It is becoming hard to keep the billions of dollars in missed payments and recorded losses by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) straight. Today, tack another multibillion-dollar chunk of change onto the list: The USPS reported a third-quarter net loss of $5.2 billion, bringing year-to-date losses to $11.6 billion.
But increasingly, the focus of concern is when the USPS will run out of cash. With less than $500 million on hand, that day may come as early as October.
In a conference call today, postal management downplayed the cash-flow problem—pointing out that they may be able to delay a payment due to the Labor Department for worker’s compensation costs—and held out hope that election-year mailings will give them a boost. At any rate, they said that priority will be given to payroll obligations and suppliers in the event the tiller is emptied.
Most likely, the postal officials are right: Some way to fudge the shortfall will be found, pushing the day of reckoning into next year—assuming that Americans send Christmas cards liberally. But it’s never a good sign when a firm has to talk about making deals with creditors and prioritizing debts. It’s just more evidence that the USPS needs to change; if it doesn’t, it will die.
Postal officials, to their credit, recognize this. “This is no way to run a business,” said USPS CFO Joe Corbett, pointing out the need for swift action to address the problem.
Exactly. And that action needs to come from Congress, which has hamstrung USPS’s ability to make the restructuring and cutbacks that will be needed to give it a fighting chance at survival. But so far, Congress seems more interested in adopting “reforms” that simply give the USPS temporary infusions of cash while continuing or tightening statutory restrictions on real change. Real reform—such as that being pushed by Representative Darrel Issa (R–CA) and others—is a castor oil that Members don’t want to swallow.
No way to run a business, indeed.