I think it's sort of funny that, during this pandemic, questions which I would never think about surface in my mind. Like, “Should we privatize the US Postal System?”
This sort of reminds me of an AP Exam essay question years ago: “Should the United States discontinue the one-cent penny?” I thought that was a trivial question, but the sources indicated that it periodically surfaced in Congress.
The postal service, however, is not trivial. It impacts our lives on a daily basis. And contrary to popular notions, at times even carried by the press, by definition the post office is not a “quasi-government” agency or a private entity.
When President Trump said he would shut it down, aside from wondering why, I wondered if he could.
It appears that a president can't, because although it is under the Executive branch, Congress holds the real power.
According to the Constitution, the postal service is an independent agency of the Executive branch, “managed by the Executive branch but independent of presidential control . . . Congress shall have the power to establish a Post Office and post Roads.”
Note that they didn't have to. But our forefathers saw this as a way to provide a secure system, outside of political control, for information delivery to American citizens.
In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia, became one of two joint post masters for the colonies.
On July 25, 1775, The Continental Congress appointed him Postmaster General of the United Colonies. He vastly improved the system, and in 1789, President Washington appointed him the first Postmaster General. There were about 75 post offices.
Today there are approximately 40,000. Serving every community in our country, rural and urban. Each year they deliver over 212 billion pieces of mail to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States and its territories.
It is the largest civilian employer, employing over 500,000 workers and handling more than 44% of the world's cards and letters. And 30% of UPS and FedEx's “final mile” deliveries (meaning that the post office actually makes their deliveries).
So, what do we do with it? It appears that its financial woes are largely due to a 2006 change made by Congress, when they decided that the postal service should fund their retirement and health benefits 75 years in advance.
Why? Who knows? What other companies or agencies are forced to do that? Was it a not-so-subtle attempt to dismantle the system in order to justify future privatization measures?
Because since Congress holds the power to form and regulate the system, they can also eliminate or privatize it.
And what would that mean to us? A for-profit system--or systems--with the power to eliminate services where they weren't profitable. Like in rural areas. Or to raise rates to make those deliveries profitable.
It would signal the end of uniform rates based on weight and speed of delivery rather than location. Possibly the loss of home delivery itself in favor of “pick-up” centers.
A loss of regulations for mail inspections that protect our mail from tampering and/or theft, as well (why do you think mail and packages have those tracking devices, anyway?).
You can find lots of data about the postal service. Lots of arguments for privatization. Most of what I saw dealt with things that could be fixed, if Congress had the inclination to do so.
For example, prior to 1971, the system functioned as a tax-supported agency of the Federal government. Not sure why Congress decided it had to be self-sufficient, then virtually crippled it 35 years later with that retirement and health provision, but some defense is probably out there.
This whole topic becomes very complex, and I have only touched the surface. With all of this time on our hands, we could dig deeper, if we chose.
But one thing is clear: getting rid of the USPS would take an Act of Congress. Considering the size of the system and the chaos in mail services that privatization could cause, it seems the better route would lie in repairing the current system and keeping it out of the control of private sector business.