We all know the Postal Service is going through rough times right now. Sometimes, when a situation is difficult, it’s useful to look to the past for perspective. Forty years ago today, there was no Postal Service (and no Office of Inspector General). The Post Office Department was 5 months away from an unprecedented strike, and 15 percent of the Postal Service’s FY 1969 revenues came from appropriations. Mail volume was 82 billion pieces. There were 739,002 employees and 43,220 post offices (including stations and branches).
Three years earlier, mail operations at the Chicago Post Office had broken down for three weeks leading to a backlog of 10 million pieces. Sixteen months earlier, the President’s Commission on Postal Operations, known as the Kappel Commission, had released its report (Click here for the first part of the report). The first line read “The United States Post Office faces a crisis.” The report described several problems:
- Customers were dissatisfied with inconsistent mail service following a period of rapid volume growth. Moreover, the Post Office Department had little knowledge of what products its customers wanted.
- Employees experienced antiquated personnel practices, poor working conditions in many facilities, and limited opportunities for training or advancement. More than 80 percent of employees started and ended their careers at the same grade level. Some opportunities required political connections.
- The system of supervision was inadequate with supervisors isolated from management decisions, and relations between labor and management were poor.
- The Post Office operated at substantial deficits financed by the government, and there was a chronic shortage of funds for capital investment.
- Productivity was low as “[in] most offices men and women lift[ed], haul[ed] and push[ed] mail sacks and boxes with little more mechanical assistance than the handcart available centuries ago.”
- Pricing was based on inaccurate cost systems, and the rates were set by Congress.
The Kappel Commission diagnosed all of these problems as manifestations of a single root trouble: Management had no authority to manage. Their proposed solution was a government corporation.
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 (PRA) became law the August following the strike. The PRA did not include all the Kappel Commission’s recommendations, but they were highly influential. The Post Office emerged as a new, much more independent Postal Service.
Are there any lessons for today in the problems of 40 years ago? Postal operations were losing more money in 1969, but volume was growing. Are prospects better or worse today? What will future commentators say about the Postal Service 40 years from now?
This topic is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC)