The USPS going private

About a month ago I got one of those lengthy survey calls. Since they really weren’t trying to sell me anything, I went along with it.

There were questions about my shopping at Sears, whether or not Sept. 11 had influenced my plans for holiday shopping or my attitudes toward opening mail, and then these:

Should the post office be forced to turn a profit?
Should the post office upgrade itself to be more effecient (or something like this)?
Does the post office face possible bankruptcy in its current state of business? (I absolutely refused to answer this one, as there’s not a chance I could have an informed opinion on something as factual as that. She acted like she couldn’t do her job without an answer, but I refused.)
Would you be willing to pay an extra service fee for mail delivery of over 2 days per week?

That last one really made me take notice.

So: Would you be willing to have the P.O. privatized into something like the gas company, and have to pay your way, period, with no tax-exemptions for the company? It would increase fees and hassles with choosing options for services, but maybe those employees wouldn’t saunter quite so slowly back to find those packages if they knew they could be fired.

Y’know, I’m kind of tired of the hassle that the post office employees go through because of their job.

First of all, postal employees can be and are fired. I’ve witnessed the firing of several employees of the building I work in. Like any other business in the world, the USPS does demand a certain quality of performance from their employees, and if those employees don’t live up to that they will be fired. Perhaps unlike other businesses they are eager to find a job that the person can perform, instead of just writing them off forever as “unproductive”, and often transfer people around a good deal before firing them. But they can be, and are fired.

I’m not sure that privatisation would make the post office more “efficient”. We move a lot of mail every day, and we are currently operating at a loss because there is a committee that must approve all of our price rates before we can implement them. Often we ask for a price rate hike when we need one, and six months or a year later, when that hike is no longer sufficient to cover our losses, it finally gets approved, and then we have to ask again. But that doesn’t effect our efficiency, as far as I can tell. Letters still get there in two to three days, for the most part. Much of the reason that letters are late is due to the addresser’s negligence or mistakes - if you address a letter to “Shampayne Ellinoy” with no zip code or a wrong zip code then it may well take a while for the computer that reads the addresses, or the people who sort the mail (as policy states that we must take what is said on the envelopes literally) to figure out what the bloody hell that means. Also the USPS does not have its own planes for the transportation of mail - letters go as cargo on commercial flights, and as flights have been decreasing lately it takes us longer to find flights to take our mail. We did sign a contract with FedEx to start using their planes but I am uncertain whether or not that has happened yet. Certainly there is postal employee error that “loses” things like letters and packages, but that would happen whether they were privatised or not - unless you think that only employees of the government make mistakes.

The post office moves billions of pieces of mail a week. Occasionally its people are going to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that postal employees are all lazy, or taking advantage of their ‘non-terminable’ job, or anything of that sort. It means they’re human. And that’s not going to change if the system is privatised.

If it’s privatised you’ll see a much more expensive mail system that may deliver mail slightly faster (because it would have its own jets) but there would still be the same number of mistakes. No private mail company does what the Post Office does as cheap and as well as the Post Office does it.

From what I can tell the post-office seems to be in a spiral of constant rate hikes. Why can’t the post-office just lean up by slashing jobs and closing facilities like any other company would if they were operating at a loss?

I haven’t really studies the post-offices operation so I really dont know :wink:

Czaoth, they are, but they’re starting with parts of the postal operation that the public doesn’t normally see or know about.

I work at a Remote Encoding Centre. My job is to view, on a computer screen, images of envelopes that the address-reading computers have been unable to read, and type in the relevant information so the correct ‘bar code’ can be sprayed on the back, and further sorting computers can send the mailpiece to its appropriate place.

Because the technology for reading mailpieces has improved so much, we have cut down our operation from 55 RECs to 25 RECs, and our eventual goal is 10 or fewer. We have consolidated several of our “districts” into bigger districts, eliminating redundant offices and managerial positions. We are trying to increase our reliance on mechanical and technological means and cut out human employees where possible, especially since Anthrax has hit. But you have to understand, we deal with a phenominally huge amount of mail every year, it still takes a lot of employees to handle that mail.

We wouldn’t be in this “flurry of price hikes” if we didn’t have the stupid committee to deal with. Every price change has to be authorised by the committee, and they won’t authorise large leaps in prices that we wish we could make in order to counteract the insane amount of time it takes them to authorise things. (I.E. if we realise that in two years, by the time they’ve passed our price rates we’ll need a hike to $0.40, we would try to submit that price hike now, so that we could have it in place by the time we need it. But they won’t approve a price hike so large, and reject it, telling us a penny or two would be more palatable. So we raise prices a penny, get their “quick” approval, and then start the process all over again. Very inefficient there, but it still doesn’t effect the overall efficiency of our operation, as far as I can see.)

