As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan grinds into effect with higher rates and slower service during the critical holiday mailing season, pressure is growing on President Biden to replace him.
Having just appointed two new members to the Board of Governors of the Postal Service, that move now appears to be within his grasp.
But what ails the Post Office is bigger than DeJoy, and it started long before he did.
“If you think getting rid of him solves the problem, it doesn’t,” Mark Jamison, a military veteran and retired postmaster from North Carolina, told Newsweek. “The problem is much deeper than DeJoy.”
He said DeJoy is just continuing a process that started long before him.
“But the fact of the matter is, a lot of the things he did was just piggybacking on things that had been put in effect in the early 2000s,” Jamison added.
Under former Postmaster Patrick Donahoe, who served from 2010 to 2015, the Service reduced many remote post offices from full time to part time, he said. They reduced hours, reduced the position of the postmaster in charge, and the result was less contact with the community.
It was all part of a plan to make the Postal Service operate less like a service and more like a business, Jamison said.
“In my community the post office was the town center,” he said. “That’s where everybody meets, talks and gets to know each other. That’s definitely less the case now than it was.”
“As time went on,” he added, “especially after Patrick Donahoe became Postmaster, it became about managing numbers, not anything about people. And it’s evolved into much worse than that.”
Since 2011, hundreds of offices have been closed, predominantly in rural areas that receive less daily foot traffic. While it is in the public spotlight now, these closures and shutdowns have been happening with regularity throughout the last decade. The 10-year plan is just an extension of a decades-long plan, Jamison said.
With roots in pre-colonial times, the USPS is the only federal agency named in the Constitution. It has always been an essential American institution. The key to its long-term success has been a universal service obligation and a diverse, committed workforce, postal expert and author Chris Shaw told Newsweek.
The Postal Service has long been the largest employer of both military veterans and African-Americans in the nation. Today, there are 633,108 postal workers stationed in offices across all 50 states. Twenty-three percent of the workforce identifies as Black or African-American, and it employs about 73,000 veterans.
The Post Office performs other key functions In addition to delivering the mail, including prescription pickups, filling money orders and serving as a source of reliable information for the local community.
“In a lot of rural America, it’s the only contact a lot of people have with the federal government that’s face to face,” Jamison said. “So you end up helping people with a lot of other things just because you know the system.”
These varied services are part of the reason that Americans rate the USPS as the most popular federal institution, according to Pew Research. But many of those appointed to positions of leadership in the Post Office have tried to move away from the community-centered model that is the basis of its popularity.
While it may slightly improve margins, the policy changes in the 10-year plan will create tangible consequences for postal customers, local communities and small businesses that rely on the service, Steve Hutkins, founder of the Save the USPS website, told Newsweek.
“Some things can be particularly problematic,” he said, “like if you’re waiting for your Social Security check or you’re waiting for medications, or it’s a question of ballots voting by mail, then the speed of the mail is even more significant.”
“It has always been about delivering it [the mail] as fast as possible,” Hutkins said. “That’s why they have done everything they can to work 24 hours a day. It’s all about how fast you can move it. So when the Postmaster General comes along and says we’re going to intentionally slow down the mail by a day or two, that’s a big deal.”
The Post Office is the oldest federal agency, older than the nation itself, formed by Benjamin Franklin in 1775, the year before the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to the claims of its critics, it’s operations are not funded by U.S. taxpayers, but by the fees it charges its customers for its services.
But despite its relative independence, it is still subject to the force of political tides.
“The future of the Post Office depends a lot on how our democracy evolves,” Jamison said. “USPS supports democracy and the free exchange of information. If this country surrenders its will to be democratic, then the Postal Service will be nothing but a delivery business.”
“It’s more than that,” he added.
And it certainly is more than that to its more than 600,000 employees.
“The Postal Service had a culture of service,” Jamison said. “You got to know your customers and were more than just somebody who delivered the mail. They’ve tried to force that out because that doesn’t make money or revenue.”
But a USPS official told Newsweek the Post Office is still committed to service.
“No matter who’s in charge or what’s going on, we deliver every day,” Xavier Hernandez, a USPS strategic communications specialist, told Newsweek.
“It was formed in 1775 under Benjamin Franklin, and we’ve continued to evolve from that point,”‘ he said. “Shifting how we serve communities, shifting how we deliver and provide postal services, it’s something that we continue to evolve with, and look forward to doing for the next 250 years.”
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