Most people probably don’t know what a universal service obligation is, much less that the Postal Service is bound by one. But a USO, as it’s commonly called, is essential to ensuring that everyone receives the mail service they need. And the Postal Service’s USO is long overdue for updating and clarification, as you can see in our new white paper, Guiding Principles for a New Universal Service Obligation.

In general, a USO is a collection of requirements that ensure everyone in the country receives a minimum level of mail service at a reasonable price. The Postal Service’s USO includes a requirement to provide mail services to everyone, regardless of where they live, and for at least one mail product, at a uniform price. Other features of the USO are understood to include frequency of delivery, a range of product offerings, access to mail services, and quality of service. For instance, delivering your mail 6 days a week is part of the USO.

But frequency of delivery is the only obligation that is clearly articulated in the Postal Service’s current USO. In fact, the USO is based on a hodgepodge of various legal requirements and regulations that, in most cases, provide only broad guidance. For example, while public access to postal services is another important component of the USO, there’s nothing about how many access points, such as collection boxes or post offices, must exist.

The big question: What exact services do policy makers and the American public (both senders and receivers of the mail) now need the Postal Service to provide? Our paper provides six guidelines the Postal Service and its many stakeholders can use to frame the discussion about the USO and try to answer that basic question. For instance, we say a new USO should be clearly defined while also being flexible enough to adapt to future changes.

Do you agree the USO should be updated to reflect the changing nature of communications? How have your mail needs changed in the last decade? Do we still need 6-day-a-week delivery? How do you think the American public would benefit from a more clearly defined USO that included, for example, a minimum requirement for the number of access points? 

Comments (326)

  • anon

    When it is raining and windy and you get a package, I always thought the carrier was to leave it at your door in a bag or put a notice in your box that your package is at the post office. Yesterday I was busy and heard a horn beep knowing it was the mail carrier in my driveway. By the time I get to the door I saw her backing out but never stopped at my box for the regular small mail. I look out my door and no box or mail in a bag because of the rain and no notice of anything. So I thought ok no big deal she will stop back later or bring the box the next day. 5:00a the next day one of my household members goes to leave for work and in the front seat of the truck was the box and the rest of the mail. Can they legally do that? I mean I don't mind at all but what if we didn't see it for a week and something important was in the mail. In the Summer when we get a package she puts it on our door step if no answer at the door and puts the rest of the mail in the mail box or under the package.

    Dec 15, 2015
  • anon

    We mailed a check for a due ER bill that apparently never made it to its destination. We have the date we sent it, as well as the check number, and, magically on our online records, that check number has been skipped, as in it hasn't been processed. We have now received a notice saying we are now under a delinquency review. Thanks a lot for this potential blot on our credit record. I expect a response soon from someone on how this can be resolved. And I mean quick.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    I sent a package over to spain to my friend, and they can't find the adressee, I put two names. His and the actual owner of the house. I need to make sure he actually get the mail. And not have it sent back to me, or sit at the postal office the entire time.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    On the 5th of December 2015 a pink slip was left that delivery was attempted. The pink slip indicated I should sign. I left this slip on the door Monday December 7th. I saw the mailman that day. He took the slip and said he would bring package back the next day December 8th. On Friday December 11th My husband opened the front door to ask mailman why he had not brought the package back.. Our 7 pound dog slipped past him and quickly bit the mailman. My husband picked her right up. He asked if he was ok He said it broke the skin. If idid it had to have barely broken skin. He apologized profusely. Today Monday December 14th my husband saw the mailman across the street and asked about package. He informed him we would no longer have our mail delivered. He said he got a tetnace shot. Our dog has always been up to date with shots. He didn't ask if she was up to date. He said our package was at the post office we'd have to get it there. He took our pink slip so we could get it. I find him not delivering the package and this small dog bite. Which we are very sorry for and don't mean to minimize her biting him. But our dog is never outside. Is there anyway we can get our mail delivered again? Sincerely, Terri Marchant

