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经营不善的美国邮政本月或启动私有化

Nicole Goodkind 2020年01月08日

从美国国会,到特朗普政府,再到麦肯锡这样的咨询机构,都不乏将美国邮政私有化的呼声。

作为一个老牌资本主义国家,美国之所以能够有一套廉价的公立邮政系统,还要追溯到《人权宣言》刚刚成文的时代,而且它的法律依据还要早于美国大多数宪法修正案。

在1775年的时候,美国邮政系统的负责人是大名鼎鼎的本杰明·富兰克林。这套邮政系统的主要功能是保障一小群革命者的通信。正是这些革命者在不久之后打赢了当时世界上最强大的帝国。1792年,乔治·华盛顿和詹姆斯·麦迪逊通过立法,允许美国报业公司通过邮件发送他们的产品——虽然当时的邮政效率十分低下,同时规定了邮件不得受到任何人窥视。该法案也是最早保护美国人的通信自由和隐私权的成文法。

1831年,亚历西斯·托克维尔从法国来到美国,研究美国的民主制度。他写道,美国的邮政系统“让思想很好地联系了起来”,并盛赞它起到了巩固民主制度的作用。

不过,美国邮政(USPS)作为一个由政府运营的公立部门的地位却并不稳固。从美国国会,到特朗普政府,再到麦肯锡这样的咨询机构,都不乏将美国邮政私有化的呼声。

这项改革说不定最早在本月就会付诸实施。

在去年的假日季里,美国邮政一共配送了130多亿个邮件和包裹。随着假日季的结束,美国邮政寄递的礼品数量也已经大幅下降。同时,作为特朗普政府序列下的一个部门,美国邮政也面临着另一个紧迫任务——在2020年1月底前找到一名新的邮政署长。

美国邮政的新一届领导班子将由美国邮政管理委员会物色和批准。这个委员会由五名委员和现任正、副署长组成。在五名委员中,多数人具有投行和私营银行业的从业背景,其中三人由特朗普直接任命。

据代表了20余万名邮政系统在职和退休员工利益的美国邮政工人工会(APWU)介绍,美国邮政的新一届领导班子就职后,委员会还将按照特朗普政府的要求,对经营不善的美国邮政进行大刀阔斧的系统性改革,包括对美国邮政的部分资产进行打包出售和私有化。

2018年,特朗普签署了一项行政命令,要求成立一个由财长姆努钦牵头的邮政工作领导小组,研究如何解决邮政系统的盈利问题。该小组建议,美国邮政应该取消工人的集体谈判权,并将部分资产出售给私营企业。

该小组的报告指出:“随着科技、市场和客户需求及偏好的变化,美国邮政当前的业务模式已经过时了,是不可持续的。要想避免美国邮政陷入财务崩溃,导致必须由财政出资救助,就必须从根本上做出改变。”

对此,美国邮政的现任署长梅根·布伦南回应道,她会认真考虑这些调查结果,但不会直接就此采取行动。她在一份声明中说:“报告中包含的建议,应该与立法和监管改革一起进行评估,以解决我们财务上面临的紧迫挑战。”

大约2018年的这个时候,白宫管理和预算办公室也建议将美国邮政部分私有化,并终止美国邮政的包裹寄递业务。这个建议令美国邮政工人工会警惕了起来。

美国邮政工人工会主席马克·迪蒙德施坦因在声明中指出:“白宫管理和预算办公室的报告建议把美国邮政卖给私营部门,还表示甚至根本不应该让美国邮政开展包裹寄递业务。大多数美国人是反对他们的建议的。我们需要向下一任美国邮政署长传递一条明确的信息——美国邮政概不出售!”

迪蒙德施坦因表示,皮尤研究中心最近的一项民调表明,美国邮政是美国最受欢迎的政府部门,大约有90%的受访者对美国邮政持正面态度。

在这个假日季期间,美国邮政工人工会还在电视和社交媒体上了掀起了一场宣传活动,试图向下一任邮政署长施压,以保持美国邮政作为公立机构的地位。

该工会的宣传广告称:“下任邮政署长应该保护普通家庭邮政服务,保持美国邮政的公有地位。”这个广告在结尾处还打出了一句深情的标语:“美国邮政,人民的邮政,保留它吧,它是你的。”

