|Founded||1775 (see History)|
|Headquarters||475 L'Enfant Plaza SW
Washington DC 20260-2202
|Key people||John E. Potter,
|Products||First-class and domestic mail, logistics|
|Revenue||▼ US$ 68.09 billion (2009) |
|Operating income||▼ US$ −3.74 billion (2009)|
|Net income||▼ US$ −3.79 billion (2009)|
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution. Within the United States, it is commonly referred to as the "Post Office", "Postal Service", or "U.S. Mail".
Though postal services have existed on American territory before the United States' establishment, the USPS's first incarnation was established by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1775 by decree of the Second Continental Congress. The Post Office Department was created from this in 1792 as part of the United States Cabinet, its current form in 1983 under the Postal Reorganization Act.
Since its reorganization into an independent organization, the USPS has become self-sufficient and has not directly received taxpayer-dollars since the early 1980s. The decline of mail volume due to increased usage of e-mail has forced the postal service to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs to maintain this financial balance.
Employing 656,000 workers and 260,000 vehicles, it is the second-largest civilian employer in the United States (after Wal-Mart) and the operator of the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world. The USPS is obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. The USPS owns mail boxes. It receives competition from package delivery services who also own and operate drop-off boxes. The Postal Service also receives competition from email.
The first postal service in America arose in February of 1692 when a grant from King William & Queen Mary empowered Thomas Neale "to erect, settle and establish within the chief parts of their majesties' colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for the receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years."
The United States Post Office (U.S.P.O.) was created in Philadelphia under Benjamin Franklin on July 26, 1775 by decree of the Second Continental Congress. Based on the Postal Clause in Article One of the United States Constitution, empowering Congress "To establish post offices and post roads," it became the Post Office Department (U.S.P.O.D.) in 1792. It was part of the Presidential cabinet and the Postmaster General was the last person in the United States presidential line of succession. In 1971, the department was reorganized as a quasi-independent corporation of the federal government and acquired its present name. The Postmaster General is no longer in the presidential line of succession.
The Post Office Department was enlarged during the tenure of President Andrew Jackson. As the Post Office expanded, difficulties were experienced due to a lack of employees and transportation. The Post Office's employees at that time were still subject to the so-called 'spoils' system, where faithful political supporters of the executive branch were appointed to positions in the post office and other government corporations as a reward for their patronage. These appointees rarely had prior experience in postal service and mail delivery. This system of political patronage was replaced in 1883 after passage of the Pendleton Act (Civil Service Reform Act).
Ten years before waterways were declared post roads in 1823, the Post Office used steamboats to carry mail between post towns where no roads existed. Once it became clear that the postal system in the United States needed to expand across the entire country, the use of the railroad to transport the mail was instituted in 1832 on one line in Pennsylvania. All railroads in the United States were designated as post routes, after passage of the Act of July 7, 1838. Mail service by railroad increased rapidly thereafter.
In 1847, the U.S. Mail Steamship Company acquired the contract to carry the U. S. mails from New York, with stops in New Orleans and Havana, to the Isthmus of Panama for delivery in California. The same year,Pacific Mail Steamship Company had acquired the right to transport mail under contract from the United States Government from the Isthmus of Panama to California. In 1855, William Henry Aspinwall completed the Panama Railway, the first transcontinental railroad, providing service from the east coast across the Istumus to California in three weeks for the mails, passengers and goods and remained an important route until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Railroad companies greatly expanded mail transport service after 1862, and the Railway Mail Service was inaugurated in 1869. Rail cars designed from the start to sort and distribute mail while rolling were soon introduced. RMS employees sorted mail 'on the fly' during the journey, and became some of the most skilled workers in the postal service. An RMS sorter had to be able to separate the mail quickly into compartments based on its final destination, before the first destination arrived, and work at the rate of 600 pieces of mail an hour. They were tested regularly for speed and accuracy. The advent of rural free delivery in the U.S. in 1896 and the inauguration of parcel post service in 1913 greatly increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient postal transportation systems.
On August 12, 1918, the Post Office Department took over air mail service from the U.S. Army Air Service (USAAS). Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger appointed Benjamin B. Lipsner to head the civilian-operated Air Mail Service. One of Lipsner's first acts was to hire four pilots, each with at least 1,000 hours flying experience, paying them an average of $4,000 per year. The Post Office Department used mostly World War I military surplus de Havilland DH-4 aircraft. During 1918, the Post Office hired an additional 36 pilots. In its first year of operation, the Post Office completed 1,208 airmail flights with 90 forced landings. Of those, 53 were due to weather and 37 to engine failure. By 1920, the Air Mail service had delivered 49 million letters. Domestic air mail became obsolete in 1975, and international air mail in 1995, when the USPS began transporting First Class mail by air on a routine basis.
