Is the U.S. Postal Service a business or a public service organization? Well, it’s actually both, and those overlapping – and sometimes conflicting – obligations have created major challenges for the agency over the years.

Historically, the Post Office was deliberately used by the government to expand transportation services such as roads and passenger air service. In the modern era, the 1968 President’s commission on postal issues, known as the Kappel Commission, declared the Post Office to be a business; however, the Postal Service continues to provide infrastructure services that not all businesses would provide, such as maintaining needed rural post offices that operate at a loss.

It was easier to manage the ongoing tension between the Postal Service’s dual mandates when postal revenues were strong enough to sustain the infrastructure and also cover all of the agency’s operating costs. But today, the Digital Age is cutting into the volume of the product that contributes more than half of the funds to support the network: First-Class Mail. And this strain has led to more tension between the Postal Service as a public service provider and as a business. Meanwhile, new technologies and global commerce are changing the nation’s infrastructure needs. The Postal Service would benefit from more clarity about what it should offer in this evolving environment.

Our new white paper, The Postal Service’s Role as Infrastructure, gives three broad options the Postal Service and its stakeholders could consider when deciding how to adapt the Postal Service’s role for the future. These options are not mutually exclusive. But they should be evaluated together so all potential uses are recognized and accounted for as part of major changes to the size and scope of the Postal Service’s infrastructure.

Option 1: Adjust the postal network to the changing demand for mail and the growth in parcels. The Postal Service is making efforts to do this now.
Option 2: Repurpose the existing infrastructure to address innovative services and new revenue streams, such as micro-warehousing.
Option 3: Increase the value of the physical postal infrastructure by digitally enhancing it. For example, carriers could use mobile handheld devices to perform more services at the door or from the truck, such as selling stamps, accepting Cash-on-Delivery (COD) payments, recharging debit cards, or even processing passports.

What do you think? What options should stakeholders and the Postal Service consider? Is the Postal Service’s role as a national infrastructure still relevant today and how has it changed? 

Comments (22)

  • anon

    what ignorant people who want to abolish the USPS is that UPS, FedEx, et al NEED the Post office to deliver their packages, otherwise they would lose business since they deliver door-to-door EVERYWHERE. Also UPS has NEVER required a signature, they just throw packages on doorstep for anyone to steal; FedEx will not allow you to pick packages at local store, instead of trying to get to an inaccessible central site. I trust USPS before any other delivery service. What article did not mention is that if USPS could change payment plaan for pensions, they would not be in red!

    Jan 13, 2015
  • anon

    I chose option 2, only because option 1 is already being implemented. Option 2 is/has been in the process of being implemented but from the field appears to be the one area we need more work. Option 3? Not sure how it is anywhere else, but our carriers already sell stamps. Customer gives them a check or cash and they give them stamps. Don't need costly equipment to perform a task that is already being performed. Something not mentioned but seriously should be addressed. If we are morphing into a package company, then why not expand our packaging products. And yes, we have ReadiPost products but the majority of offices I am aware of cannot adequately display the products we have now due to the layout of lobby. For example, if we knocked out one wall in our office we could expand the retail product area 120sq ft. You can't sell something, that the customer doesn't know you have. We have tried some very innovative ways to display with a proven increase in sales. We are limited severely by the confines of a window lobby that has minimal area to display (not to mention to store supplies for easy selection for customers) Not to forget it takes time for the clerks to sell products that we have no room to display but could be a solution to their packaging needs. Rural offices provide packaging supplies to customers that will not or prefer not to travel 15-20 miles to a town with a store that might carry packing supplies.

    Dec 25, 2014
  • anon

    After all of this "rationalizing" -read shut down and dismember-plants....The system is slowing down and providing less service. Processing of mail is being done further and further away from post offices. Although management says there are no delays, there are. Even OIG can prove carriers get out later, city carrier routes have been so consolidated that overtime is now a norm....There is no "free" time. And you suggest that carriers be digitaly enhanced? I'd respectfully suggest that you get out of the office, become a carrier for a month....Listen to those who DELIVER the mail. The same people who make usps the most trusted part of government in the eyes of our customers. Carriers willl give you an eyeful of digital enhancement and at the same time a bunch of worthwhile ideas. ps Merry Christmas from the carriers who will be working Friday, will OIG be open?

    Dec 24, 2014
  • anon

    Charlie, Thank you for your comments and suggestions. Merry Christmas to you too. and yes, the OIG is open on Friday. OIG Blog Moderator

    Dec 26, 2014
  • anon

    Why does the OIG not follow up with complaints from letter carriers? I've reported several incidents of misconduct with not a single response of any action.

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    Mr. Espinosa, Thank you for your question. The information you are requesting concerning your complaint must be made through our Freedom of Information Act Office (FOIA). Under the "Contact Us" tab at the top of this page, click on "FOIA" and you will find the information on how to make a FOIA request or you may email them at foia@uspsoig.gov.

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    What can we do when we print a priority mail label, schedule a pickup, get a conformation number that it was picked up and there is no tracking of the package??? Nobody seems to know where my package is. VERY FRUSTRATING!! PLEASE don't tell me to file a complaint - did that. No call back. My local post office is no help so many excuses. I thought your packages were scanned when your post man picks them up? Now I have someone mad at me because this was a Christmas gift and I'm out almost $200.00. I need some help here! Tracking # 9405509699937147827491 Pickup confirmation # WEC120624278 Case # CA120790584 Case # HQ120849769

    Dec 20, 2014
  • anon

    Debra, I sent a message to the email address you provided and included the phone number to your local USPS Office of Consumer Affairs. At this point, unless you feel that your package was stolen by a Postal employee, it is not something our office would investigate.

