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

    I would like to know if there are any regulations about the amount of space that is required around a mailbox in a residential area where there is curbside delivery. We have lived here for over 24 years and have never had any problems until now. This mailman we have had for somewhere between 2 -3 Years keeps slapping on stickers that say "Please keep the approach to the mailbox clear at all times or we will be unable to deliver your mail". We leave approximately 20 feet from where are car is parked on one side of the mailbox. On the other side of our mailbox there is about 15 feet from where an occasional guest will park. At no time is there EVER a car blocking the mailbox and yet we get these occasional stickers. We got one today (while I was in the front yard maybe 20 feet away! ) and I headed straight to the main post office here in Chapel Hill,NC. I asked if there were any regulations about the appropriate distance from the mailbox. I was told there are NONE except not to BLOCK it. Why does this postman keep harassing us? I feel bullied. I'd like to be sure that I got accurate information concerning the space around my mailbox. Can anyone verify that information for us?

    Mar 10, 2015
  • anon

    A package that I sent was returned for a better address. It was sent to a small town and the zip code was one digit off. If I were in business an and employee on mine showed such lack of initiative, I would fire them. Don't you think that an astute postal worker should have checked the proper zip for a town that was clearly marked on the address? Similarly, a few months ago a letter was returned marked no such address, It was a short street with four houses in a high end neighborhood. Names were on the mailboxes, and the address marked was 56 instead of 58. Not being able to connect the dots would seem to be either stupidity or spite. Probably a little of both. Here is a list of some of the problems with postal workers, no pride, no initiative, unwillingness to help customers and refusal to put in the extra effort to make the postal service more efficient. It almost seems as if they find satisfaction out of small errors that allow them to avoid delivering mail.

    Feb 10, 2015
  • anon

    Hello Adrian, Thank you for contacting our offices and we apologize for any inconveniences that you may have experienced so far. The role of the USPS Office of Inspector General is to investigate waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Please contact your local Postal Service Consumer Affairs office at 1-800-275-8777 so they can look further into this matter for you.

    Feb 17, 2015
  • anon

    What about the delivery needs of old people in rural areas? I have an aunt & uncle who are in there late 80's. My uncle has arthritis so bad that if he falls down he can't get backup by himself and my aunt sorta shuffles along and can't hear very well. They have to cross a major highway in rural Iowa to pickup their mail. Yes they still drive, but not real well; but is pulling across the road to get the mail daily is a chance they need to take. They have a large driveway that the carrier could pull into if the mail box could be moved. The carrier could easily turn around in their drive (it's wide enough to park 3 cars side by side) and get back on to the highway. I've read the form concerning moving mail boxes and it sure isn't written in favor of letting old couples stay independent. There's a lot of difference between driving daily and driving once a week especially when it involves pulling directly onto a major highway.

    Jan 16, 2015
  • anon

    It's no wonder that the USPS is going broke and most people are using FEDEX, UPS, or some other form of delivery. I place a regular order from a business and pay for priority shipping, 2-3 days. I know that is not guaranteed, but it usally 3-4 days, sometimes as much as 4-5, and this week it has now been 6 days, (7) if you count Christmas day, and it still has not been deliverd. I am in Ft Worth, Texas, package left Dallas (32 miles away) at 2:00 am last night, by the time it is deliverd on Monday, if it even gets here then, it will have been 9 days. This is not acceptable as far as I am concerned, 2-3 day delivery should not be advertised if you are noy going to live up to it. I also have a problem with mail carrier not closing my mail box after he delivers, he leaves it partially opened wich invites the kids from next door to get in it and take my mail out, I have found my mail mail blowing around street on more than 1 occasion, 1 time it was a tax refund check that had been taken out of envelope and I found it in the grass in front of neighbors house, also I have gotten mail out of box that is wet due to door not being closed while it is raining. I have ask the carrier on more than 1 occasion to quit leaving box opened and he just denies that it was him, says it must be one of his subs. Some one please tell me what is the correct way to get these problems solved. If it were medication that I was waiting on, and I'm sure it is for oter people that probably have this same problem, it could be a life threatening problem.

