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An open letter to the Inspector General

Posted: December 2, 2011 - 8:42am

To David Williams, U.S. Postal Service Inspector General:

It has come to our attention that the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General has some suggestions for the way mail is handled in the state of Alaska, specifically the bypass mail program, which allows businesses to ship 1,000-pound pallets of food and other items from Anchorage and Fairbanks at parcel post rates to residents of remote Alaska villages.

We'd like to share with you our 44 cents.

In fact, we love your suggestion, that Alaska should invest in infrastructure to better connect our far flung communities. It's something we've been working on for years.

However, we resent your insinuation that somehow, the bypass mail program is holding us back, that because the federal government covers the extra cost of delivering goods to those far flung communities, we somehow have no incentive to invest in roads to them.

You'll kindly note that we keep pitching projects, only to see them ridiculed at the federal level (bridge to nowhere), delayed indefinitely or flat out denied (Colville River).

We're sure folks along the west coast of our state would be much happier if things like oil to heat their homes and gasoline to power their vehicles could be trucked in on a regular basis, year-round. Instead, they're looking at the astronomical costs of flying in their fuel for the winter, as a massive storm prevented the last barge of the season from getting there before the coast iced up. Right now, officials are trying to figure out if there's an icebreaker available to help get a barge into Nome; perhaps you could check with Congress on how they're doing with keeping our icebreaker fleet -- a single vessel -- from being mothballed?

While you're at it, you might note that some 60 percent of Alaska falls under federal land management. Building infrastructure on most of that land requires, literally, an act of Congress. Anything you can do to help move legislation through the House and Senate to build a road across a part of that wilderness would be greatly appreciated.

As for your suggestion that the state pay for bypass mail, perhaps out of the Alaska Permanent Fund, well, we'll politely pass on that one. Turns out, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, the 10th Amendment prevents the federal government from doing that.

We acknowledge that the total paid to air carriers participating in the bypass mail program is about $70 million more than the postage collected on the goods being shipped. And we understand that the Postal Service is struggling with complex budget and labor issues.

But hearing the head of a federal agency facing a deficit approaching $10 billion thinks our state should be better managed -- that just doesn't sit well with us. Quite frankly, it has been irresponsible of the Postal Service, the administration and Congress to let the problem get this deep in the first place.

There likely are many efficiencies to be found in the bypass mail program. If building a post road is one of them, we're all for it.

In the mean time, we'd pose this question to the Office of the Inspector General: You argue that bypass mail "has expanded beyond its original purpose and does not appear essential to the Postal Service's mission to bind the nation together through the provision of reliable, affordable, universal mail service."

But doesn't that fact the bypass mail program is costing $70 million a year above and beyond the parcel post rate just go to show how essential the program is to providing reliable, affordable universal mail service?

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