That reminds me: Another question was about my opinion of closing some post offices near me to make things more effecient.

I think my comment about sauntering was caused by what I observed today. I admit that people are people, and you aren’t going to have everyone in a tizzy all the time, but overall, I get the impression that the employees do not have a profit-sharing system going with management. I don’t think they own stock either.

Obviously, these are obvious statements. But when I see things like this (and yes, it happens in private industry too), I say, “Looks like someone doesn’t have a profit motive.”

DMV, Amtrak, government light rail, low-level employees of big corporations…

shrugs I see nothing of a debatable manner there. Anope, we don’t have a profit motive - which is A-OK by me considering the post office is, what, $3 billion in debt in light of the Anthrax attacks and the disruption of mail service in key areas such as NYC and DC and NJ, and the overall lack of confidence (mostly misplaced IMHO, but I don’t touch mail at work so maybe I’m a bit more cavalier about this whole Anthrax thing than others) in our mail system that this has inspired. I don’t want to have “my share” of that debt, that’s for sure. :slight_smile:

I still don’t think any private mail corporation can do what the USPS can do as cheap and as well as the USPS does it. We’ve played with 30+ billion pieces of mail since Sept 11 - I honestly can’t remember how many pieces of mail we move yearly but it’s a lot, and I’m too busy in other windows to go looking it up at this moment.

If you care to show me a study on the USPS showing the following:

  • number of mailpieces handled during the time of study
  • number of delayed mail/lost mail incidents during the time of study directly attributable to employee error or lack of “profit motive”
  • number of delayed mail/lost mail incidents during the time of study due to sender error (illegible envelopes, incorrect zip codes, incomplete addresses, improper postage, inappropriate packaging)
  • number of delayed mail/lost mail incidents during the time of study due to uncontrollable events such as flight cancellations, weather considerations, airplane security, etc.
  • number of mail pieces that arrived on time

and then prove that a privatised corporation is capable of providing better service by subjecting it to the same scrutiny, which can compete with the USPS in pricing, then I might change my mind on that “as cheap/as well” theory.

Meanwhile I will have to go on personal experience and my own familiarity of how the process is run.

That’s not a fair question, really. Of course there isn’t a company that could be part of a study of the same magnitude, as the P.O. has a monopoly.

Also, while I might have a bias that the USPS isn’t doing all it can, just saying, “Yes it is” isn’t much of a response.

Stockholders don’t share the debt of a company, either. I don’t think you actually are liable for the debt. Of course, you can lose your money.

So, I don’t have any studies, and I doubt that any or many originating outside the USPS exist, but let’s face it, FedEx does not have this public perception going against it like the USPS. There has to be a reason for it, and I think it’s because they have people like Tom Hank’s character in “Cast Away”, who know their advancement and raises depend directly on the company’s performance.

How can they slash jobs and close facilities? It’s part of their mandate to provide uniform service to everyone in America.

There are lots of service areas that the USPS serves that can’t be and never will be profitable. If they were run like a business, the first thing they’d do is stop service in places like Montana and Alaska. Or maybe hike the rates in those areas to $2.00 a letter. They lose tons of money in rural and remote areas. It takes lots of gas to drive out to every ranch and farm in America.

Although the U.S. Postal Service is not a for-profit organization, it is no longer part of the U.S. Government. In fact, it hasn’t been part of the U.S. Government for a few decades. It’s an independent non-profit organization.

Of course, it still enjoys the protection of Federal postal laws, which kinda makes its “independent” status a moot point. But still.

I was thinking about this the other day while driving from Portland back to Seattle. One thing to remember about the P.O.: for the most part rates are constant, regardless of where you’re sending a piece of mail. I have a feeling that if it’s privatized we’re going to see UPS style charges based on zones and weight. So a letter you would normally have only paid 34 cents or so to send would now cost you a variable rate depending on where you intended to send it. That would probably mean going to the Post office everytime you had to send your bills out, and having to pay a different rate for each bill. That would also mean standing in long lines at least twice a month.

Of course, to compensate for the additional load the Post Office could put more clerks at the desks. But that would most likely cause a larger price increase for postage. That thought disturbed me greatly…

I think I’d rather see postage go up to a reasonable level and still be able to buy a book of stamps and send my mail out to anywhere by myself without having to go to the Post Office. I realize this is an extremely simplified view of how the system operates, but something tells me that changing it will be a disaster.