    Jan 03, 2015
  • anon

    Hi Gary, I'm hoping that you get notification of my reply. I've been having issues with getting my mail from USPS for the past few years as well, and have learned that it's best to call their general customer service 800 number. When you call in make the very first thing you tell them that you want to file a complaint. If you explain to them your issues first they would very likely just listen to you, offer excuses, subtly deny that there is a problem and MAYBE say 'sorry for the inconvenience' if you're lucky. If you don't make saying you want to file a complaint the first thing that comes out of your mouth, they will NOT offer you that option after telling them what they have been doing to your mail. I have filed many complaints within the past few years, proudly giving my name and information every single time, and I have been noticing a bit of improvement in how they deliver my mail. USPS DOES have in their system which postal worker is sending what packages where - they just do not admit responsibility for the postal workers' laziness. You keep consistently filing complaints every time they give you problems and they will be forced to look why you are having issues. Good luck.

    Feb 10, 2015
  • anon

    I mailed a card on 12-17-14 Priority mail to go 70 miles away. It was supposed to be delivered by 12-20-14. I called the 1-800 number on 12-22-14 waited 20 minutes to talk to a woman that I had to repeat what I was saying over and over to have her understand what I was calling about. They tell you to check the on line tracking only to see your mail hasn't moved in eight days and they don't know why. I called again on 12-24-14 and got a woman on the phone that was mad because I hadn't told her I had already called regarding my mail not being delivered. My card went from East Lansing on 12-17-14 to Grand Rapids on 12-18-14. On 12-26-14 late it went to Pontiac, then in the morning of 12-27-14 it finally moved to the city it was supposed to be delivered in. Ten days after I mailed a card it was finally delivered 70 miles away. On 12-30-14 I get a call from Jeremy at the Lansing post office to say he could not answer why my card was not delivered on time and could not answer why my card sat for 10 days before it was delivered. But Jeremy did say I should fill out a claim and maybe I could get my money back for sending it Priority mail, however he didn't know how to file a claim stating I would have to look that up on line. It's obvious there is no accountability with USPS and no genuine interest in resolving the problem.

    Dec 31, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Cynthia, Thank you for contacting our offices and we apologize for the inconvenience. The USPS Office of Inspector General investigates waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). However, we have forwarded your message to the USPS Office of Customer Services, so they can look further into this matter.

    Jan 02, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you.

    Jan 02, 2015
  • anon

    Mailed 4 packages 12/15/14 without tracking but postmaster said it would be delivered before 12/25/14. 3 of the packages arrived one is nowhere to be found called both the receiving post office and the post office I sent the packages from . Postmasters said I had to wait 30 days Call 800 ask usps told me I didn't need to wait 30 days they would send notice to post office I told them I talked to postmaster already so I'm waiting for a call from post office but I'm sure I'll never get a return call. Postmaster is also the postal clerk like the fox watch the hen house

    Dec 29, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Margaret, Thank you for taking the time to notify our offices of this issue. The USPS Office of Inspector General investigates waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Please file a complaint online with our offices at https://www.uspsoig.gov/form/new-complaint-form. By completing this form it will provide our offices with the critical information needed to look into this matter. Thank you.

    Dec 30, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Andrea, We recommend contacting the USPS customer service office: you can call them at 800-275-8777 or email socialmedia@usps.gov. Once they have received your claim they can look further into this matter. Another option is to file a complaint online at https://www.uspsoig.gov/form/new-complaint-form and we can then forward this issue to the right department.

    Dec 03, 2014
  • anon

    We are a large business in San Francisco. Yesterday our whole building received no mail and today it arrived at about 3:30. On the day after Veteran's day, we only received a few parcels and the regular envelopes were forgotten and were delivered the next afternoon. A couple of years ago we hired a messenger service to pick up our mail and found that our parcels were not secure and several were stolen. This "caller service" costs money, yet in fact saves USPS from having to spend time delivering our mail. One day our mail was picked up by the wrong service, then soon returned and the USPS did not even know who returned it. On that day some of our parcels were missing and then this happened again. So we cancelled caller service and went back to having the USPS deliver our mail but still have to suffer with late delivery, sometimes even after 6:00 and even non-delivery! We don't know what to do. The USPS used to say, well you got your mail by 5:00 PM so that is fine. Now it appears they don't even feel like they need to deliver it every day.

