Postal, Postal, Postal
If we had a penny for every time someone confused our Office of Inspector General (OIG) with our parent agency, the U.S. Postal Service, we’d be… well, let’s just say Jan Brady would understand! However, with six organizations bearing the term “postal” in their name, it’s hard to avoid confusion about who does what. Let’s take a Venn-type look at all these entities.
United States Postal Service
While the Postal Service’s history dates to 1792 when the Continental Congress turned to Benjamin Franklin to establish a national post service as the first Postmaster General, our modern USPS wasn’t formed until 1971. The U.S. Postal Service has since become the only delivery company that serves every household in America. To appreciate its scope, consider that after Amazon and Walmart, the Postal Service is the third largest employer in the United States. It’s little wonder that its over 635,000 dedicated employees make this the most trusted federal agency in the country year after year!
But as much as most people trust the Postal Service, there are those who seek to violate the sanctity of the U.S. Mail — mail thieves, porch pirates, scammers, drug trafficking rings — and that’s where the next organization comes in.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
The United States Postal Inspection Service isn’t only the federal law enforcement arm of the Postal Service — it’s the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency with a history dating to 1775! Like the Postal Service, the Inspection Service’s modern form took hold more recently (in 1954 to be exact) and it continues to serve a vital purpose: supporting and protecting USPS, its employees, infrastructure, and customers by enforcing the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use.
Wait a minute, isn’t the Postal Inspection Service the same as Postal Police? Close, but not exactly.
Postal Police Officers are under the administrative control of the Inspection Service. While postal inspectors have a presence in the field, Postal Police officers are stationed in postal facilities across the nation. They are the guardians at the postal gates, protecting postal employees, customers, and property.
Postal Board of Governors
The Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service is the governing body of USPS — think of it as the board of directors of a private company, except the Postal Service isn’t a private company and, contrary to popular belief, it generally doesn’t receive taxpayer dollars for its operations. The board consists of 11 members: nine presidentially-appointed Governors, the Postmaster General, and the Deputy Postmaster General. It directs “the exercise of the power” of the Postal Service, controlling its expenditures, reviewing its practices and policies, and setting prices.
Postal Regulatory Commission
Ever wonder who ensures the Postal Service meets all the laws and regulations around pricing and service performance? The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) does. The PRC was initially created as the Postal Rate Commission by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. It exercises regulatory authority over the Postal Service, including ensuring USPS complies with the legal requirements for rates and service performance. While the PRC previously had its own OIG, our agency assumed oversight of it in October 2022. (Read our recent blog post to learn more!)
Where does that leave the USPS OIG?
U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General
Our office was formed in 1996 and charged with detecting and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the Postal Service. The Inspector General Act establishes us as part of the Postal Service, although we do not report to Postal Service managers or executives. Instead, we have an independent duty to conduct oversight under the general supervision of the nine presidentially-appointed Governors. While the Governors do not direct our day-to-day activities, we are obligated to keep them and Congress fully informed about problems arising within the Postal Service. OIG special agents investigate mail-related crimes and misconduct to include narcotics trafficking and mail theft. Our auditors and researchers likewise evaluate programs and operations with an eye towards cost savings, efficiency, and accountability and, as such, we often make recommendations to postal management to address and prevent issues.
The Short of It?
The Postal Service delivers your mail. The Inspection Service protects the mail from people outside USPS, and Postal Police Officers do the same but at postal facilities. Our office (the OIG) promotes efficiency and integrity in Postal Service operations through audits, research, and investigations mostly focused on postal employees and contractors. The PRC is the Postal Service’s regulator, and the Board of Governors provides USPS with strategic direction.