The Post Office was one of the first government departments to regulate obscene materials on a national basis. When the U.S. Congress passed the Comstock laws of 1873, it became illegal to send through the U.S. mail any material considered obscene, indecent or which promoted abortion issues, contraception, or alcohol consumption.
The Postal Reorganization Act signed by President Richard Nixon on August 12, 1970, replaced the cabinet-level Post Office Department with the independent United States Postal Service. The Act took effect on July 1, 1971.
The United States Postal Service employs some 656,000 workers, making it the second-largest civilian employer in the United States (excluding the federal government) following only Wal-Mart. In a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Court noted: "Each day, according to the Government’s submissions here, the United States Postal Service delivers some 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million delivery points." The USPS operates 32,741 post offices and locations in the US. In August 2009 the Postal Regulatory Commission put forward a preliminary list of about 1000 it is considering closing to save money. Its employees deliver mail at an average yearly cost of $235 per residence as of 2009.
The USPS operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 260,000 vehicles, the majority of which are the easily identified Chevrolet/Grumman LLV (Long-Life Vehicle), and the newer Ford/Utilimaster FFV (Flex-Fuel Vehicle), originally also referred to as the "CRV" (Carrier Route Vehicle), as shown in the pictures below. In an interview on NPR, a USPS official stated that for every penny increase in the national average price of gasoline, the USPS spends an extra $8 million to fuel its fleet. This implies that the fleet requires some 800 million gallons (3.03 billion liters) of fuel per year, and consumes an estimated fuel budget of $2.4 billion, were the national gasoline price to average $3.00. Some Rural Letter Carriers use personal vehicles. Standard postal-owned vehicles do not have license plates. These vehicles are identified by a seven digit number displayed on the front and rear.
Competition from e-mail and private operations such as United Parcel Service and FedEx has forced USPS to adjust its business strategy and to modernize its products and services. First Class mail volume (which is protected by legal monopoly) has declined 22% from 1998 to 2007, due to the increasing use of e-mail and the World Wide Web for correspondence and business transactions. In 2008, a general economic slowdown also affected mail volumes, especially advertising. Lower volume means lower revenues to support the fixed commitment to deliver to every address once a day, six days a week. In response, the USPS has increased productivity each year from 2000 to 2007, through increased automation, route re-optimization, and facility consolidation.
The Department of Defense and the USPS jointly operate a postal system to deliver mail for the military; this is known as the Army Post Office (for Army and Air Force postal facilities) and Fleet Post Office (for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard postal facilities).
The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service sets policy, procedure, and postal rates for services rendered, and has a similar role to a corporate board of directors. Of the eleven members of the Board, nine are appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate (see 39 U.S.C. § 202). The nine appointed members then select the United States Postmaster General, who serves as the board's tenth member, and who oversees the day to day activities of the service as Chief Executive Officer (see 39 U.S.C. § 202–203). The ten-member board then nominates a Deputy Postmaster General, who acts as Chief Operating Officer, to the eleventh and last remaining open seat.
The USPS is often mistaken for a government-owned corporation (e.g., Amtrak), but as noted above is legally defined as an "independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States," (39 U.S.C. § 201) as it is wholly owned by the government and controlled by the Presidential appointees and the Postmaster General. As a quasi-governmental agency, it has many special privileges, including sovereign immunity, eminent domain powers, powers to negotiate postal treaties with foreign nations, and an exclusive legal right to deliver first-class and third-class mail. Indeed, in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the USPS was not a government-owned corporation, and therefore could not be sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld the USPS's statutory monopoly on access to letterboxes against a First Amendment freedom of speech challenge; it thus remains illegal in the U.S. for anyone other than the employees and agents of the USPS to deliver mailpieces to letterboxes marked "U.S. Mail."
The Postal Service also has a Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee and local Postal Customer Councils, which are advisory and primarily involve business customers.
Article I, section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution grants U.S. Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads. The Federal Government has interpreted this clause as granting a de facto Congressional monopoly over the delivery of mail. According to the government, no other system for delivering mail - public or private - can be established absent Congress's consent. Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters.
