The retirement pre-funding requirement that keeps the U.S. Postal Service's finances in the red should be relaxed, according to 83 percent of national respondents in a new survey on postal reform.
“No companies come near the level of pre-funding that Congress has required of the postal service,” said Stephen Kull, president of Voice of the People — which conducted the survey — and director of the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation.
“So the public, when given information, they come down on moderating or relaxing that requirement, not eliminating it entirely," he said.
The D.C.-based policy organization polled 2,256 panelists and presented them with a series of options culled from speeches, policy statements and proposals about how to reform the USPS.
Related: Read the report here
Forty-seven percent of respondents thought the USPS should drop the pre-funding option to 80 percent, while 36 percent of those surveyed were in favor of eliminating the requirement entirely.
“The central pattern seems to be that the public responds to the current dilemma not by saying that the government should step in and, in a sense, rescue the postal service, but that the postal service should have more freedom, more latitude to act like a business,” Kull said.
Respondents were given seven reform options and polled on which they thought would provide greater benefit to the USPS. The pros and cons of each option were also provided, so respondents would have to weigh options rather than simply choose them.
“Most of the steps they endorsed by large majorities are the ones that allow it to act in a more normal way, more like a business,” Kull said. “The most obvious one is allowing them to pursue new lines of business in the Post Office or by the Post Office.”
Eighty-nine percent also thought the USPS should be able to broaden its products and services, including options like self-service photocopying, renting out unused space and offering more money transferring services.
Opinions become more split when options were suggested like closing certain post office locations, reducing universal service or door delivery, but ending Saturday delivery to save money brought in 67 percent of support on the national scale.
“In each case, clear majorities come out in favor of letting the post office make decisions that are the kind of decisions a business would make,” Kull said.
That includes requiring arbitrators to consider the USPS’s financial situation when ruling on labor disputes, which was supported by 62 percent of national respondents. The remaining 37 percent backed letting arbitrators independently determine the role of finances in labor rulings.
The report also addresses the difference in postal delivery in urban versus rural areas, by polling respondents in Virginia, Maryland and Oklahoma to examine their different policy priorities.
“It was somewhat interesting in Oklahoma, where you have more rural people and where you might expect there to be more protectiveness, they actually showed more flexibility than in Maryland 7 [district], where there is more protectiveness as it is,” Kull said.
Ultimately, Kull said the report shows that the public still values the mission of the USPS and wants it around, even if that means adjusting some of its time-honored services.
“They want the post office to be there, but they want to give it more freedom, partly because they want to see it survive,” he said. “They are open to it changing its character, so you go to the post office and it feels different than it does now, but they definitely want to see it preserved.”