Here is one impact of the U.S. Postal Service's deteriorating financial condition: a huge and aging fleet of delivery trucks badly in need of repair and replacement.
More than 140,000 delivery trucks — with an average age of 18 years old — are approaching the end of their usefulness, and the agency has no plans to replace them. That's because it would cost $5.8 billion to do that, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The Postal Service puts the figure at closer to $7 billion.
The report also found truck repair facilities lacking resources and deferring maintenance for as long as possible in order to reduce costs.
"It's unacceptable that the Postal Service has no plans to date to replace its aging fleet," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Tuesday at a Senate subcommittee hearing. Carper chairs the Senate's subcommittee on federal financial management.
Carper called on the agency to replace its vehicles with fuel-efficient models to save on gas.
Because postal trucks are not commercially available, they are harder to replace, according to Postal Service spokeswoman Darlene Casey.
She said the Postal Service saved $15 million on maintenance costs in 2010 by deferring some repairs, ditching some of its oldest vehicles and replacing 6,500 others with new models.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said the Postal Service should be doing more to get the private sector involved in a solution.
"Have you thought about going to the market and just saying, ‘Hey, here's what we need?' and seeing what they come up with?" he asked.
But Postmaster General Patrick Donahue said at the hearing that truck repairs were only a "temporary measure" and that a fleet replacement is what is needed.
He said the Postal Service is looking at "anything and everything out there" to reduce costs, including electric vehicles and hybrids.
"In order to do that we have to get our finances in order," Donahue said.