The Master speaks on postal rates.

Cardinal: So, I don’t have any studies, and I doubt that any or many originating outside the USPS exist, but let’s face it, FedEx does not have this public perception going against it like the USPS. There has to be a reason for it, and I think it’s because they have people like Tom Hank’s character in “Cast Away”, who know their advancement and raises depend directly on the company’s performance.

Great. We’re assessing the merits of privatization of mail delivery based on the job performance of a character in a Hollywood movie??!? Sorry, but vague talk about “public perception” doesn’t mean much, except perhaps that FedEx has better PR than the USPS. As BoiToi, Mojo, and others have pointed out, the USPS has huge responsibilities that private delivery companies are exempt from, such as the duty to provide a certain standard of service to everybody. Sure, they could save a lot of money by closing small rural post offices, but then how would people in rural areas get their mail? By paying huge special delivery surcharges? By having to make 100+ -mile trips into more populated areas just to get their letters? I bet the favorable “public perception” of privatized mail services would deteriorate pretty rapidly under such circumstances.

Moreover, I think you’re taking a rather rosy view of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of privatized services. I’d wager that the main reason most people perceive that the USPS screws up more than private mail firms is simply that the USPS handles much more of their mail. If you get several items a day from the postal service versus several items a year from other carriers, which one is statistically more likely to lose one of your letters? That doesn’t necessarily mean that the public carrier is doing a worse job, just that you have a bigger chance of being the victim of one of their mistakes.

Bear in mind too that the flip side of “profit motive” is “profit burden.” Private companies that encounter unexpected problems and lose large amounts of money in a short time, as the USPS has recently done, have to cut their losses as much as possible, which can lead to anything from slashing major parts of their services to going out of business altogether. Are we willing to risk that with our mail delivery? Postal service is not just a consumer business, it’s a public good. Trying to attach a profit motive to a public good does not guarantee any improvement in its overall quality (as many HMO users are only too well aware).

(By the way, jshore, remember when I mentioned to you the privatization-propaganda aspect of “Cast Away”? Didn’t think it was going to come back to bite us on the butt like this, though! ;))

USPS not part of the federal government? A private non-profit? Bullshit. Cite please. Take a look at

In short, the USPS is run by a board of governors appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. It does not get much more government than that.

Services like UPS and Fed Ex and others compete with the U.S. postal service, which is funded solely by its own operations and not subsidized by the government, unlike, say, Amtrak, which runs at a loss.

USPS can deliver a piece of first class mail at a fraction of the cost of UPS. It is government run. This drives right wing nuts into a frenzy because it proves that private industry is not always better than a government organization at every task. As a result right wing freaks have been spreading lies for years that the USPS is not a part of the government. It is an outright lie. While I am a big supporter of privatization of many things, I do not go around making up facts to suit my preconceptions.

> Services like UPS and Fed Ex and others compete with the U.S. postal service

Nope, not true. It is not legal for them to carry regular mail. They can carry express and other special items but not just regular mail for which the USPS has a legal monopoly.

>> I do not go around making up facts to suit my preconceptions.

Is that a fact? :wink:

sailor replied to DPWhite: *“Services like UPS and Fed Ex and others compete with the U.S. postal service”

Nope, not true. It is not legal for them to carry regular mail. They can carry express and other special items but not just regular mail for which the USPS has a legal monopoly.*

Um, that doesn’t mean that they’re not competing with the USPS: they are in fact competing with the parcel-delivery and express-mail branches of its mail service. You’re right to point out that they’re not legally permitted to compete in delivering all forms of mail. (Although when you add in things like courier services and messenger firms, I’m not sure that there really is in practical terms any type of message transmission that the USPS has an absolute monopoly on anymore. If it ever did.)

Oh, so what, Kevin Costner’s character in “The Postman” suddenly means nothing now? What about his dedication? Christ, the man was willing to put on a uniform from a postman’s skeleton, and travel across the dangerous land delivering mail, rebuilding the post office single-handedly and bringing hope and happiness to the people by reuniting them with loved ones and families across the lands …

… If I knew how to do that annoying roll-eyes smilie this would be the first time in history I wouldn’t check “disable smilies in this post”.

Cardinal, the issue is this: You are presenting the case, you have the burden of proof. Because you offered no proof other than anecdotal in your OP - the fact that one employee “sauntered” to find a package (and let me tell you, FedEx employees took 12 minutes finding my plane tickets when I went into their office, so the USPS isn’t the only one) - I offered my personal experiences as proof against them. I’m a post office employee, if you haven’t figured that out yet, I think I do know a bit more about what they’re doing than you do.

