An article a few days back, about a South Dakota ghost town that had been sold to a church, contained a fact that, in my view, completely sums up the pending implosion of the US Postal Service. The article quoted the only employee of the only remaining business in town. Kathy Jobgen, 50, says, in reference to the churches intentions for the currently empty town, “We don’t know what’s coming”.
And who, in a town with no residents or other businesses employs Ms. Jobgen? The United States Postal Service. Finally, a Post Office without an interminable line to endure…..
Of course, the inability of the US Postal Service to adapt to changing times is only part of that organizations current fiscal problem. In the red by billions of dollars, the postal service must also contend with an expensive and unwieldy workers' compensation burden. According to the publication Government Executive, the US Postal Service is the largest participant under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), and a recent study by the USPS Inspector General found $335 million in agency losses due to inefficiencies in that program. Another surprising fact is that “more than 2,000 postal employees on the workers’ compensation roll earlier this year were 70 years of age or older”, meaning that workers' comp for many might have become a supplemental retirement program.
There are some proposed reforms to FECA, which has not seen any major changes in about 40 years. The details of these proposals and their related effectiveness remain to be seen, but the overall intent is to save the federal government money. But the issue goes beyond simple reform. The issue is also one of direct accountability.
Federal Times reports that, “as of June, some 16,200 disabled USPS employees — or more than one-third of the total for the federal workforce — were on the long-term workers’ comp rolls. Of those, 928 were aged 80 or older. One was 99.” Additionally, out of 150 case files reviewed by the USPS, more than two thirds “lacked claims forms, medical documentation or correspondence”. The postal service workers' comp program currently costs 35% more than a comparable private sector program.
While it is true that the USPS is tied to the federal workers' comp system, the fact that this one agency accounts for more than one third of all long term federal workers comp cases indicates serious management issues in my view. USPS management should not be waiting for federal reforms to address some of these issues. Comp is a manageable cost, even for an organization that does not manage costs particularly well. The USPS owes it to itself to start engaging in that practice. As taxpayers on the hook for their failed obligations, we have every right to expect it as well.