USPS trucks

The United States Postal Service, here­inafter referred to as USPS, has under­gone tremen­dous change over its life­time, from the ear­li­est days — when it tried to emu­late postal deliv­ery in England and Benjamin Franklin’s over­sight — to today’s high­ly mech­a­nized service.

Regrettably, the Service today faces onslaughts from those with­in and out­side of Congress who would love to see it pri­va­tized, claim­ing with­out sub­stan­tive proof, that pri­va­ti­za­tion would result in cheap­er and bet­ter service.

Many are still around who can recall when a first-class stamp cost three cents (from 1932 to 1958) esca­lat­ed today to fifty-five cents. Still, would any­one sug­gest that a piece of mail could be deliv­ered by the writer — even across town -– for a pal­try fifty-five cents? It would cost that much just in fuel, not even account­ing for vehi­cle upkeep and rea­son­able remu­ner­a­tion for the time spent to make the delivery.

Uneducated mem­bers of Congress seem to think that the USPS should be oper­at­ed as a busi­ness. It has nev­er been a busi­ness, but a pub­lic ser­vice. In fact, the Postal Policy Act of 1958 clear­ly stat­ed that the post office is “not a busi­ness enter­prise con­duct­ed for prof­it or for rais­ing gen­er­al funds.”

Perhaps the straits in which the USPS finds itself today can be char­ac­ter­ized some­what by the changes which occurred with the archi­tec­ture of the build­ings which have housed it.

All across the coun­try, post office build­ings have under­gone mon­u­men­tal changes. And those changes have not pro­duced new ‘mon­u­ments’ which were delib­er­ate cre­ations in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry to empha­size the impor­tance of the post office.

Take our own local post office, for instance. Hardly any­one would deny that the old post office build­ing on Cleveland Street, ded­i­cat­ed in 1913, is a build­ing that presents itself as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of some­thing tru­ly grand, espe­cial­ly com­pared to the build­ing cur­rent­ly serv­ing as our post office, erect­ed in 1987. This com­mu­ni­ty is for­tu­nate that the old­er build­ing has been re-pur­posed for local gov­ern­men­tal usage and has retained vir­tu­al­ly all of its orig­i­nal charm.

The same is true for for­mer post offices in sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties and all across the coun­try. Lexington’s is now a judi­cial cen­ter; Mt. Sterling’s has been secured by a local church and the archi­tec­ture main­tained. In almost all cas­es the replace­ments are mediocre build­ings, erect­ed mere­ly to meet the exi­gen­cies of mov­ing the mail, with­out much thought of how they reflect the val­ues of the com­mu­ni­ty or the impor­tance of the post office itself.

Today the USPS faces huge road­blocks to main­tain­ing its sta­tus as the prin­ci­pal mail car­ri­er of the nation.

Perhaps the most heinous attack on the ser­vice occurred in 2006 when Congress man­dat­ed the PAEA, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (anoth­er one of those con­gres­sion­al laws couched in catch­phrase lan­guage to dis­guise its true inten­tion, which was to make the ser­vice more recep­tive to pri­vate takeover) which required that the ser­vice fund its retire­ment plan for sev­en­ty-five years into the future. Such a man­date is enforced on no oth­er busi­ness and has act­ed to cre­ate unsus­tain­able hard­ship on the service.

Also today the USPS is head­ed up by a polit­i­cal appointee who, before his appoint­ment, was a staunch advo­cate of pri­va­tiz­ing the ser­vice and who has set about cre­at­ing poli­cies designed more to fur­ther crip­ple the mails than to make the ser­vice more com­pet­i­tive and effi­cient. The recent furor of these activ­i­ties and how they will impact mail-in vot­ing in the gen­er­al elec­tion has brought to light some of these policies.

The peo­ple who make mail deliv­ery pos­si­ble are hard-work­ing indi­vid­u­als who get the mail out six days a week (and keep it mov­ing on the sev­enth). The hard­ships foist­ed on them are not deserved and changes must be made to assure the con­tin­u­a­tion of ade­quate, effi­cient mail service.

Recommended read­ing: How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher.

This arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the Winchester Sun on November 12, 2020.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.