An example of the efficiency of government (US Postal Service)

So, I had a semi-overweight package that needed delivered to PO Box located in my hometown (it’s a legal document to an official, so that I can’t just hand it to the person).

Not knowing how much postage I needed, I took it to the post office. It’s an old post office, and the PO Box I’m sending it to is front and center when I walk through the door. I laugh a this, and know I will have to pay postage, even though a private entity would let you just drop it off. Government procedure, etc. I accept that. But it gets worse.

I approach the counter and am told that the package must be sent priority mail at charge of $5.80 due to its weight. I point out the address, point to the P.O. Box approximately 17 feet away and say that regular mail will be fine; I am confident in your ability to walk 17 feet.

Absolutely not. Postal regulations require packages of this size to be sent priority mail at a cost of $5.80. Fine. Slide the card. The back of the card isn’t signed. Please sign the card. Fine. I also need to see picture ID since your card wasn’t signed. Sigh. Fine.

Type. Type. Type. Here is your tracking number, sir. I smile. I tell the clerk that I’m sure I won’t be needing it but she informs me I may very well need it. Since it is priority mail it gets “whisked” (she used that word) to the central processing center over 120 miles away for sorting and “prompt” (she used that word) delivery by tomorrow or Friday at the latest.

At this point, I had to play a little. I asked her if she could just unlock the box for me and let me slide the package in. Of course she didn’t allow that.

My thoughts after doing this: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? What kind of jackhole runs this place? If this was Joe the Private Package Delivery, Inc., then Joe would fire everyone on the East Coast that came up with this policy. Where is the efficiency in sending a package 120 miles away to deliver it in the same fucking building we are standing. All during a government shutdown?

When conservatives bitch about government efficiency and not wanting more tasks to fall to the government, this is a reason why.

Missed the edit window. Further, she said that if I wanted it guaranteed to be “there” by tomorrow it would be $18. Bitch, its HERE (not THERE. There implies a different location.) today! Free today, $18 tomorrow, $5.80 by Friday. Fuck me.

The postal employee wasn’t about to commit any felonies just because some goofy situation came up once.

It didn’t “have to” go Priority, but for certain weights that really is the most economical method.

He wasn’t seriously asking her to commit any felonies. He was pissed that she was forcing him to pay priority postage on a package that needed to be delivered across the fucking room.

Is this the only Post Office in town?

When I used to do the newsletter for the local running club, I would take them to the P.O. late afternoon and it would be in the next day’s delivery. (one P.O., same town)

Some post offices are far worse than others, though it sounds like the clerk you talked to was following procedure, not being obnoxious or incompetent.

I’ve had clerks reject flat rate boxes because they were too heavy. Really.

Oh, I think I may have implied that my problem was with the clerk. It’s not. The post office should be able to handle this type of situation for less that 6 bucks.

I got bad service at a Wendy’s once which proves that the free market is inefficient, or something.

I’m pretty sure all FedEx packages go to the same place, even if you send something to the same facility that you drop it off from.


I don’t think they do that. I think the ones destined for the same city are sorted differently.

“Came up once”? I’m certain this has come up thousands, if not millions of times in the history of the USPS. People do send mail to people living in the same town, you know.

Some support for that notion (at least in the 80s), from “Beyond News of the Weird*,” pg. 9:

“Fortune reported in 1988 that some employees of Merrill Lynch’s New York office were so incensed at its poor mailroom service a few years ago that they sent interoffice mail via Federal Express. Wrote Fortune, ‘Memos were whisked from floor to floor via Memphis.’”
*Yeah, not the most rigorous of sources, but I don’t have the time/energy to track down the issue of Fortune they’re quoting from.

Unrelated Post Office gripe:

I once paid a traffic ticket by mail. A long time later, it was returned to me marked insufficient postage, because the envelope was too large for the weight without additional postage.

Naturally I had to pay a substantial fine for not getting the ticket to the court on time. Not too happy. Called the Post Office to find out what had been wrong with my “too large” envelope.

Well, it turns out there’s a specific upper limit on envelope size that can go First Class, even if the item is only an ounce or less. Okay, fine, learned my lesson. So that I might avoid missed delivery in the future, I inquired, what is this size limit?

Well, the postal employee answered, it’s right here on the counter in front of me. We have it marked and can just slide your envelope over the marking to see if it’s within the limits.

Great, but I’m on the phone; I can’t see your counter. Can you just TELL me the measurements?

No sir, we don’t know what they are. We just compare things to this rectangle on the counter.

Well, do you have a ruler or yardstick anywhere in your post office? I will wait patiently while you measure that rectangle.

Sir, I can’t do that. You’re welcome to drive down here and look at the rectangle yourself.

Creating exceptions will cause inefficiency, I’d imagine, because of the room for error. If absolutely everything is handled the exact same way, then there should, theoretically, be less screw ups. She won’t set it aside thinking “I’ll put it in the box tomorrow” and then forget. She won’t give it to someone else to do and have them forget. She won’t spill her coffee on it by accident because she didn’t expect a box there. She won’t forget to put you in the system so their delivery records aren’t screwed up at the end of the day. She won’t accidentally toss it in the trash. So on and so forth.

There’s a reason certain classes of mail can only be so heavy, or so big, or made out of such and such material, and only contain these types of items, and that’s because a large amount of the mail sorting system is automated, and they don’t want your stuff screwing with their machines and automatic calculations. What’s faster in the grand scheme, a machine handling 1000 packages a minute or one person taking a minute to deliver one package?

Also, sign your card already, or don’t gripe when they follow procedure against theft because you didn’t.

They don’t. FedEx uses a multi-tiered hub-and-spoke strategy. Memphis is the root hub, but things destined for the next city over will go to the next higher hub to get sorted. They are also smart enough to set up dedicated routes for places with a lot of traffic between them (there’s one from NYC to Albany, for instance.)

Shoot, I was looking forward an un-ironic story of postal efficiency. I wonder if this was really just bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, or if there are reasons underlying it. Like maybe 120 miles away they can scan packages or something, so that some schmoe can’t just pay $5.80 for a postal clerk to put a bomb in an official’s PO Box.

Priority mail is tracked, it probably has to go under scanners to be properly delivered. It is probably photographed too, but I don’t know.

Besides, it is a constitutional artifact that all US citizens get identical rates and treatments by the USPS. So, no, she couldn’t just “open the door” for the customer.

That is a good point - Every piece of mail has to be photographed/scanned so that the NSA and other law enforcement can put in a request for it if needed:

This is how bureaucracies work - and it is a good system. If you tried to assess every situation individually and do everything in the most efficient way possible you’d spend most of your time sitting around figuring out what you were going to do and very little time actually doing anything.

So it makes more sense to create procedures. You figure out the broad categories of the situations you face and figure out the best way to handle the situations in each group. Then all you have to do is figure out what group each situation is in and follow the existing procedure.

The result is that you can resolve a thousand situations competently with the same effort you’d have spent resolving ten situation perfectly. So overall, the system is much more efficient even if some individual cases are handled less efficiently.