This piece has been updated with a postscript at the end.
1. Postal Service blues:
Last week’s report that the U.S. Postal Service lost another $1.9 billion in the last financial quarter made me yearn for a story detailing the cost constraints afflicting this largest and most hidebound of government services. Everything from union restrictions, to legacy pension obligations, to congressional pressure that keeps even the smallest rural post office not only open but open on Saturdays, to lobbyist strong-arming that keeps the service from using its 32,000 retail footprints to offer other services.
Here’s the way for a reporter to write this: Completely reimagine the Postal Service by supposing it was sold to a private company. In fact, suppose the uber-opposite of a government agency — Amazon — bought it.
What would the real estate be worth if a more efficient company, freed from congressional oversight, bought the agency and slimmed down its holdings, cashing in on some of the premium properties scattered through every town, while using those that remain to offer all kinds of additional retail services?
What would Amazon’s Jeff Bezos do with what the Postal Service’s website says is its $47 billion payroll, not to mention its 211,000 vehicles?
What efficiencies could be achieved by radically streamlined operations? What would that look like? Who would be the victims, from among its 626,000 employees to people who still depend on delivery of 158 billion pieces of snail mail processed annually? How could the government require in the sales contract that some of this collateral damage be limited?