The mission of the Postal Service is to provide the American public with trusted universal postal service at affordable prices. While not explicitly defined, the Postal Service’s universal service obligation (USO) is broadly outlined in statute and includes multiple dimensions: geographic scope, range of products, access to services and facilities, delivery frequency, affordable and uniform pricing, service quality, and security of the mail. While other carriers claim to voluntarily provide delivery on a universal basis, the Postal Service is the only carrier with the obligation to provide all the various aspects of universal service at affordable rates.
Proponents of postal service monopoly claim that since any obligation must be matched by the financial capability to meet that obligation, the postal monopoly was put in place as a funding mechanism for the USO, and it has been in place for over a hundred years. It consists of two parts: the Private Express Statutes (PES) and the mailbox access rule. The PES refers to the Postal Service’s monopoly on the delivery of letters, and the mailbox rule refers to the Postal Service’s exclusive access to customer mailboxes.
Proponents of postal service monopoly further claim that eliminating or reducing the PES or mailbox rule would have an impact on the ability of the Postal Service to provide affordable universal service. If, for example, the PES and the mailbox rule were to be eliminated, and the USO maintained, then either billions of dollars in tax revenues or some other source of funding would have to be found. As the operating environment of the Postal Service continues to change, additional flexibilities will likely be necessary to fulfill the USO.
However, as the recent notice of a termination of mail service to residents of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness indicates, mail service has been contracted to private firms such as Arnold Aviation for many decades. KTVB-TV reported:
The decision was reversed; U.S. Postmaster General John Potter indicated that acceptable service to backcountry customers could not be achieved in any other fashion than continuing an air mail contract with Arnold Aviation to deliver the mail."
The Postal Act of 2006 required the PRC to submit a report to the President and Congress on universal postal service and the postal monopoly in December 2008. The report must include any recommended changes. The Postal Service report supports the requirement that the PRC is to consult with and solicit written comments from the Postal Service. In addition, the Government Accountability Office is required to evaluate broader business model issues by 2011.
On October 15, 2008, the Postal Service submitted a report to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) on its position related to the Universal Service Obligation (USO). It said no changes to the USO and restriction on mailbox access were necessary at this time, but increased regulatory flexibility was required to ensure affordable universal service in the future.
Obligations of the USO include uniform prices, quality of service, access to services, and six-day delivery to every part of the country. To assure financial support for these obligations, the postal monopoly provides the Postal Service the exclusive right to deliver letters and restricts mailbox access solely for mail. The report argued that eliminating or reducing either aspect of the monopoly "would have a devastating impact on the ability...to provide the affordable universal service that the country values so highly." Relaxing access to the mailbox would also pose security concerns, increase delivery costs, and hurt customer service, according to the Post Office. The report notes:
The Postal Service said that the USO should continue to be broadly defined and there should be no changes to the postal monopoly. Any changes would have far-reaching effects on customers and the trillion dollar mailing industry. “A more rigidly defined USO would … ultimately harm the American public and businesses,” according to the report, which cautions that any potential change must be studied carefully and the effects fully understood.
During hearings held earlier this year, the PRC also heard from mailers, mailing associations, and postal unions and management associations. Comments generally indicated that changes are not currently needed.
 FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS) directly compete with USPS express mail and package delivery services, making nationwide deliveries of urgent letters and packages. Due to the postal monopoly, they are not allowed to deliver non-urgent letters and may not use U.S. Mail boxes at residential and commercial destinations. These services also deliver packages which are larger and heavier than what the USPS will accept. DHL Express was the third major competitor until February 2009, when it ceased domestic delivery operations in the United States.
A variety of other transportation companies in the United States move cargo around the country, but either have limited geographic scope for delivery points, or specialize in items too large to be mailed. Many of the thousands of courier companies focus on same-day delivery, for example by bicycle messenger.
The Post Office Department owned and operated the first public telegraph lines in the United States, starting in 1844 from Washington to Baltimore, and eventually extending to New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. In 1847, the telegraph system was privatized, except for a period during World War I when it was used to accelerate the delivery of letters arriving at night.
Between 1942 and 1945, "V-Mail" (for "Victory Mail") service was available for military mail. Letters were converted into microfilm and reprinted near the destination, to save room on transport vehicles for military cargo.
From 1982 to 1985, Electronic Computer Originated Mail was accepted for bulk mailings. Text was transmitted electronically to one of 25 post offices nationwide. The Postal Service would print the mail, and put it in special envelopes bearing a blue ECOM logo. Delivery was assured within 2 days.
One planned improvement is the introduction of the Intelligent Mail Barcode, which will allow pieces of mail to be tracked through the delivery system, as competitors like UPS and FedEx currently do.
On May 11, 2009, the price of a First-Class Mail stamp rose to 44 cents. 