    Dec 02, 2014
  • anon

    I have a package sent from Florida (to Indiana) that never got more than 10 miles away from Florida. This package had a tracking number, and was set for overnight shipping with a signature. I've tried to get help between Indiana and Florida plus Ethics, eusps and more. None seem to be looking for this package. Some say that the package has an invalid tracking number but that isn't right because the package can be found at where it's last location was. I just feel that the Post office doesn't care. Their attitude is "sometimes packages get lost" and they don't care to look for it. I hope the other USPS people and the attorney general that I've contacted will help.

    Nov 30, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Lyn, Thank you for taking the time to notify our offices of this issue. Please file a complaint online at https://www.uspsoig.gov/form/new-complaint-form. By completing this form it will provide our offices with the critical information needed to expeditiously resolve this matter. Thank you.

    Dec 01, 2014
  • anon

    I am so disappointed in what should no longer be called the US Postal "SERVICE", in my opinion. My level of service has markedly declined in recent years. I cringe every time I see that something I ordered is going to be delivered by the USPS. I have had packages lost and have had repeated issues with a carrier that has continually placed "attempted delivery" notices in my mailbox when I am home ALL DAY and no attempted delivery was truly made. Many times this notice requires me to pick the package up at the post office on a later date. I pay to have items delivered TO MY HOUSE, so why do I have to take time out of my day, and spend my gas to pick up an item which I already paid to have shipped to my home? Add to this the fact that there is always a long line at the post office window and the clerks are rarely very friendly! (Although many places have the same problem with lack of customer service.) I actually received one of those notices today and, again, I was home all day. The slip doesn't even tell me where exactly my item is and the tracking number, when checked, says no information is available. I have reported this situation several times, but no one seems to care. It's not that I'm told something will be done either ... I'm told there isn't anything that can be done. At this point, I just wish another service would be available to handle all deliveries. I never have problems with UPS nor FedEx and wish they were the only companies that handled deliveries.

    Nov 25, 2014
  • anon

    I have the same experience that you do. I work from home and when a package is scheduled for delivery by the USPS, they never attempt delivery. Never. They always leave a notice that reads 'Sorry we missed you' which if taken literally is not true. No delivery attempts are made and I am forced to drive more than 20 miles to pick up the package that I paid the USPS to deliver to my door. Have I complained officially? Yes. Many times. I file the complaint which is routed directly to the local postmaster who promptly closes the case without contacting me or bothering to address the issue. The one time the local postmaster did address the issue, they informed me that the standard operating procedure for all packages in my area is to not attempt delivery if the mail carrier does not have room in their vehicle for all of the mail plus packages. Bottom line? The USPS is a system of local fiefdoms where the local postmaster can do as they see fit. When you complain, they ignore it. When you complain to the postmaster general, they also ignore it. It is as if these people want to lose their jobs because I have stopped using the USPS altogether because UPS and FedEx ALWAYS deliver to my door and ON-TIME, EVERY TIME. The USPS, at least in my area, is to be avoided at all costs.

    Jun 05, 2015
  • anon

    NO AN ATTEMPU MEANS YOU TAKE IT NOT LEAVE IT AT THE YOUR OFFICE

    Aug 25, 2015
  • anon

    I have the same issue. We pay for delivery and get a pink slip instead. Excuses before were : "There were no cars in front of the house and we assumed there was nobody home" (Da, we have garages.....). Today I was waiting all day for delivery. When she showed up I asked why she chose not to deliver the box on Saturday (I double checked, The box never left the office out for delivery). The excuse was stunning : "The box was too big and I don't have enough room in my car!!!!!" How is that for an answer? By the way, because we live in the county, the USPS outsourced delivery to some woman, she drives her own car, with letters and boxes flying all over. How can USPS guarantee that the letters don't get lost? I wish we had some other companies delivering. Never had issues with UPS.

