Thanks in large part to the historically large influx of mail-in ballots in key battleground states, there’s a new administration likely headed to the White House. And, regardless of whether America has gotten a grip on the pandemic in time for the next election, mail-in voting is poised to be a significant part of future U.S. elections. But, unless presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden pursues postal reform, the United States Postal Service (USPS) may fall short of its mandate to deliver mail – including election mail – in a timely and efficient manner. Biden must work with Postmaster General (PMG) Louis DeJoy to ensure that America’s mail carrier is in tip-top shape for the next four years.
It’s no secret that the USPS is hemorrhaging red ink. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in May, the agency has an astounding $160 billion in unfunded liabilities. While the USPS has a sizable $14 billion in cash-on-hand for now, there’s a significant likelihood that the agency could run out of cash in 2021 or 2022.
When faced with this liquidity crisis, Biden will likely advocate for an infusion of taxpayer dollars into the beleaguered agency. In response to a questionnaire distributed by the National Association of Postal Supervisors, Biden stated the need to “supply the U.S. Postal Service with an emergency relief so it has the resources to continue serving the American people,” “invest in clean postal infrastructure to modernize the postal fleet,” and “explore the potential of diversification of services.” Judging by these answers, Biden seems willing to sign off on lawmakers’ repeated proposals to bail out the USPS to the tune of $25 billion and micromanage the funding to cater to the interests prioritized by lawmakers.
But, after dealing with President Donald Trump’s election shenanigans and disturbing rhetoric about (not) counting votes, the last thing Biden should be doing is politicizing America’s mail carrier.
Opening the spigot of federal funds to the USPS will probably mean funding for new post offices and distribution centers flowing to states with powerful pols. As government watchdogs have repeatedly pointed out, the USPS’ network is already overbuilt with far more processing equipment and collection boxes than is needed to handle (declining) mail volumes. This has negative implications for election mail processing, since mailed-in ballots – especially those sent in last minute – are taken out of the ordinary distribution system and hand-sorted. But there are fewer workers available to respond flexibly to needed adjustments on Election Day when workers are stuck manning unneeded processing machines.
Newly minted PMG DeJoy has tried solving this problem by removing unnecessary USPS equipment, only to be hounded by hostile courts and lawmakers alleging a conspiracy to kneecap the agency. Reducing the size of the USPS’ overbuilt infrastructure could save on costs and ensure a more responsive agency ready to take the lead in the next election. Other changes, such as cutting down on the overcompensation of middle-mile postal contractors, could save the agency more than $1 billion per year according to a 2019 analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA). In all, the report found more than $3 billion in annual savings if the USPS spearheads wide-ranging reforms to postal operations.
Biden should embrace changes to strengthen the USPS, rather than subjecting the agency to the vagaries of Congressional politics. Taxpayers and voters deserve an agency that reliably delivers the mail at a reasonable cost.
Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.