On July 10, 2009, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R. 3167 with the direct support of Chairman Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts). H.R. 3167 which if passed into law would require the 2010 United States Census to be conducted in partnership with the United States Postal Service. The bill has been in committee since the date of its introduction.
After it was estimated that the 2010 Census would require 750,000 temporary employees in order to carry out all associated tasks, the commerce department made the controversial decision to utilize a variety of community organizations, including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, to gather census data. In committee hearings, Rep. Chaffetz and others expressed serious reservations about the lack of standards offered by the Census to ensure trustworthy and competent partner organizations.
As a potential solution to this issue, it was observed that the United States Postal Service employs a staff of 760,000, just over the estimated labor force requirement. Chaffetz argued that Letter Carriers would be the most qualified individuals to carry out this task and that the plan would provide an additional revenue stream for the USPS during difficult financial times. Chaffetz explained, "It is imperative the American People have the utmost confidence in the collection of Census data. We should not rely upon ACORN to gather Census data. I don’t trust ACORN and neither do the American people. We already have a trusted workforce. This is a common sense business approach. Rather than hire 750,000 new, unknown people, let’s use people and assets already in place. This should save money, help the Post Office in a time of financial need, and give confidence and credibility to the collection of personal information. Postal carriers know the people on their routes, they know how to find them and how to count them."
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, its mission is to protect the Postal Service, its employees, and its customers from crime and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse.
Postal Inspectors enforce over 200 federal laws providing for the protection of mail in investigations of crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system or postal employees.
The USPIS has the power to enforce the USPS monopoly by conducting search and seizure raids on entities they suspect of sending non-urgent mail through overnight delivery competitors According to the American Enterprise Institute, a private conservative think tank, the USPIS raided Equifax offices in 1993 to ascertain if the mail they were sending through Federal Express was truly "extremely urgent." It was found that the mail was not, and Equifax was fined $30,000.
The United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) was authorized by law in 1996. Prior to the 1996 legislation, the Postal Inspection Service performed the duties of the OIG. The Inspector General, who is independent of postal management, is appointed by and reports directly to the nine presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed members of the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service.
The primary purpose of the OIG is to prevent, detect and report fraud, waste and program abuse, and promote efficiency in the operations of the Postal Service. The OIG has "oversight" responsibility for all activities of the Postal Inspection Service.
For any letter addressed within the United States, the USPS requires two pieces of information on the envelope.
Domestic first-class mail costs 44¢ for envelopes (28¢ for post cards) and upwards, depending on the weight and dimensions of the letter and the class, and the indicia is supposed to be placed in the upper-right corner.
A third, and optional (but strongly suggested) addition is a return address. This is the address that the recipient may respond to, and, if necessary, the letter can be returned to if delivery fails. It is usually placed in the upper-left corner or occasionally on the back (though the latter is standard in some countries). Undeliverable mails that cannot be readily returned, including those without return addresses, are treated as dead mails at a Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia or Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The USPS maintains a list of proper abbreviations.
The city and state designations are a redundant safety measure used in the case that the printed ZIP code is illegible or ambiguously written. Since the ZIP code system is such that there is only one street of any name for any ZIP code (ex. there is only one Johnson Street in the 10036 ZIP area), it is possible to exclude the city and state from a mailing label and still have the package delivered, assuming the label is legible.
The formatting of a return address is identical. Though some style manuals do recommend using a comma between the city and state name when typesetting addresses in other contexts, for optimal automatic character recognition, the Post Office does not recommend this when addressing mail. The official recommendation is to use all upper case block letters with appropriate formats and abbreviations, and leave out all punctuation except for the hyphen in the ZIP+4 code. If the address is unusually formatted or illegible enough, it will require hand-processing, delaying that particular item. The USPS publishes the entirety of their postal addressing standards.
Customers can look up ZIP codes on usps.com, and purchase postage if they have an account.
The actual postage can be paid via:
All unused U.S. postage stamps issued since 1861 are still valid as postage at their indicated value. Stamps with no value shown or denominated by a letter are also still valid at their purchase price.
The cost of mailing a 1 oz First Class letter increased to 44 cents on May 11, 2009, but since April 2007, the Post Office has offered a "forever" stamp. This stamp is sold at the first class mail postage rate at the time of purchase, but will always be valid for 1st class mail (1 oz and under), no matter how rates rise in the future. Britain has had a similar stamp since 1989. However, one of the tenets of the Universal Postal Union is having a single flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world, which is true for Britain (since 1995), but not the U.S.