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    Advertizing YES! An overwhelming number of our customers have no knowledge of all the services available to them, such as mailing permits and EDDM etc................especially small/large businesses and other organizations. Also.........Why can't we advertize price comparisons between the USPS, FedEx, UPS and other parcel delivery companys. We can beat their prices by as much as 500+% from what I've seen. Why can't we let the public know this? Is it because we're in bed with them and contractually CAN'T do it? STOP consolidating our processing network and restore most of the consolidations/closures that have already occurred since 2013. Our area has lost a significant amount of revenue due to the poor processing service we now have since our local P&DC was shut down. Our P&DC needs to be reopened. Stop slashing service.

    Dec 16, 2014
  • anon

    How about option 4 -- focus on delivery services, raising rates to cover costs when needed. Also, separate those managers who have absolutely no business managing people.

    Dec 16, 2014
  • anon

    I voted for #3 because these postal carriers should be able to hand carry a mobile handheld device on their routes as they perform services for us along with delivering our mail. Why not? All other services I've seen, even the UPS, have mobile devices when they deliver packages for recipients to sign for; and sometimes those at home may run out of stamps and either can't get to a post-office or don't have a vehicle to get there, so providing the sale of stamps is a great idea, along with C.O.D's , and the other services. Postal carriers get paid good money for just riding around in delivery trucks and walking to mailboxes delivering mail and packages, why not give them some extra duties to perform while they are in the area? Upgrading the technology for the Postal Service Infrastructure is a sound idea and investment.

    Dec 15, 2014
  • anon

    It's obvious by your statement "just riding around in delivery trucks and walking to mailboxes delivering mail and packages". You forgot to mention In ALL WEATHER AND CLIMATES. How ofthen do you work out side for 7hrs (1hr in the office in the morning) with only 1/2 hr for lunch and two 10min breaks? I'll bet you say never. Even cutting your grass, or cleaning the yard doesn't take 7hrs and you'll stop for frequent breaks. I have a walking route and believe me, it sure isn't "a walk in the park". Broken stairs, broken sidewalks, loose dogs, sharp metal on mailboxes, trash cans in the way and all kinds of hazards in all neighborhoods. Not to mention driving with people that think "you're going too slow", when you're doing the speed limit and they just want to speed on by. We have a start-time and end-time that some magic computer determines the time it should take to deliver the mail, of course "crap in = crap out" and the numbers are not realistic. Throw a heavy bag over your shoulder some day and grab a few boxes too, then go for a 7+ hr walk around your whole neighborhood and see how you feel. Better yet, do it for a whole year, so you can experience all the seasons too. I don't want to sell stamps, that means I would have 2 things, 1) something of value (stamps) and 2) money for some scumbag to try to steal from me. No thank you. They want us to sell stamps? Put a vending machine on the side of my truck. Hell, might as well put a mail slot right next to it too.

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    When you think of weather, my husband delivered for years in a climate that had over 100 degree temps starting in early May and lasting thru half of September. He would come home totally exhausted. Also remind people that postal vehicles have heat for winter, but no air conditioners for summer, the inside of there vehicle can be in excess of 145 degrees.

    Jan 13, 2015
  • anon

    Yes, the trucks have heat controls in them. But when you have a walking route, the vehicle never runs long enough to create any heat at all. HEAT, COLD doesn't matter the job is not easy, it just looks that way. There are ALOT of hazards the public never sees. As a good friend of mine says "Profession = Someone that makes a difficult job look easy".

    Jan 14, 2015
  • anon

    Many Letter Carriers have been robbed and one even murdered a year ago. The targets become easier if you knew the Carrier now had a money bag to sell stamps. Funny stuff "just riding around and walking to mailboxes". Guess you never have done this job?

    Dec 16, 2014
  • anon

    Add "Advertising" to the options. Real business' recognize it's value.

    Dec 15, 2014
  • anon

    My local Post Office has some very unfriendly clerks in the building. The letter carriers out in the neighborhoods are great, but when I go to the Post Office to mail packages, the clerks are not at the counter or they get snippy about where to stand in line. I go to any other Post Office for mailing parcels or buying supplies and avoid my own.

    Dec 15, 2014
  • anon

    If you would like to report this occurence please file a complaint online at https://www.uspsoig.gov/form/new-complaint-form and we can then forward this issue to the right department. Thank you. U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General www.uspsoig.gov

    Dec 17, 2014
  • anon

    You need to report that post office to your congressman

    Dec 16, 2014
  • anon

    Frankly, since the drastic cut in RCA pay we can no longer retain carriers, let alone get the best people for the job. They are not up to the task of expanding their duties. Reducing the network is bad. Once gone we cannot afford to get it back. We cannot afford to transport missent Mail the long distances now required by plant consolidation. Either we throw all standards out the window, or we spend more on extra trips to the plant, like we have to do this season, transporting missent, etc. Need to explore how to use the current infrastructure to generate more income- incubator for newly established businesses, etc.

    Dec 15, 2014
  • anon

    Ditto! I have been with USPS 25 years and have noticed the dramatic decline in the quality of new hires when they lowered the starting pay for RCA's, city carriers, clerks, etc. This is not to say we don't get any good/great ones, but many cannot master current skillset, much less expanded responsibilities. We have to think long term, because of how hard it is to fire someone who may be hardworking and honest, but incapable of doing the job. In athletics, I have heard coaches say, you can't teach speed, or height, or a number of talents that you are born with. Not everyone has the ability to do many of the tasks that the post office needs. Also we sold a lot of facilities in a down market, again very shortsighted. Now that our volumes are increasing (mostly packages), after the immense fall, I know our reduced infrastructure cannot handle significant growth.

    Jan 21, 2015
  • anon

    you didn't explain in detail the 3 options

    Dec 15, 2014

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