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    Hi. My tracking number is 9405511298006825916234 and I keep getting the runaround as to where it is and when it will be here. It was expected on thanksgiving week and as you know it has been some time since. Thank you for your time.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    I am not getting my mail delivered. Magazines that I subscribed to I am not receiving. New Credit Cards that I request never come in and I have to call again to request new ones. Please help.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    I am from Maryland. My daughter sent me some mail a week ago to Honesdale, Pennsylvania and I haven't received the letter yet. I have visited the post office twice to inform that I haven't received the letter. What can I do to find out what happened to my mail. Thanks for whatever help you can give.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    I'd love to know just how I can actually get my mail picked up and delivered at my house. The original carrier left years ago and her replacement has never been able to do the job. I've been complaining since she took over, with no results. I've heard they can't see the flag (well, try delivering before dark or provide your carrier with a spotlight to illuminate them); my mailbox is hidden by bushes (it's in the wide open); my mailbox is on a curb and not easily detected (I'm on a straight road with many boxes immediately before and after me); and the list goes on and on. I have complained to my local post office and post office master in my area (a representative even came out to my house to actually view my "setup" and stated there was no reason my mail shouldn't be delivered and the excuses given to me were just that - excuses), but nothing is being done to change the situation. I'm told they will talk with the carrier and ask her to be more aware - she isn't. I've also been told, by my local postmaster, they she instructed the carrier to stop at my box every single day, regardless if I had mail or not, so this wouldn't happen again. Hmm, that's not happening, obviously and doesn't matter, because when she stops to deliver my mail, she just places it ON TOP of the outgoing mail and drives off without taking it. No, I'm not making this up. It's odd, because when we have a substitute doing the route, the mail is delivered and delivered early. But not with our "usual" carrier. As a matter of fact, I was missed again yesterday, as was a neighbor and this neighbor didn't see or hear the carrier's truck at all (she always does). So, I'm wondering if our road was missed completely, which then brings up the question....where is our mail? The only thing my local post office hasn't done is put another carrier on this route. I truly believe the current carrier is not competent to do the job and either needs a shorter and more simple route or needs to be removed completely from delivering mail. It might also help if they took her cell phone away from her so she could concentrate on the task at hand. This carrier is currently unable to perform the tasks of the position she's in. She is also unprofessional in that she retaliates when I complain (I complained in the past about her not putting the flag down, so she would stop at my box - when I didn't have mail going/coming - just to put the flag up!) Yes, another true story. I'd like to know if you reimburse customers when you fail to provide the services you have been contracted for? I'd love to know if I can be reimbursed monetarily for my losses. I'm in Stockbridge, GA.

    Dec 13, 2015
  • anon

    This week, a week of rain in the Seattle area, my mail has been delivered wet and soaking. Is there any requirement that the postal carrier should protect the contents of his delivery? I do not expect mail in such conditions to arrive bone dry, but I don't expect it to arrived damaged because he walked up and down the street with it without protection in a bag.

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    What can be done to report my local Post Office for not delivering a package (plus all other mail) for an entire day (Saturday)? We were expecting a package that showed it was "out for delivery" and the next thing it shows "notice left". I called the Post Office and the person that answered the phone said they were overwhelmed with mail and it would be delivered on Monday. This is not the first time this has happened.

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    Second time in a month our mail has not been delivered. I thought they had to continue until it was all done!

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    My mailman refuses to deliver certified mail, he leaves only one notice that is a final notice and then lies that he left other notices I have spoken with the postmaster and he does nothing what should I do next. I am a business that is open 7 am to 5 pm and the door is open he has never attempted a delivery. My zip is 06471

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    hello, I need to report someone who has opened my mail. I am not sure of how to report it; I have called the usps many times and they say that I have to report it online. I seen this website with the intent of seeking help. Thank You

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    Please send a inspector to my house we live in a circle and if a car is park by our house and even if the car is not our he won't leave our mail he holds it he's just racist cuz we're the only Hispanics living on the circle

    Dec 11, 2015
  • anon

    i was wondering why my mail had been returned to the sender when the address was correct and the proper amout of postage was on the letter. this was not the first time this has happened.

    Dec 11, 2015
  • anon

    How do I go about finding a missing Christmas card that I mailed to my grandson for his birthday. I enclosed a letter and a gift card. I mailed it from the Bellevue, Ohio Post Office. It has been a week, what do I do now? He called to tell me that it wasn't received, but he did receive the card I sent 2 days after the first one.. What do I do now?? Any suggestions?? I hate to think someone would take a letter thinking there might be money inside. Is there anything I can do??????