目前,在美国的寄递物流市场上,多数份额已经被联邦快递、亚马逊和UPS吃掉了。不过这些私营公司主要覆盖的是城市及其郊区,并不关注利润率较低的广大农村地区。美国政策研究所的一项研究发现,如果没有美国邮政,7000多万美国人必须额外支付高额费用,才能收到他们的邮件。

美国邮政一旦私有化,还很有可能导致商品价格的上涨。

美国政策研究所的报告指出:“很多企业,不管是线上的零售商户,还是为客户提供零部件的生产商,都有可能面临物流成本的急剧上涨。这些成本会被转嫁到客户身上,也有可能导致企业自身的利润下降。其中,小企业受到的冲击最为严重,因为它们不像大企业一样,拥有足够的体量对物流成本进行议价。”

不过,美国邮政的改革确实已经到了迫在眉睫的地步。就在物色新领导层的同时,美国邮政已经连续第13年宣告亏损(虽然2019财年,美国邮政的营业收入增加了5.14亿美元,但它仍然净亏损88亿美元)。按照这个速度,它将在2024年消耗掉全部现金。

与联邦政府其他部门不同的是,美国邮政必须为所有退休员工预付医疗费用。布伦南曾经向美国国会表示,光是医保支出这一项,就占到了美国邮政全部亏损总额的80%。布伦南也曾推动国会取消这项医保政策,她的努力也获得了各大工会和劳工团体的支持。

虽然美国邮政属于联邦政府序列,但它是一个财务独立的机构,而且30多年来并没有花过美国纳税人的一分钱。美国邮政的收入主要来自邮票及其他产品和服务的销售收入。

不过,美国邮政的财权归根结底是由美国国会控制的。它的邮资和服务成本是由国会决定的,是否要实施财务改革,是否应该动用财政资金对它实施救助,其决定权也在国会手中。

在担任美国邮政署署长五年后,布伦南于去年10月宣布即将退休。去年夏天,布伦南曾经敦促国会协助改良美国邮政的业务模式,并向众议院监督和改革委员会下属的政府运作委员会提交了一份10年经济计划草案,但她的努力没有产生多少影响。另据报道,作为奥巴马时期由美国邮政管理委员会任命的一位老将,她之所以在这个时候决定退休,也是由于受到了特朗普的压力。不过她否认了这些传闻。

目前,美国邮政的改革问题,也成了2020年美国总统大选期间的热门话题。

据报道,印第安纳州南本德市市长、民主党候选人皮特·布蒂吉格在咨询公司麦肯锡工作的三年中,曾经制订过一份将美国邮政私有化的计划。不过布蒂吉格的团队否认了他曾参与过相关工作,只承认“他的团队的主要任务,是想方设法提高收入,比如销售贺卡、增加邮政特惠包装箱的使用”。并表示“他从未参与过任何涉及员工重组或基本邮政服务私有化的工作。”

不过,迪蒙德施坦因则表示,布蒂吉格的工作导致“很多邮政处理中心”被关闭了。

他在接受美联社采访时表示:“总的来说,任何参与炮制了麦肯锡的报告的人都是可耻的。它走到了国家和人民的需要的对立面。”(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

The right to an inexpensive, public postal system in the United States has roots that go back further than most amendments recorded in the Bill of Rights.

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin ran the post office and used it to sustain communications between a small group of revolutionaries who would soon wage a winning war against the largest empire in the world. In 1792, George Washington and James Madison created legislation to allow newspaper companies to send their products through the mail at very low rates and to protect correspondence from any prying eyes. That act is credited with cementing Americans’ rights to free information and privacy.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to the U.S. from France to study American democracy. He wrote that the Postal Service was a “great link between minds," and credited it with aiding in a stable democracy.

But the Postal Service as a public, government-run entity is not guaranteed, and advocates in Congress, President Donald Trump’s administration, and consulting firms like McKinsey & Co. have called for privatization of the agency for some time.

Those changes could come as early as this month.

The United States Postal Service shipped more than 13 billion pieces of mail and packages this holiday season. But now that gift-giving has abated, the agency, which falls under President Trump’s jurisdiction, is facing another deadline: find a new Postmaster General by January 2020.

The new leadership will be handpicked and approved by the Postal Service’s Board of Governors: a group of five men (mostly with investment banking and private banking experience), three of whom were appointed by Trump, along with the current Postmaster General and her deputy.

