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Save the Post Office: Make up for the drop in physical volume with digital services

Among the various depressing activities going on in Washington, DC this year, one of the most immediate is the plan to start the dismantling of United States Postal Service. I’ve followed this story mainly through updates from Senator Bernie Sanders:

Postal Service: Pressure mounted on the House to act on a Senate-passed bill to keep hundreds of postal facilities from closing and, at Sen. Bernard Sanders’ suggestion, find ways to make up for a drop in mail volume due to e-mail, the Vermont Press Bureau reported.

Sanders’ Role Credited: “The postal reform bill passed by the Senate this week averts the decimation of the Postal Service that had been proposed as a way to save it. Sen. Sanders took an active role in the Postal Service issue, and in Vermont the benefits will be real,” the Rutland Herald editorialized.

Well, I’ve got a suggestion for how to make up for “drop in mail volume due to e-mail” :

  1. I would like it if the US Post Office could set up an email server with the same privacy guarantees that we have with the US Mail.
  2. Require warrants to open and access messages, attachments and contact lists (for starters).
  3. Forbid harvesting messages, attachments and contact lists (for starters) for marketing research.
  4. I would pay a reasonable price for this service.

And this is just the start. They could provide VoIP, video & instant messaging. The Post Office could be the department that manages and maintains a high grade Public Internet. They could provide cell phone service.   They could provide printing and delivery services — messages or attachments could be printed on postcards or some kind of security stationary at the Post Office closest to destination and then delivered in hard copy to the recipient — bridging the distance between traditional mail and email.  And, hey! They already have the delivery part covered, don’t they?

The key element to all of these services is that just as with the physical documents delivered by the Post Office our digital documents would be protected by the sort of privacy we grew up expecting — and have been denied until now with our digital communication.

I never understood why public Internet services had to be delivered and controlled by private corporations — ESPECIALLY email. Now is the perfect time to start making our United States Postal Service relevant, useful AND profitable.


18 Responses

  1. I use USPS Prioriy Mail to send packages instead of UPS (no Fed-Ex office near-by) so the stuff I send arrives in one piece. I ordered a budget computer key board from an e-tail outlet this week it arrived via UPS with the shipping carton crushed. So much for the private sector doing a better job than a government agency.

    • And if you live in an apartment, getting stuff from UPS is a total nightmare. They refused to leave packages at the Office and my hours made it completely impossible to be home when they came by. Since their distribution warehouse was at the other end of town it was two weeks after one package arrived that I could get there while they were open for business!

    • Just a FYI… USPS Priority Mail is moved on FedEx’s network of planes and trucks… so it is the private sector moving the mail either way. That is why mail in transit times all of a sudden became very good and predictable 10+ years ago (almost no lost mail). The only difference is tracking and who delivers the package, so for the price… I prefer the USPS.

      By the way, this idea to take the post office digital has been a big initiative the German post office has been pushing for years. We might look to them as a transformation template.

  2. This is an excellent idea.

  3. The method for printing secure letters has been used by libraries for years when they send overdue and other notices to patrons.

    So, none of this stuff is difficult … and it’s hard to believe that no one else has considered it. I’m guessing that like everything else that could make our lives easier, better and more affordable. The businesses that benefit from the Post Office NOT performing these functions are making SURE they don’t.

  4. In essence re-position the USPS to mean “Communications!” Makes sense and positions it for all future years.

  5. Once the print and broadcast media, on orders from Corporate America, shut down the internet I look for the USPS to pick back up.

  6. Meanwhile, I pay all my bills by check and mail them out in envelopes with USPS stamps on them to do my part in keeping the USPS’s physical volume up.

    Also, I read that the Bush-era Congress passed and Bush signed a bill forcing the USPS to prepay its employee’s eventual pentions for 75 years ahead. No institution has ever been ordered to do this and the reason I read for this law was that it was designed to engineer an artificial bankruptcy for the USPS so it could be liquidated and the parts sold off. Re-normalizing the USPS’s required pay-ahead for pensions in line with every other government or quasi-government agency might lift some of the manufactured pressure.

  7. […] Save the Post Office: Make up for the drop in physical volume with digital services riverdaughter (Lambert) […]

  8. This attack on the Post Office is another example, like the attacks on SS and Medicare, of privatizing life in general – no room for anything that resembles a public institution …

    Kind of funny when you think about it – the first agency set up by our “founding fathers” is being dismantled by the folks who supposedly revere those founders and “original intent” and all that …

    • Not everything is an attack. Like every business / enterprise (public or private) over time your market shifts and your overhead (fixed assets, personnel) is not aligned with the needs of your customers. This is why reorganizations happen… and they are very necessary for a healthy, sustainable business.

      What you are saying is that the post office is 100% optimized and these people are trying to break it for ideological reasons… which could be a valid comment except the post office comes to the taxpayers every year for money.

      The reality probably is that there is a decent amount of fat to cut (including money losing locations) and at the same time the price of stamps should be able to rise without an act of congress. But those are both controlled by political rather than business decisions… so maybe it would be good for them to have a little less government intrusion.

      • The reality is that the USPS was forced by Bush-era legislation to fund the retirement health insurance fund 70 years into the future. Which virtually no (and possibly none) other business does or is expected to do.

        1. The USPS is not technically “broke” — yet.

        Operationally speaking, the USPS nets profits every year. The financial problem it faces now comes from a 2006 Congressional mandate that requires the agency to “pre-pay” into a fund that covers health care costs for future retired employees. Under the mandate, the USPS is required to make an annual $5.5 billion payment over ten years, through 2016. These “prepayments” are largely responsible for the USPS’s financial losses over the past four years and the threat of shutdown that looms ahead – take the retirement fund out of the equation, and the postal service would have actually netted $1 billion in profits over this period.

        This doesn’t mean, however, that the USPS’s financial situation is good. Revenue has been declining for years, and even if the agency manages to get past this year’s $5.5 billion payment, it would again face insolvency next year.

        If it wasn’t for this unreasonable, heavy and nearly impossible requirement the post office would NOT be running a deficit.

        So. There’s that.

        But, I happen to think the Post Office could do even more. It could move aggressively into the 21st century providing the secure services I outlined above.

      • Oh, i dunno, singling out the PO in absurdly requiring it to fund its healthcare costs projected 70 years into the future, and do it in 10 years sounds like an attack to me …

        Ben Franklin would be pretty POd, methinks ……

      • If the price for remaining relevant for companies or government run institutions was “100% optimized”, there wouldn’t be any left.

        Private companies are inefficient too.

        Requiring an impossible arbitrary standard (exactly what would be 100% optimized? If nobody knows…) and one that is higher than ordinarily expected is the same as trying to break the post office for ideological reasons.

        I guess the bright spot is if the Post Office survives the assault, it might be the last place on earth to retire with a pension for those of us who aren’t retiring next week.

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