This month our Agency Spotlight falls on the United States Postal Service.
Who They Are
The United States Postal Service (USPS), also known as the Post Office, U.S. Mail, and Postal Service, is an independent agency of the US government. They are responsible for providing postal service to the United States. It’s an “establishment of the executive branch of the government of the United States” (39 U.S.C. § 201) controlled by Presidential appointees and the Postmaster General. As an agency, they also have special privileges. These include sovereign immunity (meaning they cannot commit a legal wrong and are immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution), eminent domain powers, powers to negotiate postal treaties with foreign nations, and an exclusive legal right to deliver first and third class mail.
The mission of the Postal Service is to provide the American public with trusted universal service. Their universal service obligation includes geographic scope, delivery frequency, a range of products, affordable and uniform pricing, access to services and facilities, service quality, and security of the mail. They are the only carrier with a legal obligation to provide these services.
The United States Constitution explicitly authorizes the USPS. A Postal Clause was added to the Constitution to facilitate inter-state communication while creating a source of revenue. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution, known as the Postal Clause of Postal Power, empowers Congress “To establish Post Offices and post Roads”. This clause created some early controversy as to whether Congress had the power to build post roads and offices, or simply designate the lands and roads to be used for that purpose.
In the early 19th century, the U.S. Supreme Court construed this to mean that the power mostly consisted of the designation of roads and land. This gradually gave way later allowing for the appropriation of land for postal purposes. This clause also includes the power to designate certain materials as ‘non-mailable’ and passes statutes criminalizing abuses of the postal system.
Delivering of mail has been part of history for hundreds of years. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General. The Post Office Department (USPOD) was created in 1792. It became a cabinet-level department in 1872. Then, in 1971, it became an agency of the United States government as the USPS.
The Constitutional Authority empowered Congress “to establish post offices and roads”. Therefore, this law greatly expanded the postal network. It guaranteed the sanctity or personal mail, provided the country with low-cost access to information, and established a right to privacy. Free mail delivery began in 1863 in the larger cities.
The USPS has a legal obligation to serve all Americans regardless of geography, at the same quality and price. They have exclusive access to letter boxes marked “U.S. Mail” and personal letterboxes in the U.S.
Their main competition is UPS and FedEx. Since the all-time peak mail volume in 2006, revenue has dropped drastically because of recession-influenced declining mail volume. Coincidentally, that same year, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. This act authorized $5.5 billion a year be paid into an account to fully pre-fund postal employee retirement health benefits.
Today, there are over 600,000 employees and over 200,000 vehicles in operation. In fact, the USPS is the operator of the largest civilian fleet in the world.
For every one cent increase in national gas prices, the USPS spends an extra $8 million per year in fuel. Declining mail volume and competition with UPS and FedEx have forced them to make budget cuts, close mail processing centers and eliminate certain jobs. The USPS was only going to have Saturday delivery for packages, mail-order medicines, Priority, and Express mail, and mail delivered to the Post Office; however, Congress reversed that.
USPS Law Enforcement
Law Enforcement agencies of the Post Office include the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the Postal Inspectors.
The USPIS is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the country, founded by Benjamin Franklin. Their mission is to protect the Postal Service, it’s customers and employees from crime and protect the mail from criminal misuse. They also have the power to enforce the USPS control by conducting search and seizure raids on anyone or anything they suspect of sending non-urgent mail through overnight delivery competitors. Also, they oversee the activities of the Postal Police Force who patrol in and around selected high-risk postal facilities in major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Postal Inspectors enforce more than 200 federal laws that provide protection of mail during investigations of crimes where fraudulent use of the Postal System or its employees has occurred.
The Office of the USPS Inspector General (OIG) came into existence in 1996. Their primary purpose is to prevent, detect and report fraud, and promote efficiency in the operations of the Postal Service. They have oversight of all activities of the Postal Inspection Service. Prior to this, the PIS performed their duties.
Subsequent posts will look at jobs within the Postal Service, how they become injured, and news involving the USPS.
If you work for the United States Postal Service and are disabled, you may qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, schedule a free consultation with our firm today.