The Long Way Home 5.10.24

Here’s a question I ponder, probably more than I should. Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? This leads me to the biggest question: am I just irrelevant?

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the current state of the United States Postal Service (USPS). 

Complaints of USPS service failures from its consumers, especially those in smaller communities and rural areas, have US Senators and Congressmen loudly demanding hearings and other forms of accountability.

The timely movement of mail and parcels has been a core service of government that predates even the blessed founding of our current republic. The first United States Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, served the same role for more than 29 years when we were just a bunch of colonies owned by the crown. 

Political patronage is mainly responsible for selecting who serves as postmaster general. They are chosen and appointed by a Board of Governors comprising 11 members. Of the 11, nine are presidentially appointed governors, one is the postmaster general, and one is the deputy postmaster general. At most, five governors belong to the same political party. Only the board has the power to remove a postmaster general.

The current and 75th Postmaster General is Louis DeJoy. Appointed in June 2020 by the Board of Governors, the 67-year-old businessman brought decades of experience in the fine art of logistics, moving goods from origin to destination. His business, New Breed Logistics, was a long-time contractor hauling for the USPS. In 2014, he sold his business for $614 million to a fast-rising company, XPO Logistics, that was rolling up logistics businesses of all kinds.

The USPS is 100% owned by the federal government. It exists to provide a well-known and long-established service to the public. It is intended to be revenue-neutral and should not make a profit. I assume that Congress makes sure any losses are covered. 

I don’t know DeJoy personally, even though we were both in the freight business. However, his business background, which led to a successful “liquidity event,” makes me confident that he is a cut above the typical patronage recipient. I could be wrong.

However, the USPS faces some long-term challenges that could jeopardize its existence. 

Some may remember that Congress passed the Postal Service Act in 1792. One of the legislated mandates was that the USPS offer a significantly reduced rate for newspaper publishers. By the end of the 20th century, I became familiar with those reduced rates and all the paperwork and pre-sorting it took to make them happen. 

With a newspaper that relied on the postal service to get to subscribers, I was very impressed with how efficient the service was. Snowbirds received their newspaper in the desert southwest just days after they would have received it on the North Shore.

Over the last twenty years, almost half of the weekly newspapers in our country have closed. That’s a lot of business lost for the contemporary postal service. 

In addition to reduced newspaper readership, Americans have accepted electronic billing in ever-growing numbers. Companies find savings in paper and postage costs for mail billing pays and then some for the technology needed to go paperless.

The greeting card industry has adopted technology for digital cards delivered over the Internet and social media, making sending birthday and anniversary greetings paper and postage-free. However, the prohibitive cost of greeting cards and the postage required to mail them has made people think twice.

At one time, the Bohunk and I had over three hundred names on our Christmas Card list. The list is gone; we haven’t mailed holiday cards in years.

And who writes letters anymore? Or Thank You notes?  

I guess we’ve been part of the problem.

In our little corner of the North Shore, the City of Grand Marais is served from a post office building overflowing with PO boxes. Mail delivery is not performed in the city; independent contractors deliver the rural routes. The actual post office employees do a fantastic job for the people of Grand Marais. Kudos to them.