U.S. Postal Service

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U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) processes and delivers mail to individuals and businesses within the United States. The service seeks to improve its performance through the development of efficient mail-handling systems and operates its own planning and engineering programs. The service is also responsible for protecting the mails from loss or theft and apprehending those who violate postal laws.

The postal service was created as an independent establishment of the Executive Branch by the Postal Reorganization Act (39 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.), which was approved August 12, 1970. The U.S. Postal Service began operations on July 1, 1971, replacing the Post Office Department, which after years of financial neglect and fragmented control had proved unable to process the mail efficiently. Despite the availability of new technology, as well as skyrocketing mail volume, the department handled mail the same way it did in the 1870s.

As of 2002 the postal service had approximately 750,000 employees and handled more than 200 billion pieces of mail annually. The chief executive officer of the postal service, the postmaster general, is appointed by the nine governors of the postal service, who are appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, for overlapping nine-year terms. The governors and the postmaster general appoint the deputy postmaster general, and these 11 people constitute the board of governors.

In addition to its national headquarters, the postal service has area and district offices, which supervise approximately 38,000 post offices, branches, stations, and community post offices throughout the United States.

In order to expand and improve service to the public, the postal service is engaged in customer cooperation activities, including the development of programs for both the general public and major customers. The consumer advocate, a postal ombudsman, represents the interests of the individual mail customer in matters involving the postal service by bringing complaints and suggestions to the attention of top postal management and solving the problems of individual customers. To provide postal services that are responsive to public needs, the postal service operates its own planning, research, engineering, real estate, and procurement programs, which are specially adapted to postal requirements. The service also maintains close ties with international postal organizations.

The postal service is the only federal agency whose employment policies are governed by Collective Bargaining. Labor contract negotiations affecting all bargaining unit personnel are conducted by the Labor Relations or Human Resources divisions. These divisions also handle personnel matters involving employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements.The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over criminal matters affecting the integrity and security of the mail. It operates as the inspector general for the postal service. Postal inspectors enforce more than 100 federal statutes involving Mail Fraud, mail bombs, Child Pornography, illegal drugs, mail theft, and other postal crimes. The inspectors are also responsible for the protection of all postal employees. In addition, inspectors audit postal contracts and financial accounts.

Most postal regulations are contained in postal service manuals covering domestic mail, international mail, postal operations, administrative support, employee and labor relations, financial management, and procurement.

In recent years the U.S. Postal Service has gained national attention on several fronts as it sought to compete with private delivery services such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service. In the middle 1990s, the USPS began sponsoring a professional bicycling team that gained worldwide renown when team member Lance Armstrong won the prestigious Tour de France for five consecutive years beginning in 1999. In 2002 the USPS announced a postal rate increase to 37 cents for first-class mail, citing declining revenues and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the fears generated by the mailing of several anthrax-contaminated letters shortly thereafter.

Further readings

Cerasale, Jerry. 2003. "Postal Service Reform: Why? And How?" Catalog Age 20 (November 1).

Hudgins, Edward. 2001. Mail at the Millennium: Will the Postal Service Go Private? Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute.

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (accessed November 10, 2003).

U.S. Postal Service. Available online at <www.usps.com> (accessed August 16, 2003).

Cross-references

Collective Bargaining Agreement; Mail Fraud.

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