Endicia provides the technology that allows Click-N-Ship to print postage and Endicia licenses this technology to individual shippers through software applications. Through Pitney Bowes, PayPal account holders can print postage on the site and have the costs deducted from their PayPal account (with no surcharge) or a linked bank account. With either service, the sender may then drop off the parcel at a location accepting parcels or request pick-up at the address of origin.
Electronic Verification System (eVS)  is the Postal Service's integrated mail management technology that centralizes payment processing and electronic postage reports. Part of an evolving suite of USPS electronic payment services called PostalOne! , eVS allows mailers shipping large volumes of parcels through the Postal Service a way to circumvent use of hard-copy manifests, postage statements and drop-shipment verification forms. Instead, mailers can pay postage automatically through a centralized account and track payments online.
Beginning August 2007, the Postal Service began requiring mailers shipping Parcel Select packages using a permit imprint to use eVS for manifesting their packages. Currently, the list of USPS "Approved eVS Mailers" includes:
All U.S. postage stamps issued under the former United States Post Office Department and other postage items that were released before 1978 are not subject to copyright, but stamp designs since 1978 are copyrighted. Following the creation of the United States Postal Service, the United States Copyright Office in section 206.02(b) of the Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices holds that "Works of the U.S. Postal Service, as now constituted, are not considered U.S. Government works." Here, the U.S. Copyright Office has clarified that works of the U.S. Postal Service, of the government of the District of Columbia, or of the government of Puerto Rico are not "works of the U.S. government" and thus are subject to copyright. Thus, postal service holds copyright to such materials released since 1978 under Title 17 of the United States Code. Written permission is required for use of copyrighted postage stamp images.
Domestic postage includes Monday through Saturday delivery (excepting federal holidays) to any address, Post Office Box, or general delivery Post Office in the United States, or any U.S. military mail destination.
The Post Office will not deliver packages heavier than 70 lb or if the two largest dimensions (length and width) are greater than 108 inches combined. Other carriers handle packages that do not meet these conditions. Mail sent at a level below First Class will not be forwarded or returned to sender, unless an additional fee is paid; "return service requested" may need to appear on the outside of the item. Deliveries outside the contiguous United States may take longer.
As of May 2007, domestic postage levels for low-volume mailers include:
Discounts are available for large volumes of mail. Depending on the postage level, certain conditions might be required or optional for an additional discount:
In addition to bulk discounts on Express, Priority, and First Class Mail, the following postage levels are available for bulk mailers:
Depending on the type of mail, additional services are available for an additional fee:
Postal money orders provide a safe alternative to sending cash through the mail, and are available in any amount up to $1000. Money orders are cashable only by the recipient, just like a bank check. Unlike a personal bank check, they are pre-paid and therefore cannot bounce. Money orders are a declining business for the USPS, as companies like PayPal and PaidByCash and others are offering electronic replacements through the MasterCard and Visa systems.
Formerly, USPS International services were categorized as Airmail (Letter Post), Economy (Surface) Parcel Post, Airmail Parcel Post, Global Priority, Global Express, and Global Express Guaranteed Mail. In May 2007, USPS restructured international service names to correspond with domestic shipping options. Letter post is now First Class Mail International, Airmail Parcel Post was discontinued and replaced by Priority Mail International. Global Express is now Express Mail International. Global Express Guaranteed is unchanged, and Economy Parcel Post was discontinued for international service. The only mailing classes with a tracking ability are Express and Express Guaranteed. One of the major changes in the new naming and services definitions is that USPS-supplied mailing boxes for Priority and Express mail are now allowed for international use. Also, a Priority Mail International Flat-Rate has been introduced, with the same conditions of service previously used for Global Priority. These services are offered to ship letters and packages to almost every country and territory on the globe. Ironically, the USPS provides much of this service by contracting with a private parcel service, FedEx.
On May 14, 2007, the United States Postal Service canceled all outgoing international surface mail (sometimes known as "sea mail") from the United States, citing increased costs and reduced demand due to competition from airmail services such as FedEx and UPS. The decision has been criticized by the Peace Corps and military personnel overseas, as well as independent booksellers and other small businesses who rely on international deliveries.
Military mail is billed at domestic rates when being sent from the United States to a military outpost, and is free when sent by deployed military personnel. The overseas logistics are handled by the Military Postal Service Agency in the Department of Defense. Outside of forward areas and active operations, military mail First Class takes 7–10 days, Priority 10–15 days, and Parcel Post about 24 days.
