Bessent: Should the U.S. Postal Service be privatized?

Postal workers and and their supporters demonstrate outside Postal workers and and their supporters demonstrate outside of a U.S. Postal Service facility Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: AP

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Alvin Bessent Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Alvin Bessent

Alvin Bessent joined the Newsday editorial board in 1993. He writes about national government policy and politics.

The country may need to have that debate if Congress continues to deny the USPS permission to stabilize its listing finances by broadening its services, say into check cashing and other basic banking, and cutting costs by maybe eliminating Saturday delivery.

But the iconic service shouldn't be privatized surreptitiously with no opportunity for the public to weigh in. Unfortunately, that's what's happening.

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In November the Postal Service struck a deal with the office supply giant Staples Inc. to run postal counters at 82 of its retail stores. The counters are staffed by Staples workers, rather than postal employees.

The American Postal Workers Union picketed Staples stores in 27 states -- including the one at Conklin St. and Route 110 in Farmingdale -- to publicize and protest the deal.

Delivering postal services via retail outlets could be a good idea if Congress also allowed the service to save money by closing some low volume post offices and replace them with the in-store counters staffed with postal workers. But that hasn't happened. The Stapes program will simply replace postal employees with low wage workers, said APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow.

The Postal Service doesn't rely on tax dollars. It operates on the money it generates. But unlike other businesses its a captive of Congress which decides what it can and can't do. That's a cumbersome, sometimes dysfunctional arrangement.

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Still, even in the Internet era, there's real value in a service that delivers six days a week to each and every address in the country -- 153 million of them -- literally connecting everybody living in the United States. That's a job no private, for-profit company is likely to take on.

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