–there are at least two bills in Congress aimed at putting additional studies in the way–but this is one area where the Postal Service already has plenty of management latitude.
Or, to quote from one elegaic passage in today’s PRC filing: The law “does not require that long-standing products, service features, and operational practices be maintained primarily for the purpose of preserving a tangible link to an iconic past, or to perpetuate a nostalgic image of the agency or its employees.”