Dec. 8 2011 03:07 PM

"James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration," Mark Twain, May 1897.

So too, the report of the USPS' demise is much exaggerated. Will the USPS change? Absolutely! Will the USPS adapt and incorporate technology, as it works with its key stakeholders, to define an efficient mail processing network and infrastructure to match the projected workload? Absolutely!

Since July 26, 1775, the USPS, the second oldest agency in the US, has survived technology that pessimists claimed would be its doom: the telegraph, the telephone and the fax machine. With the adoption of the Internet, and consumer adjustment to that technology, the USPS and our industry is facing a "new normal."

As we consider the new normal for the USPS in 2012, what other similarities does the USPS have with riverboat captain, writer, speaker and inventor Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a., Mark Twain?
· First, Twain was also part of our $1.138 trillion industry (sales revenue representing over seven percent of the nation's GDP and over six percent of the nation's jobs); he was a printer's apprentice, typesetter and in the publishing business.
· Second, he had serious financial difficulties resulting in bankruptcy - which he later resolved and paid his creditors (even though not legally required to do so).
· Third, he was an innovator and inventor enthusiastic about discovery and technology.

Did the USPS perceive its connection with Twain? Is that why five postage stamps have been issued in his honor? Maybe not. The important questions are: will Congress correctly perceive the facts that have been presented to them over, and over, and over again , and finally take corrective action that will help, not hurt, the viability of the USPS and the mailing industry?

It is perhaps just too sweet to hold onto the postage dollars that are snuggly wrapped up in the US Treasury instead of returning the $6.9 Billion in Federal Employees Retirement System overpayments - after all, anything that "scores" the Federal Budget doesn't show well on the report card, does it? Do you remember the main premise of Twain's Huckleberry Finn? It is a young boy's belief in the right thing to do, though most believed it was wrong. Well, in the case of the FERS overpayment, as well as the situation with the prefunding of the retirement health benefits, most intelligent, honest and aware young and old boys and girls recognize and believe that correcting these errors IS the right thing to do.

I know that I'm writing to the choir, and as I consider what 2012 will pose for our industry, I realize that a reality check of major proportions is necessary to avoid rumors of the USPS' demise. Did you know that Twain was born during an appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well? His prediction was accurate. He died the day after the return of Halley's Comet on April 21, 1910. Halley's Comet is due back on July 28, 2061, and the USPS will NOT go out with it! The USPS will still be delivering mail well beyond 50 years from now, and I hope that they will be doing so in a corrected legal framework much sooner; and without a comet-jarring event.

I look forward to hearing the shout, "Mark Twain" - the call made when a riverboat is in safe water (two fathoms) - as the USPS navigates the twists and turns, the current and many obstacles and opportunities facing them in 2012.