In Article I, Section 8, the U.S. Constitution explicitly specified that there shall be a government-run postal service. Our founding fathers essentially established the right of every U.S. citizen to have a means of receiving written communication in any part of the U.S. no matter whether such a service made a profit, extending even to foreign lands for Americans fighting for freedom from the Philippines to Pyonyang to Pleiku to Firebase Pat Tillman. In fact our postal service is so economical and reliable that many Canadians near the U.S. border maintain U.S. addresses or P.O. boxes to receive their mail.
The facts: In 1971 the U.S. Post Office became a government-owned corporation that currently delivers the mail six days a week, averaging over 563 million pieces of mail over a distance of 4 million miles. There are places in Chicago where there is no bank or grocery store, yet the postal service delivers the mail with a minimum of problems — just as it does to all of America.
More facts: There are demands that the postal service be privatized since it is going broke. No other constitutionally-mandated part of government is expected to turn a profit. When did the military last turn a profit? In America, health care is earnings focused and 46 million Americans go without. The postal service maintains 32,000 postal facilities and many thousands of postal employees earning a middle-class living, totally supported by earnings from postal operations.
In the last four years the operating profit has been $700,000,000 but this profit is turned into a deficit by the U.S. Government requirement that the postal service pre-pay all estimated health insurance costs for the next 75 years by 2016, resulting in a $5.5 billion annual payment to the U.S. Treasury.
Further, the Office of Personnel Management made an error in the computation of required employer contributions to Civil Service Retirement and has to this point overcharged the postal service a half trillion dollars in fees.
Rather than think large and expand the USPS business plan and profit potential, there are constant demands from the Right that services be cut, which would only reduce earnings and accessibility of services to citizens. The internal resources of the USPS could offer universal access to high-speed broadband, universal email and Internet access, digital scanning and the forwarding of documents.
From 1910 to 1966 the Postal Banking System made a profit from running small depositor banking services from every post office, the end of which brought America “banking deserts” where people are forced to bank with the Currency Exchange. Bring back this “people’s bank” and give back affordable banking and saving services to all Americans (and a profit center to USPS).
In 2009, a Gallup poll showed 95 percent of Americans felt the post office was personally important to them and trusted by them. Why do the politicians and the naysayers keep trying to take our post office from the U.S? The USPS continues to be a people’s asset, a means of tapping into the constitutional and democratic ideal of the common good, a vestige of the time when we had a society where Americans felt “we’re all in it together.”
Frank R. Voznak works for the Veterans Administration and is a strong believer in the U.S. Postal Service.