We were pleased to see postal workers and supporters turn out for the "US Mail is Not for Sale" rally on Monday, Oct. 8. The mandate to the United States Postal Service is clear: "The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities" (Title 39, Section 101 of the U.S. Code)
The push to privatize government services is growing stronger in recent years but, in the case of the U.S. mail system, as in so many other arenas, this view reflects a simplistic understanding of the issues at stake. For instance, the distribution network established and maintained by the USPS is unparalleled-so much so that the private services such as FedEx and UPS rely on that network for "last mile delivery" in rural areas. Privatizing the mail system would damage this network as private firms would focus their resources on low-cost, high-return urban areas and neglect and/or increase dramatically the charges for rural mail service.
Furthermore, the Office of the Inspector General of the USPS provides a degree of protection and assures the sanctity of the mail to an extent that private firms would be unwilling or unable to match. The United States Postal System is a service that warrants protection from private-sector poachers and from short-sighted and misguided Congressional action (like the 2006 mandate to pre-fund retiree health benefits further into the future than even the most prudent private firm would ever consider).
Lastly, the research for our recent book, "The Prairie Post Office: The Enlarger of the Common Life in Rural North Dakota," shows that the post office and rural mail carriers fulfill roles essential to personal, civic and social vitality. We documented the many ways in which the post office serves as an institution through which neighbors help neighbors, basic needs are delivered, social isolation is less severe, and a local economy is buoyed.
We concur with Terry Jones, retired USPS worker and president of the North Dakota branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and his call (cited in The Forum of October 8) for Rep. Kevin Cramer, and his House counterparts in Minnesota, to sign H.R. 993, thereby ensuring that USPS remains an independent agency of the federal government not subject to privatization.
Bolduc and Phillips lives in Fargo.