The United States Postal Service does not directly own or operate any aircraft or trains. The mail and packages are flown on airlines with which the Postal Service has a contractual agreement. The contracts change periodically. Depending on the contract, aircraft may be painted with the USPS paint scheme. Contract airlines have included: UPS, Emery Worldwide, Ryan International Airlines, FedEx Express, Rhoades Aviation, American Airlines and Express One International. The Postal Service also contracts with Amtrak to carry some mail between certain cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The last air delivery route in the continental U.S., to residents in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, was scheduled to be ended in June 2009. The weekly bush plane route, contracted out to an air taxi company, had in its final year an annual cost of $46,000, or $2400/year per residence, over ten times the average cost of delivering mail to a residence in the United States. This decision has been reversed by the U.S. Postmaster General.
Processing of standard sized envelopes and cards is highly automated, including reading of handwritten addresses. Mail from individual customers and public postboxes is collected by mail carriers into plastic tubs. The tubs are taken to a Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC). There are approximately 275 such centers across the United States, which sort mail for a given region (typically a radius of around 200 miles) and connect with the national network for interregional mail.
At the P&DC, mail is emptied into hampers which are then automatically dumped into a Dual Pass Rough Cull System (DPRCS). As mail travels through the DPRCS, large items, such as packages and mail bundles, are removed from the stream. As the remaining mail enters the first machine for processing standard mail, the Advanced Facer-Canceler System (AFCS), pieces that passed through the DPRCS but do not conform to physical dimensions for processing in the AFCS (i.e. large envelopes or overstuffed standard envelopes) are automatically diverted from the stream. Mail removed from the DPRCS and AFCS is manually processed or sent to parcel sorting machines.
In contrast to the previous system, which merely canceled and postmarked the upper right corner of the envelope, thereby missing any stamps which were inappropriately placed, the AFCS locates indicia (stamp or metered postage mark), regardless of the orientation of the mail as it enters the machine, and cancels it by applying a postmark. Detection of indicia enables the AFCS to determine the orientation of each mailpiece and sort it accordingly, rotating pieces as necessary so all mail is sorted right-side up and faced in the same direction in each output bin. Mail is output by the machine into three categories: mail already affixed with a bar code and addressed (such as business reply envelopes and cards), mail with machine printed (typed) addresses, and mail with handwritten addresses. Additionally, machines with a recent Optical Character Recognition (OCR) upgrade have the capability to read the address information, including handwritten, and sort the mail based on local or outgoing ZIP codes.
Mail with typed addresses goes to a Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) which reads the ZIP Code and address information and prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelope. Mail (actually the scanned image of the mail) with handwritten addresses (and machine-printed ones that aren't easily recognized) goes to the Remote Bar Coding System. It also corrects spelling errors and, where there is an error, omission, or conflict in the written address, identifies the most likely correct address. When it has decided on a correct address, it prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelopes, similarly to the MLOCR system. RBCS also has facilities in place, called Remote Encoding Centers, that have humans look at images of mail pieces and enter the address data. The address data is associated with the image via an ID Tag, a fluorescent Barcode printed by mail processing equipment on the back of mail pieces.
If a customer has filed a change of address card and his or her mail is detected in the mailstream with the old address, the mailpiece is sent to a machine that automatically connects to a Computerized Forwarding System database to determine the new address. If this address is found, the machine will paste a label over the former address with the current address. The mail is returned to the mailstream to forward to the new location.
Mail with addresses that cannot be resolved by the automated system are separated for human intervention. If a local postal worker can read the address, he or she manually sorts it out according to the ZIP code on the article. If the address cannot be read, mail is either returned to the sender (first class mail with a valid return address) or is sent to the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia (formerly known as Dead Letter Offices, originated by Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s) where it receives more intense scrutiny, including being opened to determine if any of the contents are a clue. If no valid address can be determined, the items are held for 90 days in case of inquiry by the customer; and if they are not claimed then they are either destroyed or auctioned off at the annual Postal Service Unclaimed Parcel auction to raise money for the service.
Once the mail is bar coded, it is automatically sorted by a Delivery Bar Code System that reads the bar code and determines the destination of the mailpiece to postal stations.
Regional mail is trucked to the appropriate local post office or kept in the building for carrier routes served directly from the P&DC. Out-of-region mail is trucked to the airport and then flown, usually as baggage on commercial airlines, to the airport nearest the destination station. At the destination P&DC, mail is once again read by a Delivery Bar Code System which sorts the items into their local destinations, including grouping them by individual mail carrier.
