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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Neither snow nor rain nor bioterrorism?

Instapundit has a post up about emergency preparedness and the Post Office:

In the event of a flu pandemic or a bioterrorism attack, help could arrive via the U.S. mail or from the fire station down the street, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Tuesday. ... Reader Eric McErlain emails: On your item this morning -- the plans for the U.S. Post Office are more extensive than you might realize. About a year ago I was at a conference with an ex-NYC fire chief now working as a consultant with Giuliani's firm. Apparently, in case of any national disaster, the only organization with both national reach and enough vehicles to reach virtually every citizen is the postal service, and they are being factored into all sorts of preparedness planning.
I have certainly not been a fan of the post office. It runs deeply in the red every year and seems to provide worse service than UPS or FedEx, not to mention it's primary purpose has become delivery of junk mail as far as I can tell. However, the idea that the Post Office could be considered a critical part of disaster planning and recovery is interesting though, and might well change the equation as to whether this bureaucracy is worth it for the tax payer.


Blogger RFTR said...

I'd say not.

Amtrak could be useful in moving troops if the US is invaded--doesn't mean it's worth keeping them around for a useless mode of consumer transportation.

However, I also think the Postal Service fulfills its mandate about as well as anyone would be able to.

UPS and FedEx, though often compared side-by-side with the USPS, are extremely different entities. They are in no way equiped for daily mail delivery to every house in the country—and their rates on a standard letter are ridiculous when compared to 37 cents.

Also, I know my mailman. I'm not sure I want him coordinating emergency efforts for my neighborhood.

8/03/2005 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

While you are correct that Fed-Ex etc. are not exactly analogous to the Post Office, there is also less need for personnal letters than in the past, thanks to email.

I don't think we can justify the subsidizing of the Post Office, on the merits of mail delivery alone, but certainly opinions on that vary.

As to your Amtrak example, if there was a reasonable expectation that the U.S. might be invaded, and that a passenger rail like would be needed for this purpose, than it may well be worth it to keep them around. I don't think anyone believes the first premise, so naturally this idea doesn't support the second premise.

However, bio-terror attack or a naturally occuring pandemic are far more likely. Given that, how useful (critical?) would a government controled distribution network capable of reaching virtually every home be? How much is such a thing worth? If that number is less than the subsidy to the post office (and if the Post Office can effectively perform this role) then it is a good deal for the taxpayer.

I am not totally convinced, but I am intrigued by the idea.

8/03/2005 12:33:00 PM  

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