In the beginning, the United States Postal Service (USPS) operated under a creed that held every aspect of that government service to a high standard of fidelity to performance. Today, that fidelity and performance – at least at the bureaucratic level, is a scant shadow of what it once was.
There have always been those who have complained about the promptness of mail delivery, the cost of postage, and the long lines as high-traffic post offices, especially in urban and suburban areas. Sometimes those complaints are warranted and other times they are just a symptom of an increasingly impatient society.
The official post office, the Post Office Department, was created in 1792 and based on the constitutional authority that allowed Congress, “[T]o establish post offices and post roads.” Its creation provided for a greatly expanded postal network, serving newspapers by charging them extremely low rates. The founding charter guaranteed the sanctity of personal correspondence, provided the entire country with low-cost access to information on public affairs, and established a right to personal privacy in correspondence.
But the Postal Reorganization Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970, replaced the cabinet-level Post Office Department with the independent United States Postal Service, overseen by the Postal Regulatory Commission. This created the public-private-esque contemporary postal service; an organization manned by government employees but which afforded the federal government with plausible deniability where accountability came to bear.
Today, the USPS is a unionized entity with Civil Service protections, which means a USPS employee has to satisfy a high bar when any potential termination for bad behavior is considered. It also means that every USPS employee benefits from union affiliation where a kowtowing federal bureaucracy is concerned.
In days past, the USPS employees held to an unofficial creed, which stated:
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Evidently, this creed has become antiquated. A recent announcement from a homeowners’ association to homeowners in a fairly affluent Western suburb of Chicago points to this being true:
“Our mail carrier, [name redacted], called one of our board members to tell him that he has come down with COVID, so he will be out until approximately January 5th. In his absence, only packages will be delivered to our homes as the Post Office doesn’t have anyone to cover our route at this time. Be prepared for our regular mail delivery to be intermittent to nonexistent until [name redacted] returns.”
Why This Is Important
First and foremost, this is not a swipe at the rank-and-file postal worker, although some deserve more credit for good service than others. That said…
The extreme danger of the fundamentally fascist scheme of public-private partnership is beautifully illustrated in the contemporary United States Postal Service. Where the federal government has agreed that it is a financially independent organization, they still hold great sway over its finances and operations.
Financially, although the Postal Service Fund is technically not included in the budget the president presents to Congress each year, it is included in the “unified federal budget,” This budget captures all government transactions with the public. The unified federal budget is an economic concept, not a statutory one.
According to the USPS Inspector General:
“In the 1970s and 1980s, the Postal Service was sometimes included and sometimes excluded from the president’s budget by administrative decision…In the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989, the Postal Service won a hard-fought legislative battle, at some cost, to put its funding permanently off-budget. Congress agreed that mail delivery was a self-financing business whose operations should not be scaled up or down depending on national budget considerations.
“Both the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concentrate their attention on scoring changes to the unified federal budget, primarily because it allows large surpluses in the Social Security Trust Funds to offset deficit spending elsewhere in government…
The two funds that hold the Postal Service’s contributions for future retiree benefits are on budget. As a result, reductions in payments for the Postal Service’s retiree obligations have a negative effect on the federal deficit because of the scoring process.
“Because CBO scores postal legislation against the unified budget, any legislative proposals that have the effect of reducing postal net revenues or transfers to the Treasury are subject to point-of-order objections under House “pay-as-you-go” (PAYGO) rules which require unified budget neutrality. Although the Senate’s PAYGO rule requires only on-budget neutrality, it too can be triggered by any legislative proposal that reduces the Postal Service’s contributions to on-budget retiree benefit funds.”
But even as the USPS Inspector General points out how the USPS is, indeed, financially and organizationally connected to the federal government, the USPS website contends something much different, in inferring it is a government entity.
In its “Top Thirteen Things You Should Know About the U.S. Postal Service” website page, they declare:
“The Postal Service both competes and collaborates with the private sector. UPS and FedEx pay the Postal Service to deliver hundreds of millions of their ground packages, and USPS pays UPS and FedEx for air transportation.”
Yet, it finishes off the “what you should know” page with:
“The Postal Service generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations.”
So, as you can see, this non-government entity has commingled funds with those of the federal government which, in any other situation, would scream financial malfeasance and ethical transgressions. Yet, it also has a duplicitous allegiance to federal directives and authority.
In April of 2021, Yahoo! News reported on documents it obtained revealing a nefarious effort by the USPS to covertly surveil the social media posts of each and every American citizen under the guise of national security.
“The law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests,” Jana Winter of Yahoo News reported.
“The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public,” Winter wrote. “The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.”
So, we really need to ask our elected officials whether or not the USPS is a private sector entity or a governmental agency and thus bound by the Fourth Amendment that would prevent it from illegal search without just cause.
But germane to the point of this article. If the USPS, which says it receives no funding from and is not answerable to the federal government where operations are concerned, can fully fund a spying operation against its clientele, it can afford to simply deliver the mail.
Put simply, something is very wrong with the United States Postal Service’s purview and authority. Maybe it’s time for it to be either completely privatized or retired.
Perhaps Bezos is already thinking about how to make this a perk of Amazon’s “Prime” service…it couldn’t do any worse.