At the carrier route level, 95% of letters arrive pre-sorted; the remaining mail must be sorted by hand. The Post Office is working to increase the percentage of automatically sorted mail, including a pilot program to sort "flats".
Although its customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS recognizes several types of postal facilities, including the following:
While common usage refers to all types of postal facilities as "substations," the USPS Glossary of Postal Terms does not define or even list that word. Post Offices often share facilities with other governmental organizations located within a city's central business district. In those locations, often Courthouses and Federal Buildings, the building is owned by the General Services Administration while the U.S. Postal Services operates as a tenant. There are approximately 36,000 post offices, stations, and branches in the USPS retail system. Temporary stations are also set up for applying pictorial cancellations.
In 2004 the USPS began deploying Automated Postal Centers (APC). APCs are unattended kiosks that are capable of weighing, franking, and storing packages for later pickup as well as selling domestic and international postage stamps. Similarly, traditional vending machines are available at many post offices to purchase stamps, though these are being phased out in many areas. Due to increasing use of Internet services, as of June, 2009, no retail post office windows are open 24 hours; overnight services are limited to those provided by an Automated Postal Center.
In February, 2006, the USPS announced that they plan to replace the nine existing facility-types with five processing facility-types:
Over a period of years, these facilities are expected to replace Processing & Distribution Centers, Customer Service Facilities, Bulk Mail Centers, Logistic and Distribution Centers, annexes, the Hub and Spoke Program, Air Mail Centers, and International Service Centers.
The changes are a result of the declining volumes of single-piece first-class mail, population shifts, the increase in drop shipments by advertising mailers at destinating postal facilities, advancements in equipment and technology, redundancies in the existing network, and the need for operational flexibility.
Until 1912, mail was delivered 7 days a week. As the postal service grew in popularity and usage in the 1800s, local religious leaders were noticing a decline in Sunday morning church attendance due to local post offices doubling as gathering places. These leaders appealed to the government to intervene and close post offices on Sundays.
As a result of this intervention by the government, U.S. Mail (with the exception of Express Mail) is not delivered on Sunday, with the exception of a few towns in which the local religion has had an effect on the policy; for example, Loma Linda, California, which has a significant Seventh-day Adventist population. U.S. Mail is delivered Sunday through Friday, with the exception of observed federal holidays.
Saturday delivery was temporarily suspended in April 1957, due to lack of funds, but quickly restored. On January 28, 2009, Postmaster General John E. Potter testified before the Senate that if the Postal Service is not able to readjust their payment toward the pre-funding of retiree health benefits, as mandated by the Postal Accountability & Enhancement Act of 2006, the USPS would be forced to consider cutting delivery to five days per week during the summer months of June, July & August. However, the universal service obligation and six day delivery are upheld by Congressional language within Appropriations legislation, so a reduction in service would require that a new law be passed by Congress.
On June 10, 2009, the NRLCA was contacted for its input on the USPS's current study of the impact of five-day delivery along with developing an implementation plan for a five-day service plan. A team of postal service headquarters executives and staff has been given a time frame of sixty days to complete the study. The current concept examines the impact of five-day delivery with no business or collections on Saturday, with Post Offices with current Saturday hours remaining open.
Originally, mail was not delivered to homes and businesses, but to post offices. In 1863, "city delivery" began in urban areas with enough customers to make this economical. This required streets to be named, houses to be numbered, with sidewalks and lighting provided, and these street addresses to be added to envelopes. The number of routes served expanded over time. In 1891, the first experiments with Rural Free Delivery began in less densely populated areas.
To compensate for high mail volume and slow long-distance transportation which saw mail arrive at post offices throughout the day, deliveries were made multiple times a day. This ranged from twice for residential areas to up to seven times for the central business district of Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1800s, mail boxes were encouraged, saving carriers the time it took to deliver directly to the addressee in person; in the 1910s and 1920s, they were phased in as a requirement for service. In the 1940s, multiple daily deliveries began to be reduced, especially on Saturdays. By 1990, the last twice-daily deliveries in New York City were eliminated.
Today, mail is delivered once a day on-site to most private homes and businesses. The USPS still distinguishes between city delivery (where carriers generally walk and deliver to mailboxes hung on exterior walls or porches, or to commercial reception areas) and rural delivery (where carriers generally drive). With "curbside delivery", mailboxes are at the ends of driveways, on the nearest convenient road. "Central point delivery" is used in some locations, where several nearby residences share a "cluster" of individual mailboxes in a single housing.
Some customers choose to use post office boxes for an additional fee, for privacy or convenience. This provides a locked box at the post office to which mail is addressed and delivered (usually earlier in the day than home delivery). High-volume business customers can also arrange for special pick-up.