    Dec 11, 2015
  • anon

    Mail has not been delivered in 2 days and I had letters to go out too and they weren't picked up. I've no idea what is going on. Pasco, WA

    Dec 11, 2015
  • anon

    Spokane sorting facility was damaged by rain/wind. I'm in Pullman and am having the same problem.

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    I called the 800 number to file a mail theft complaint and was told " once the mail is delivered it is no longer our responsibility" and there was no way to file a complaint for mail theft.

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    I live in Great Mills, MD and I have a house in florida that I'm renting out. My tenant has been sending me payments via checks in the mail. This is the 3rd time my tenants payments have been returned to sender before reaching my mail box. My address is correct on the postage. This has costed me trouble with my tenant. Please investigate.

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    Mail and packages is constantly being miss delivered.

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    I am furious with the US postal service. My mother in-law sent me a package in November and it was delivered but were werent home. So we went to go pick it up at the location we were told the package would be, when we got there they said the package wasnt there. Its 12/10/2015, it will be almost a month and still no package. I had an order out for a gift that was being sent to someone in New York. The tracking information has been the same since 12/5/2015, and again it's 12/10/2015, WHERE IS MY PACKAGE? Ive been in contact with customer service who I find is no help. They keep directing me to the website, thats is no help. I rarely get upset, but I am FURIOUS. If people are stealing packages from the Post office I demand they investigate this because this is TWICE now that this has happen to me in the same month. I understand its the holidays and all but at least give me some kind of update saying "sorry for the inconvenience, your package is still being processed" or something, Id be fine with that, but when you give me no insight to where my package is and the tracking has stayed the same for DAYS, then I get suspicious. FEDEX and UPS all day! USPS has lost my services. They cannot be trusted.

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    I am a retired Postmaster. The Postal Service should not be in the parcel delivery business. Parcels are secondary after first class letters. Priority Mail is a marketing scam. Any first class package over 13 ounces is Priority Mail. So if you send an 8 ounce package, don't pay for Priority Mail. Save your money and just pay for First Class. It goes on the same truck or plane as Priority. They do not Track packages properly. In fact they actually alter dates and locations. Presently I am waiting for a 2 Day Priority Flat Rate Package that was mailed 7 days ago. The last tracking shows that it sat in Federal Way Washington for almost 24 hours. Now it's obvious that this package has only been shipped by truck the entire way so far, even though Priority Mail was paid for. Why is the Postsl Service allowed to charge for a service and not provide it. If they sell a 2 day Service and it takes over a week, they should be giving the customer an automatic Refund! They know that many of their services are not being met. Yet they ignore the fact. Define the word: SERVICE? Why do they call it Postal Service. My advice? Use UPS Zoe Fed Ex. By the way. I shipped a Priorty Mail on October 30, 2015. It is now December 12, 2015. Still not delivered. Got to go. I'm headed to the UPS Store to mail my packages. Merry Christmas to all

    Dec 12, 2015
  • anon

    I've lived in my apartment since July of this year and have yet to receive my mail. I've gone to my local post office in Virginia Beach several times. I've gone in to have them hold my mail, to be added to the list of keys that need to be made. I went I today only to discover that they lost my request to hold my mail and to make a new key for my mail box! This is so ridiculous!!!! What's it going to take to get those morons to make me a key so I can have my mail!?!?!

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    The post office is the worst service ever. I mailed Certified important mail from a circuit court judge in Ilinois on 11-30-1 5 going to New York today is 12-10-15 and the mail ssI also paid over $8.00 and it has not arrived as of yet. IIt ONLY take three to four days for mail to get to New York. The post office sucks and has continued to go down hill for years. They better find that important piece of mail in the big brown envelope or they will have a VERY BIG law suit on their hand. I have a certified receipt. This mail is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!!!!! WHERE IS MY MAIL!!!!!

