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經營不善的美國郵政本月或啟動私有化

Nicole Goodkind 2020年01月08日

從美國國會,到特朗普政府,再到麥肯錫這樣的咨詢機構,都不乏將美國郵政私有化的呼聲。

作為一個老牌資本主義國家,美國之所以能夠有一套廉價的公立郵政系統,還要追溯到《人權宣言》剛剛成文的時代,而且它的法律依據還要早于美國大多數憲法修正案。

在1775年的時候,美國郵政系統的負責人是大名鼎鼎的本杰明·富蘭克林。這套郵政系統的主要功能是保障一小群革命者的通信。正是這些革命者在不久之后打贏了當時世界上最強大的帝國。1792年,喬治·華盛頓和詹姆斯·麥迪遜通過立法,允許美國報業公司通過郵件發送他們的產品——雖然當時的郵政效率十分低下,同時規定了郵件不得受到任何人窺視。該法案也是最早保護美國人的通信自由和隱私權的成文法。

1831年,亞歷西斯·托克維爾從法國來到美國,研究美國的民主制度。他寫道,美國的郵政系統“讓思想很好地聯系了起來”,并盛贊它起到了鞏固民主制度的作用。

不過,美國郵政(USPS)作為一個由政府運營的公立部門的地位卻并不穩固。從美國國會,到特朗普政府,再到麥肯錫這樣的咨詢機構,都不乏將美國郵政私有化的呼聲。

這項改革說不定最早在本月就會付諸實施。

在去年的假日季里,美國郵政一共配送了130多億個郵件和包裹。隨著假日季的結束,美國郵政寄遞的禮品數量也已經大幅下降。同時,作為特朗普政府序列下的一個部門,美國郵政也面臨著另一個緊迫任務——在2020年1月底前找到一名新的郵政署長。

美國郵政的新一屆領導班子將由美國郵政管理委員會物色和批準。這個委員會由五名委員和現任正、副署長組成。在五名委員中,多數人具有投行和私營銀行業的從業背景,其中三人由特朗普直接任命。

據代表了20余萬名郵政系統在職和退休員工利益的美國郵政工人工會(APWU)介紹,美國郵政的新一屆領導班子就職后,委員會還將按照特朗普政府的要求,對經營不善的美國郵政進行大刀闊斧的系統性改革,包括對美國郵政的部分資產進行打包出售和私有化。

2018年,特朗普簽署了一項行政命令,要求成立一個由財長姆努欽牽頭的郵政工作領導小組,研究如何解決郵政系統的盈利問題。該小組建議,美國郵政應該取消工人的集體談判權,并將部分資產出售給私營企業。

該小組的報告指出:“隨著科技、市場和客戶需求及偏好的變化,美國郵政當前的業務模式已經過時了,是不可持續的。要想避免美國郵政陷入財務崩潰,導致必須由財政出資救助,就必須從根本上做出改變?!?

對此,美國郵政的現任署長梅根·布倫南回應道,她會認真考慮這些調查結果,但不會直接就此采取行動。她在一份聲明中說:“報告中包含的建議,應該與立法和監管改革一起進行評估,以解決我們財務上面臨的緊迫挑戰?!?

大約2018年的這個時候,白宮管理和預算辦公室也建議將美國郵政部分私有化,并終止美國郵政的包裹寄遞業務。這個建議令美國郵政工人工會警惕了起來。

美國郵政工人工會主席馬克·迪蒙德施坦因在聲明中指出:“白宮管理和預算辦公室的報告建議把美國郵政賣給私營部門,還表示甚至根本不應該讓美國郵政開展包裹寄遞業務。大多數美國人是反對他們的建議的。我們需要向下一任美國郵政署長傳遞一條明確的信息——美國郵政概不出售!”

迪蒙德施坦因表示,皮尤研究中心最近的一項民調表明,美國郵政是美國最受歡迎的政府部門,大約有90%的受訪者對美國郵政持正面態度。

在這個假日季期間,美國郵政工人工會還在電視和社交媒體上了掀起了一場宣傳活動,試圖向下一任郵政署長施壓,以保持美國郵政作為公立機構的地位。

該工會的宣傳廣告稱:“下任郵政署長應該保護普通家庭郵政服務,保持美國郵政的公有地位?!边@個廣告在結尾處還打出了一句深情的標語:“美國郵政,人民的郵政,保留它吧,它是你的?!?

目前,在美國的寄遞物流市場上,多數份額已經被聯邦快遞、亞馬遜和UPS吃掉了。不過這些私營公司主要覆蓋的是城市及其郊區,并不關注利潤率較低的廣大農村地區。美國政策研究所的一項研究發現,如果沒有美國郵政,7000多萬美國人必須額外支付高額費用,才能收到他們的郵件。

美國郵政一旦私有化,還很有可能導致商品價格的上漲。

美國政策研究所的報告指出:“很多企業,不管是線上的零售商戶,還是為客戶提供零部件的生產商,都有可能面臨物流成本的急劇上漲。這些成本會被轉嫁到客戶身上,也有可能導致企業自身的利潤下降。其中,小企業受到的沖擊最為嚴重,因為它們不像大企業一樣,擁有足夠的體量對物流成本進行議價?!?

不過,美國郵政的改革確實已經到了迫在眉睫的地步。就在物色新領導層的同時,美國郵政已經連續第13年宣告虧損(雖然2019財年,美國郵政的營業收入增加了5.14億美元,但它仍然凈虧損88億美元)。按照這個速度,它將在2024年消耗掉全部現金。

與聯邦政府其他部門不同的是,美國郵政必須為所有退休員工預付醫療費用。布倫南曾經向美國國會表示,光是醫保支出這一項,就占到了美國郵政全部虧損總額的80%。布倫南也曾推動國會取消這項醫保政策,她的努力也獲得了各大工會和勞工團體的支持。

雖然美國郵政屬于聯邦政府序列,但它是一個財務獨立的機構,而且30多年來并沒有花過美國納稅人的一分錢。美國郵政的收入主要來自郵票及其他產品和服務的銷售收入。

不過,美國郵政的財權歸根結底是由美國國會控制的。它的郵資和服務成本是由國會決定的,是否要實施財務改革,是否應該動用財政資金對它實施救助,其決定權也在國會手中。

在擔任美國郵政署署長五年后,布倫南于去年10月宣布即將退休。去年夏天,布倫南曾經敦促國會協助改良美國郵政的業務模式,并向眾議院監督和改革委員會下屬的政府運作委員會提交了一份10年經濟計劃草案,但她的努力沒有產生多少影響。另據報道,作為奧巴馬時期由美國郵政管理委員會任命的一位老將,她之所以在這個時候決定退休,也是由于受到了特朗普的壓力。不過她否認了這些傳聞。

目前,美國郵政的改革問題,也成了2020年美國總統大選期間的熱門話題。

據報道,印第安納州南本德市市長、民主黨候選人皮特·布蒂吉格在咨詢公司麥肯錫工作的三年中,曾經制訂過一份將美國郵政私有化的計劃。不過布蒂吉格的團隊否認了他曾參與過相關工作,只承認“他的團隊的主要任務,是想方設法提高收入,比如銷售賀卡、增加郵政特惠包裝箱的使用”。并表示“他從未參與過任何涉及員工重組或基本郵政服務私有化的工作?!?

不過,迪蒙德施坦因則表示,布蒂吉格的工作導致“很多郵政處理中心”被關閉了。

他在接受美聯社采訪時表示:“總的來說,任何參與炮制了麥肯錫的報告的人都是可恥的。它走到了國家和人民的需要的對立面?!保ㄘ敻恢形木W)

譯者:樸成奎

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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