Another option is the old-style general delivery, for people who have neither post office boxes nor street addresses. Mail is held at the post office until they present identification and pick it up.
Some customers receive free post office boxes if the USPS declines to provide door-to-door delivery to their location or a nearby box. People with medical problems can request door-to-door delivery. Homeless people are also eligible for post office boxes at the discretion of the local postmaster, or can use general delivery.
From 1885 to 2001, a service called special delivery was available, which caused a separate delivery to the final location earlier in the day than the usual daily rounds.
Residential customers can fill out a form to forward mail to a new address, and can also send pre-printed forms to any of their frequent correspondents. They can also put their mail on "hold", for example, while on vacation. The Post Office will store mail during the hold, instead of letting it overflow in the mailbox. These services are not available to large buildings and customers of a commercial mail receiving agency, where mail is subsorted by non-Post Office employees into individual mailboxes.
The USPS employs more people than any company in the United States except Wal-Mart. It employed 790,000 personnel in 2003, divided into offices, processing centers, and actual post offices.
Labor unions representing USPS employees include the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), which represents city letter carriers, the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association (NRLCA), which represents rural letter carriers, the National Postal Mail Handler's Union (NPMHU), which represents mail handlers, and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers. While union membership is voluntary, city carriers are organized near 90% nationally.
USPS employees are divided into three major crafts according to the work they engage in:
Other non-managerial positions in the USPS include:
Though the USPS employs many individuals, as more Americans send information via e-mail, fewer postal workers are needed to work dwindling amounts of mail. Post offices and mail facilities are constantly downsizing, replacing craft positions with new machines and consolidating mail routes through the MIARAP(Modified Interim Alternate Route Adjustment Process) agreement. A major round of job cuts, early retirements,
and a construction freeze were announced on March 20, 2009.
The United States Postal Service has a long record of environmental stewardship, and has integrated sustainability throughout the organization.
For almost a decade, the Postal Service has been a partner in EPA’s WasteWise Program, which helps USPS reduce the amount of waste produced. Last year was the ninth straight year that the Postal Service has been recognized as EPA’s WasteWise Partner of the Year.
USPS is also the only shipping/mailing company in the United States that has achieved the Silver level of Cradle to CradleSMcertification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, LLC (MBDC) for the 500 million Priority Mail and Express Mail envelopes and packages distributed to customers each year. They received this certification in 2007. In order to receive this certification, the company’s products undergo intense reviews in many areas including: the use of renewable energy and efficient water use during production, and strategies for social responsibility, among others.
The USPS is taking more than 500 old postal trucks off of the road and replacing them with newer, larger trucks, which will result in numerous benefits for the environment: (1) decreasing the amount of CO2 emissions by replacing the vintage vehicles with cleaner, more fuel efficient year 2000 vehicles, (2) the use of larger vehicles will reduce the number of miles that USPS vehicles travel. The average fuel economy of the Post Office fleet in 2008 was 10.30 miles per gallon.
In addition to this environmental initiative, about 274,000 tons of wastepaper, cardboard, cans, plastics, and other materials were recycled in 2008 through the Postal Service's nationwide recycling and waste prevention programs.
In the early 1990s, widely publicized workplace shootings by disgruntled employees at USPS facilities led to a postal regulation that prohibits the possession of firearms in all postal facilities. Due to media coverage, postal employees gained a reputation among the general public as being mentally ill. The USPS Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace found that "Postal workers are only a third as likely as those in the national workforce to be victims of homicide at work."
This stereotype in turn has influenced American culture, as seen in the slang term "going postal" (see Patrick Sherrill for information on his August 20, 1986, rampage) and the computer game Postal. Also, in the opening sequence of Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, a yell of "Disgruntled postal workers" is heard, followed by the arrival of postal workers with machine guns. In an episode of Seinfeld, the character Newman, who is a mailman, explained in a dramatic monologue that postal workers "go crazy and kill everyone" because the mail never stops. In The Simpsons episode Sunday, Cruddy Sunday, Nelson Muntz asks Postmaster Bill if he has "ever gone on a killing spree", with a reply of, "The day of the disgruntled postman went out with the Macarena".
However, there have been over thirty acts of postal mass shootings, resulting in death, recorded and investigated by authorities since 1983. The last postal shooting incident occurred in 2006.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) was founded in 1775 and is located in Washington D.C. In the United States, it is referred to as "the post office", "the postal service", or just "the mail". Its job is to deliver letters, packages, and other items to people.