I’m not asking for you to show me a study wherein FedEX or UPS moves the same amount of mail - I just want to know how much they did move at the same time, and their delivery accuracy broken down into reasons. It’s not fair to say “the USPS is less accurate” if most of the USPS’s delayed mail comes from customers who wouldn’t know how to address an envelope to their own house due to terminal stupidity. Having been looking at mailpieces that our computers cannot read for over two years now, I can almost 100% guarantee you that the majority of our delayed mail is for that reason. Either customers can’t spell, or can’t be bothered to look up the address (7?? Columbia St is not a valid street address, look it up for cryin’ out loud!), or put an incomplete, incorrect, or -no- zip code, some people just send it to the company name and the city; businesses use automated addressing programs that very often are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, I can’t emphasise how wrong they are. “Lisa, Apt. 1, Chicago IL” is just not going to get there whether you’re FedEx or the USPS or what.

People who use FedEx or UPS usually go into the FedEx or UPS offices to send their mail, where the address is checked in the computer to at least make certain the zip code exists. There is thus a higher percentage of deliverable mail in those private organisations because there is contact between sender and employee, where mistakes can be caught and fixed. People who send USPS mail do not usually go into the post office to send their mail - because the USPS comes to them. Therefore there is not much of a chance for the employees to catch the mistakes before the mail is sent out, and as a standard letter carrier or mail sorter you are not allowed to assume the customer was “wrong” and then correct it, even if the customer is wrong. This “bad mail” gets put into the system because that is how we are trained to handle it, and it takes time for us to sort it out and figure out where it is going.

What is important is that if you send a piece of FedEx mail addressed incorrectly, and do not take it into a FedEx office to pay the postage (with my plane tickets I mentioned above, they could not render the 1/2 or .5 addition to the address it was being delivered to, and as I ordered the tickets online no FedEx employee could check the address before it went into the system) it will not get where it is going because they don’t check the addresses before processing them, either. It’s standard practice throughout the industry, apparently.

Now if you compare the number of mailpieces the USPS has lost or delayed due to employee mistake or uncontrollable circumstances to the number of mailpieces the other private mailing companies have lost or delayed due to the same, and it turns out the USPS is abyssmal while Tom Hanks’ FedEX is stellar, and then can prove that FedEX is price-wise comparable to the USPS, then and only then will I change my opinion.

DPWhite, you are correct. We must go through the postal committee to make any changes in our operation. We are not as much of a federal institution as we once were, however, and that’s where the confusion comes. I’m not clear on what happened or how things were different, but I’ll ask around.

Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m simply trying to reference a certain attitude with an example that many people will know. I can tell you for sure that I worked harder at the business I had a piece of than at jobs where there was no opportunity for profit sharing or reasonable advancement.

That’s kind of my point in bringing up all of this. Is it worth it?

I never mentioned them screwing up. Read the thread again and you’ll see I never mentioned that. Caiata has been bringing up that issue.

This is exactly the kind of thing that I wanted to hear about: other complications with the whole thing, and opinions. I don’t know why it seems that people think I’m arguing especially hard for privatization. I will admit, though, that in most cases private companies are more attuned to the wants of the customers and filling every niche. Of course, for those fringe customers, it obviously can cost more. Ask Alaskans about the prices of many “normal” goods.

Good point.

I’d really like to see something to back that up. I’m not starting a fight, but that’s exactly the kind of thing at issue here, and I can’t take that just on your word.

Gas costs them the same, assumedly the vehicles cost them roughly the same, the machinery, the jet time, and I would think (mostly) even the employee salaries. Why could the USPS do it cheaper, when UPS and FedEx have stockholders willing to put on near-screaming matches if profits aren’t what they expect?

I’m not presenting the case. Step off my back, people. I’m bringing up the topic. If you have facts and cogent arguments at your disposal, unlike some people on these boards, I’ll listen. Just state them.

I’ll assume that you’re not trying to imply that I said that, because I didn’t. Can we all address the topic instead of acting like I came here for a fight?

I’m not saying ANYTHING about whether the USPS is really trying, or dealing with a more difficult situation, etc. I’m saying that there’s something to be thought about here, and many times private companies have more impetus to do things efficiently than tax-exempt organizations.

Boi Toi (and even Kimstu) brought up good counter-arguments. That’s what I’d like to get.

(Hi, Boi. This is “Dave Swaney”. I was talking to you and Tretiak/Dave on the corner of the balcony of the motel at Dopetoberfest.)