Postal Policy and How We Can Expand America’s Mail Delivery Service
In 1791, President George Washington declared, “The importance of the post office and post roads on a plan sufficiently liberal and comprehensive as they respect expedition, safety, and facility of communication, is increased by their instrumentality in diffusing a knowledge of the laws and proceedings of the government.”
From 1790 to 1860 in the United States population grew to 31.4 million, to compensate, the number of post offices grew from 75 to a staggering 28,498. Numerical growth is not innovative in and of itself, but during this period many innovations were made.
In 1792 the first major postal law was passed, making it free for newspapers to send each other newspapers. This was consistent with the way local newspapers picked up stories to publish for subscribers.
In 1863, the laws for free home delivery were passed to combat the issues citizens were facing. They were required to pick up mail from their local post office. In cities where revenue was sufficient, the Postal Service would begin free home deliveries. At the start of the 20th century, this was 796 cities.
Rural free delivery passed by an act of congress in 1893, and by 1905 the post office had 32,000 rural letter carriers.
During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, weight limits were increased on parcel post services, allowing the Postal Service to competitively (make money) move more packages.
Railroads shortened delivery times over distances, and this was implemented in the 1800’s. In the 1900’s, Airmail was a major innovation in the United States Postal Service.
By act of congress in 1970, the post office was reorganized into an independent function of government, with different governing authorities. Most recently, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed.
HR 6407, The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is an act by congress of much contention since its’ passage in 2006.
In speculation and cynicism, this law can be attacked from its’ left or right flank. It can be argued that this law was passed to eventually make the federal government’s ability to run a post office look shallow, and therefore lead to the privatization of the Postal Service. This paper from The Heritage Foundation’s archives would assuredly point to the right wing of American politics wanting to get the post office off budget.
However, the right can attack the left of American politics and say that this bill was just about “big union” as it requires the post office to make a $5.5 billion payment on funding retiree health benefits annually.
The contentions of why the post office is struggling to make these payments, and what this act of congress was trying to achieve are just that, contentions. In the details, we find simple policy outcomes, such as; creating a modern system for regulating rates, prohibiting the provision of non-postal services by the post office, and requires the funding of health benefits for retirees.
The self-inflicted wounds the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act are causing the Postal Service are devastating, but it is manufactured drama. There is no reason for funding retiree health benefits for 75 years in a 10-year period as is mandated by the law.
What Should the Postal Service Do?
It seems intuitive to believe that the issues of Postal Service revenue not covering these payments to the Treasury, are based on the market shift from mail to email, letter to text message, etc.
Legislation has been pushed to cut costs, and it would seem intuitive that at a time of financial struggle, costs need to be cut to make payments to the Treasury on time and get the Postal Service in the black.
Among other proposals, cutting Saturday delivery has been mentioned, which would be hard on our pharmaceutical consumers who receive prescription drugs in the mail. This could be dangerous if one is stuck without the drug they need over the weekend.
Considering these crises, job cuts and consolidating processing plants to lower the postal budget, it would seem the best thing to do would be to return to the letter carrying monopoly, and let the private sector handle other services. It would be a drastic change in how American mail is delivered, and would likely eliminate the issues the service is currently facing.
Let’s instead forge a better way forward.
Modernizing the US Postal Service
It is among the enumerated powers, that the establishment of a post office is laid. Reading, “To establish post offices, and post roads,” article I grants congressional powers.
This allows congress to implement the following policies, in statutory and detailed form of course.
First and foremost, the statute requiring the funding of retiree benefits in such an aggressive manner should be eliminated, or the payments should be significantly reduced.
The Postal Service should have a new of governing body created, over the creation of innovative services, and to expand services to make the Postal Service more profitable. This can be headed by a “Chief Innovation Officer” and be subject to congressional authority.
The post office must maintain 6-day delivery, and a universal approach to delivering the mail across the United States.
Small sources of revenue can be sourced from newer, smaller services. The post office could offer a copy center, faxing, and other consumer based services. These can be offered at small fees, and be limited to the most basic of services, allowing businesses to not lose out to USPS.
The mailing of wine and beer should be implemented, subject to various levels of statutory authority of course.
Basic banking services should be offered by the post office, as this can help eliminate bank deserts in impoverished areas, and create a source of revenue for the Postal Service. This could translate to $8.9 billion in revenue as projected by the Office of Inspector General.
Many of these proposals already have existing legislation that was introduced in previous congresses.
The debate over what the post office should do, and how it should do it, is one worth having. It seems appropriate to offer the American public an expansionary Postal Service, so they can have access to basic services at all times.
The important part is that we even have these debates. With centuries of precedent for an innovative postal service, and an expansionary postal service at that, it seems these proposals are the common sense, next step, in creating a 21st century Postal Service.