    Dec 10, 2015
  • anon

    the mail man has been arriving to my area around pm delivering the wrong mail i been receiving the wrong mail these few couple of days ... who is receiving my mail what number can i contact to complaint about this ...its becoming ridiculous

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    This is ridiculous that the post office delivers mail at 9 every night that's horrible and wrong when your waiting on your important mail and it needs to stop!!!!!

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you Anonymous-- We have the same issue and have had no response or change or even acknowledgement from our "local postmaster" despite calling the 800 number and being told we would be contacted by him/her! The delivery routes and times are changed at someone's whim apparently and despite being 2 blocks from the local post office our mail often arrives well after dark! We want accountability. We have shared mailbox clusters and are mostly retired/elderly/otherwise challenged. Is it going to take an someone getting mugged/otherwise harmed trying to retrieve their mail after dark for things to change? It should be the law for residential mail delivery to be during daylight hours, but we know that local businesses get their mail early/during daylight.... We're "stewing in North Carolina". Have no computer/email but maybe smartphone will do timely delivery!

    Dec 11, 2015
  • anon

    The Post office moved my mailbox 2 blocks from where my house is and i have disability problems and its impossible for me to walk that far every day. My Therepist had the doctor send a letter to the Post Master. To try to get mail delivered to my house that i had bedn for over 33 years till they moved my box to a collage of locked boxes out on the street that are locked. The Post master came up here and could not come up with an answer except to call the welfare dept and have a volunteer get my mail and have my mail sent to a friend and drive to the post office every day and call and have someone bring it out to my car. Duh if im gonna drive to post office why dont i just stop and get my mail. I own a city lot next to my house and offered to set up a mail box and let the driver to come into lot and throw mail in my box and circle out cause she thought it was a blind corner. I had mail delivered and never had a problem till they moved the box to a box with about 10 other lock boxes. Doesnt the USPS have any accomodations for Disabled people. Also i take medication and shouldnt be driving and walking next to a busy road. I lived here 34 years and i had a mail box at my house until about 4 years ago. Now they are saying they dont want to deliver packages. What can i do im 70 and feel it is my right to have a mail box like everyone else on my property and like i had for over 30 years. What can i do. Today the mailman refused to leave a package cause it was too big to fit in box and wants me to come down to postoffice to get it any other time they usually deliver it to my porch. I feel like im being singled out. Why are their no accomodations for Disabled. It took me an hour to get hold of the post office by phone today and even if i could drive down there to get the package i couldnt stand that long and if i called to have it brought out to me it would take an hour to get to talk to anyone by phone. Post office is in Shelton Washington 98584 and postmaster is Dawn Lui

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    I feel like I am missing some mail. I haven't gotten my usual junk mail I usually have a mailbox full by today. I have not checked it in a few days and I was expecting there to be a lot more. Plus everything in there is dated for Dec. 3 so where is the mail from the 2nd and 1st at least. If my mailbox is full will the mailman take my mail back that was sitting in there if its to full to put more mail.

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    I have been having the same sort of feelings as well. I used to get plenty of "junk' mail along with the important pieces , but about a year or so ago the volume dropped off suddenly. Virtually no junk mail when the regular carrier is on the route. When he's off on vacation for a week and substitutes do the route , mail is delivered (including junk mail) every day. Also , I used to get mail most days. Now I see mail on Wednesday and Friday , but no other days when the regular carrier is on.

    Dec 13, 2015
  • anon

    Just to clarify. I do not live out in a rural area. I live in the city of Rochester , NY in ZIP Code 14612 in a populated area with many businesses in the area.

    Dec 14, 2015
  • anon

    Every year for the past few years me an my family have been having a issue when receiving our mail around the holidays. Mail is being opened an gift cards for birthdays an Christmas have been missing as well as money for both they are being stolen an the letter or card is out back an the envelope is being resealed with tape. Yesterday dec. 8 we received something from a gift basket company with what was suppose to contain a $10 gift card for our purchases an the mail was opened an the card was takin an the closed an put back. We Really would like this problem resolved

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    I live done a long dirt road my mailbox is on the gate at the beginning of the road my address is 5614 it's posted next to the mailbox on the gate but the last address on the street before my gate is like 5414 will I still receive my mail or will the mail carrier assume that my box is on the other block with the test if the 5600 addresses

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    I park an equal distance from my cluster mail box as my nei ghhh bor, yet I am the only one getting a letter from the postman telling me my car is blocking the mailbox and he would stop delivering mail, he also put a more on the cluster box stating he wou of not deliver mail because of the red car (mine). I can't help but think this is blatant discrimination. Ps. I am forced to block a drive way or he won't deliver, the ups man and fed ex man don't have trouble delivering inside this did good space. This silliness is why I am finally switching to online bill pay, you need to learn customer service to the levels of your competitors.

