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.