McCaskill defends post office services

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BY TIM SAMPSON

Missouri News Horizon
JEFFESON CITY, Mo. – While reinforcing her stance in favor of preserving current U.S. Postal Service practices, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill cast aspersions on the post master general’s attempt to reach out to the public regarding the closure of rural Missouri post office locations.

Speaking to reporters this week about a current proposal to close 167 post offices in mostly rural Missouri counties, McCaskill questioned whether or not local hearings were being held in good faith. Across the nation, the USPS is currently reviewing 3,700 retail local offices that it is considering shutting down in an attempt to help save the agency money.

But McCaskill, said she has not heard back from U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe about whether or not testimony from public hearings has ever altered the postal service’s decision to close a local office.

“If they’re saying that every single decision they’ve made has been perfect and they haven’t changed any of them, then that does mean in some ways that the whole process of public comment and public hearing is maybe not as genuine as we would have hoped,” Missouri’s senior senator said.

The USPS did not return interview requests for this story.

McCaskill has come out publicly as a vocal proponent of maintaining current postal services, including the preservation of local offices and six-day delivery. She said eliminating Saturday delivery would be giving up one of the biggest advantages the agency has over private sector rivals like FedEx.

But indeed that is one of the plans that Donahoe floated at a Senate hearing last mother where he discussed the possibility of scaling back services to keep the USPS financially solvent.

One of the biggest funding challenges the agency faces is pensions. A 2006 law requires the postal service to pre-pay the next 75-years-worth of employee retirement benefits over a ten-year period. The House is currently weighing a resolution that would overturn that policy, which the post office says has amassed a $42 billion fund it can’t touch to pay for day-to-day expenses.

In a conference call to reporters, McCaskill suggested reexamining this policy, but she also recommended other ideas to boost revenue without cutting services, including combining rural post offices with other businesses and marketing campaigns to encourage traditional mail over email and other electronic communications.

The idea of marketing the postal service has made McCaskill the subject of some high-profile ridicule. Last month, Daily Show host Jon Stewart mocked statements McCaskill made at a Senate hearing.

“So over the past 30 years, the country, nah, the world, has been moving inexorably toward electronic communication,” Stewart said on his Sept. 7 broadcast. “Your solution to this is not to adapt the post office to the convenience and efficiency of these changing circumstances, but to spend public monies urging us to reverse the tide.”

But McCaskill said despite the criticism, she believed the nostalgia of letter writing could be effectively utilized in a commercial campaign.

“I think that some of the marketing they’ve done has been successful,” she said. “And I got made fun of for saying we should push letter writing, but I’m sincere about it.”