In Defense of the United States Postal Service

Apr 11, 2014

    A while back Charles Osgood, the host of SUNDAY MORNING, a television news magazine presented on (of all times) Sunday morning, made some remarks about the United States Postal Service which I found uncalled for.  I wrote him a letter and it reads: 

Well, Charley, you old curmudgeon!  I can’t tell you how surprised and disappointed I was at your editorializing comments about the US Postal Service.  First of all, I don’t think it’s becoming of a host to utter deprecating remarks about anyone or anything; your job, as I have observed it is to present others analyzing and maybe even commenting on what is happening around the country and the world.  You, personally, are there to present segues between the different articles and to give us a brief look-see at the articles and the major headlines of the day.  You also end each 90-minute edition with a cheery “See you on the radio” send-off.  I’ve been a faithful follower of SUNDAY MORNING for a number of years, and that’s all I’ve ever seen you do, aside from play the piano at Christmas time.  Editorializing just doesn’t seem to be in your job description.  

Second, I believe your comments were not only rude but also totally off-base.  Have you or any of the other million detractors of the postal service ever considered what the USPS does and does well and with more regularity than any service I can think of?  For a pittance of less than fifty cents, it delivers to your door, privately and with astounding speed, missives and packages from down the street or around the world.  Believe me, I’ve seen other systems, such as the Czech Republic’s.  When my daughter was living in that lovely country,  I mailed a care package to her.  After weeks, the package still hadn’t been delivered, so my daughter trekked down to the local post office to inquire about the missing bundle. The officials’s first question was “What year was it mailed?”  I learned quickly that not all countries are equal in postal services.  

Before I get to point three, may I  assure you that I am not connected in any way with anyone who works at the post office or who ever has worked there.  My only contact is with my own personal mailman who, whenever he sees me outside, inquires after my day and asks about the family.  How many lonely people in this country do you think might look forward to such contact?  I say “personal” because not only does my carrier deliver with speed and accuracy, he’s been my postman for years -- he is a familiar face in a sea of strangers who come to the door.  I also know that were I ever in trouble, he would help; I believe our postmen and women are enjoined to be aware of suspicious happenings on their routes.  So not only are we getting our mail, we’re also assigned someone who cares about the neighborhood and is alert to things going on in his/her route.  

In a third point, is fifty cents really such a burden when you consider that the average person doesn’t even quail at five dollar cups of coffee or ten dollar hamburgers or fifty dollar haircuts?  As you can imagine, I like to write; I love to send thank-you and get-well cards, birthday greetings, and care-for-you notes.  Email is quicker, but the idea of receiving the hand-written note just speaks to me of a care beyond an email, text, or tweet.  Someone who has personal interest enough about another to sit down, pen a letter or greeting, stick said note into an envelope, put a stamp on it, address it, and see that it gets mailed is a person whose

gestures  go beyond the average correspondence of today.  In this time of speed trumping almost everything, such an activity means more than it ever did.  To know, then, at the end of this process that my letter to a friend or acquaintance will be delivered with efficiency and care to that person, to me is worth the time and effort.  Fifty cents is too much, really?  

      A spokesman for the National Letter Carriers has expressed gratitude for my opinions about the fine work of the postal service, but he wanted me to know something that I did not know, and I believe millions of US citizens are laboring under the same misconception as I was: that the USPS is draining taxpayer money.  That idea is patently false: the USPS is totally self-sufficient, depending upon the sale of stamps and services to fund its operation.  Not one dime of taxpayer money goes to the USPS.  Last year alone, the USPS earned an operating profit of  $623,000,000 dollars, which is what was left over after funding its operation and more.  The fly in this very fine ointment is a law that was passed by the 2006 lame-duck Congress: the USPS is required to pre-fund its retiree health benefits for  75 years into the future and pay for it within ten years.   That is more than any other entity or corporation, private or public, is required to do.  None are required to pre-fund even for a year although some do voluntarily but at a much lower level.  While I don’t find pre-funding to be bad, seventy-five years seems draconian, and the drag of this requirement is the cause of the postal service being in debt.  One might wonder why such a stringent obligation would be placed on the USPS.  

 As the postal workers proudly proclaims: “Neither sleet, nor storm, not dark of night will keep us from our appointed rounds,” and I, for one, applaud them and appreciate their diligence and constancy.  The postal service is a service.  We don’t expect police and fire departments to turn a profit, why is that expectation put on the United States Postal Service? With any luck at all, we will continue to receive our mail on Saturdays and rural post offices will stay open.  I don’t believe, Charlie, that your ill-placed comments will keep our post people from doing their jobs; however, your reputation and the good feelings that most people have about you and your program are powerful and possess the propensity to undermine.  Negativity and polarity abound in this country; how about adding some of that trademark sunshine positivity? Charley, I want you to go to your bedroom and sit and think about what you said.  

This is Patricia Rosenleaf, a citizen of the United States who appreciates a fine service when she encounters it.