    Dec 09, 2014
  • anon

    I had a similar problem. A certified letter slip was left at my door. I live in a condo so can easily hear the doorbell. I don't think the carrier used it. Then I asked that it be delivered the next day by 2:30 as she supposedly arrives around two and I had to leave at 2:30. I waited and there was no knock on the door nor a slip. Thus, I tried to call the pick up post office and have been trying since 8:30 a.m. It is now 11:01. I am going to have to go to the post office which is a ways away and see if it is there. I understand people not using the post office if there is an alternative. I also don't appreciate having to put in a code image to see if I am intelligent enough to give the post office a message. It is insulting.

    Dec 10, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Sally, Thank you for taking the time to contact our offices. The USPS Office of Inspector General investigates waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). We have forwarded your complaint to the customer service office of the USPS. Thank you. U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General

    Dec 10, 2014
  • anon

    I am having an ongoing problem with our local post office and have been searching online for assistance. I found this website and AMAZINGLY the very first comment I see describes exactly the same problem! (Submitted by TMH on Tue, 11/25/2014 - 17:02). I swear I could have written the comment myself! The Post Office will not deliver packages to my house. We get an outdated form placed in our mailbox stating "attempted delivery" when there was no attempt what-so-ever. At times the carrier does not even put our packages in his car. He just leaves them at the Post Office because he knows he is not going to deliver them. Just as the other writer stated, we have to drive to town 2 or 3 times a week to pick up our packages which is more work for the Postal Clerks as well. There is no tracking number or other information on the slip. This week, one of our packages was perishable (not noted on the slip). Had we not picked it up the next day, it could have eventually spoiled. Again, as the other postal customer wrote, we have reported this problem several times and never heard a word back, nor did anything change. Finally we attempted to speak with the postmaster. He was "out" so we left a detailed message and the clerk stated the PM would call us back right away. He never called. The following day I went back to the P.O. to pick up yet another package and asked again to speak to the postmaster. He was "in"! When I asked about the lack of a return call (over 24 hours later), he said he was very busy, had been "out", and had just gotten back in his office. However he did not even apologize for not calling. He also said that there was nothing that would be done about the lack of delivery to our house. I too have no problem with UPS and Fed-Ex. Those friendly guys drive their big box trucks and smaller vans right up to our and give us the package or leave it on the porch. Then they turn around in our huge, paved parking area and are happily on their way. I also wish there was another service that could deliver all of my mail. I believe some true competition for the U.S. Postal Service would straighten things out right away. There would be huge numbers of people out there who would like to start a mail delivery business and would be customer service focused, efficient and successful. I read your comment policy and I was uncertain whether I am allowed to identify our Post Office. The policy was unclear. That said, our Post Office is Black Mountain, NC 28711. You know who the postmaster is and how to reach him to confirm all this information. Regards -

    Dec 07, 2014
  • anon

    Hello Jo Anne, We are to sorry to hear about the problems you are having with your deliveries. Your best option would be to file a complaint with our office at https://www.uspsoig.gov/form/new-complaint-form and then we can forward this issue to the right department . As well, you can contact you local Office of Consumer Affairs at (704) 424-4422 .

    Dec 08, 2014
  • anon

    Dear Moderator- That does not help at all. I live in the same area as this person and Consumer affairs simply routes the complaint to the local postmaster who then ignores it.

    Jun 05, 2015
  • anon

    YES THEY IGNOR AND ITEMS NEVER ATTEMPTED AND I AM DISABILED AND YES GOT A NOTICE ON THE 23RD THAT WAS WRITTEN ON THE 18TH

    Aug 25, 2015
  • anon

    Then you complain that the Postmaster and or the Carrier Supervisor is ignoring your complaint and that they did not contact you to resolve the issue. Keep doing so until they call you and speak to you.

    Aug 09, 2015

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