Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy At A News Conference On The Postal Service And Rural America

Last month Senator Sanders and I attended a public meeting at White River Junction in Vermont, to discuss the pending closure of the postal distribution center there.  Five-hundred people came to the meeting, in a town that registered 2,200 residents in the last census.  Our entire congressional delegation participated, as well as the Governor and several state lawmakers.

The reason this public hearing received so much interest is because the proposed closure of the distribution center will decimate business in White River Junction, with ripple effects radiating outward to affect many more communities.  Not only would this mistaken plan remove more than a hundred good-paying jobs from the area, but it would harm service to local industry that depends on efficient mail delivery.

What is happening in White River Junction is happening all across America.  In every state, the Postal Service is contemplating a wholesale shuttering of mail handling facilities and post offices.

To do this, the Postal Service will relax its delivery standards, crippling one of its biggest competitive advantages, and sending the Postal Service into a kind of death spiral.

The toll this would take in human terms and on a fragile economy is clear.  At a time when we are straining to encourage an expansion of jobs for working families, the Postal Service is looking to push tens of thousands of workers into unemployment.  At a time when the President is looking for creative ways to provide jobs for returning veterans, the Postal Service is dramatically reducing its workforce, which is the second-largest employer of veterans in this country.

I have come to see the Postal Service as divorced from reality.  At the White River Junction hearing, the Postal Service representative spent 40 minutes talking about how mail processing works — to a room mostly comprised of people who have worked in mail processing for most of their lives.  Then she began to talk about a facility in Texas.

I finally had to stand up and ask her to talk about what these Vermonters had come to hear:  what was going to happen to this facility, in White River Junction?

I believe the Postal Service will find more and more senators and representatives standing up here in Congress to prevent rash and irreversible decisions, until USPS can present a cogent strategy for growing in a new era of mail.

A scorched-earth strategy, focused only on the short-term horizon, is a strategy for failure.  It is a race to the bottom.  The Postal Service needs a plan not only to survive, but to thrive.  To do that the Postal Service must listen to its customers, understand its market, and play to its strengths, not trade its strengths away.  

The postal market may be shrinking for first class mail, but don’t let anyone tell you that there is no room for growth.  UPS was number 48 on the Fortune 100 list last year, and FedEx was 73.  There’s plenty of revenue to be made in the premium package delivery market.  This is a growing market, fueled by the growth of Internet commerce.  USPS just needs to have a strategy about how to become more competitive.

I look forward to working with Senator Sanders, Senator Landrieu and others, and with Chairman Lieberman, Chairman Carper and the Postmaster General to chart a sensible way forward to save the Postal Service money, while ensuring its success for decades to come.

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