Once the new leadership is in place, the board will also be tasked by the Trump administration with creating a package of large, structural changes intended to help the ailing Postal Service. Those changes will likely include privatizing and selling pieces of the public service off, according to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents more than 200,000 current and retired postal employees.

In 2018, Trump issued an executive order to create a postal task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The group was charged with figuring out how to make the postal service a more profitable entity. They recommended that the agency roll back collective bargaining rights for postal workers and sell off pieces of the service to private industry.

“The USPS’s current business model has become outdated due to changes in technology, markets, and customer needs and preferences,” the report stated. “It is unsustainable and must be fundamentally changed if the USPS is to avoid a financial collapse and a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

At the time, current Postmaster General Megan Brennan said she would consider the findings but would not act directly upon them. “The recommendations contained in the report should be evaluated together with legislative and regulatory reforms to address our urgent financial challenges,” she said in a statement.

Around the same time in 2018, the White House Office of Management and Budget also proposed privatizing parts of the USPS and ending package delivery—something that alarmed the APWU.

“The OMB report suggests that the U.S. Postal Service should be sold off to private interests and perhaps shouldn’t even be allowed to ship packages. Most Americans oppose the OMB’s recommendations,” said APWU president Mark Dimondstein, in a statement. “We need to send a clear message to the next Postmaster General that the U.S. Mail is not for sale.”

Dimondstein, in his defense of the USPS, pointed to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center which found that the Postal Service was the most popular government agency in America. About 90% of respondents held a favorable view of the agency.

The union also launched a TV and social media ad campaign over the holidays in an attempt to pressure the next Postmaster General to keep the agency public.

“The next Postmaster General should protect universal home delivery and keep public ownership of the U.S. mail,” the ad says, ending with the tagline “The people’s postal service. Keep it, it’s yours.”

The changes come as FedEx, Amazon, and UPS eat up a larger portion of delivery in the U.S. But these companies tend to focus their services more on urban and suburban areas and not rural parts of the country that don’t provide a large profit margin. A study by the Institute for Policy Studies found that 70 million more Americans would have to pay hefty surcharges for deliveries without the USPS.

The impact could also raise prices of the goods being shipped.

“Businesses, from the online retail shops to manufacturers shipping parts to customers in need, could face sharply higher shipping costs, leading to higher prices for their customers or lower profits for their businesses,” the Institute for Policy Studies report found. “Small businesses would be hit especially hard, since they don’t have the clout to negotiate the same level of shipping discounts as big corporations.”

Still, something must give. The search for new leadership comes as the Postal Service marks its 13th straight year of losses (the USPS had a net loss of $8.8 billion in fiscal year 2019 despite a $514 million increase in operating revenue) and is on track to run out of cash by 2024.

That’s because unlike almost every other federal agency, the USPS is required to pre-fund health care for all of its retirees, which, Brennan told Congress, accounts for 80% of the agency’s losses. Brennan pushed for Congress to end the mandate, and key unions and labor groups have backed her in her efforts.

While the Postal Service is a federally run agency, it is considered financially independent and hasn’t received any taxpayer money for more than 30 years. The agency relies on sales of stamps, services, and other products to fund itself.

Still, Congress has ultimate control over the agency’s finances: It decides how much postage and services cost and can institute structural and financial reform or bail out the agency.

Brennan announced her imminent retirement in October after serving in the top role for five years. She had urged Congress to help fix the Postal Service’s business model and submitted a draft of a 10-year economic plan to the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations earlier last summer, but her efforts did not have much of an impact. Brennan, who was appointed by the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors during Obama’s presidency, was reportedly pressured out of the agency by Trump, though she denied those allegations.

The issue has also made its way into the 2020 presidential election.

South Bend, Ind., mayor and Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg reportedly worked on plans to privatize the Postal Service during his three years at consulting firm McKinsey. His team denied that he worked on such efforts, stating that he was “part of a team tasked with generating ideas to increase revenue, like selling greeting cards and increasing the use of flat rate boxes” and “never worked on cost cutting or anything involving staff reorganization or the privatization of essential post office services.”

Dimondstein, however, contended that Buttigieg’s work led to the closing of “many processing centers.”

“I will say generally, shame on anybody that was part of facilitating these McKinsey reports. This is the opposite of what the people of this country need,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

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