    Dec 09, 2015
  • anon

    Second day and mail still not delivered..5:30 pm. 95129.. 7075 rainbow drive, #3. What goes On. My mail guy is usually great.

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    I am constantly amazed at the unprofessional and rude behavior of postal employees. I have to keep reminding myself that these are employees of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! I mean, where do they find these people? My father used to say that it is a law that they must hire the dumbest people on the planet to work at the Post Office and the Social Security Office. I wonder sometimes if it's true. I have lived in several different states, and many different cities, and I find the same thing every where I go. It's unbelievable. Come on, these people are representing our federal government. Are these really the people we want??

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    Is there any way to stop all junk mail? I have signed up on line for every stop-mail service I can find but that only works for mail that has my name on it. What about all those grocery store and other retailer ads? HELP!

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    Is postal worker allowed to open and keep letters his 17 year old son wrote to his friends? This is happening in the post office.

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    I live in 33496 and have been receiving my home mail delivery at 6:00PM or later every evening, what are the service standards for home delivery? No it is not being delivered by a substitute mail carrier, this has been the norm for some time.

    Dec 07, 2015
  • anon

    Your service and the people that work for the USPS are nothing short of pathetic!

    Dec 07, 2015
  • anon

    Can my daughter pick up my mail that I have placed on hold while working out of state? Sincerely; Wanda Foxworth Dec. 7. 2015

    Dec 07, 2015
  • anon

    My usual mailman that is excellent is on sick leave,the ones that come,they show after 6 pm or not at all,do not nock the door for register mail or a parcel to sign. Leave post from other addresses. Worse service never had ,Frisco tx

    Dec 06, 2015
  • anon

    There are streets - like 143 Avenue, 143 Road and you might also have 143 Street, with the same house numbers 219-15 - what helps to differentiate these addresses. I regularly get the mail from 143 Road to my 143 Avenue address. I deliver their mail to them - but never have gotten my mail from them. Is there a way to help post office to correct this? I live in Queens, NY 11413 (Springfield Gardens Area). Having the same address and similar road and avenue seems to cause a lot of problems.

    Dec 05, 2015
  • anon

    I have an old box that's kind of ripped on top from tearing the tape off. Can I reuse this box to send more mail?

    Dec 05, 2015
  • anon

    Yes kiara, as long as you package it up correctly and it is secure you will be good to go!!

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    So distressing my tax money pays there salary and post office is not open when I am off work so I can get my Christmas things . I will,have to hired someone to pick it up for gods sake I want to pay less taxes if I can get my mail deliver to my home either. I wouldnt pay for tv if I didn't get it. I wouldn't pay for a vehicle for work if I didn't have access to it. Maybe I can hired someone on welfare to pick it up so then I can pay triple taxes for usps.

    Dec 05, 2015
  • anon

    Maybe you should have your packages delivered at a family members. All the little post offices shut down early now. Just to clarify your Taxes doesn't come to the USPS at all. We are our own organization!!! Thank you have a great day!!!

    Dec 08, 2015
  • anon

    I keep getting my mail late they keep sending to the wrong address. Please send my mail in right address

    Dec 05, 2015
  • anon

    Can a postal carrier tell my neighbors what I received or didn't receive in the mail? Isn't this a violation of my privacy?

    Dec 05, 2015

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  • 1 day 15 hours ago
    Hello. Thank you for your comment. We found the costs associated with processing, transporting, and delivering mail are outpacing revenue increases. And electronic diversion is causing a decline in...
  • 1 day 15 hours ago
    Hello, Tommy. Thank you for your comment. In collaboration with its stakeholders (e.g. Congress, Board of Governors), the Postal Service is looking at how to improve service performance and reduce...

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