Increased interest in voting by mail has brought new attention to the U.S. Postal Service. The agency is heavily in debt and faces numerous challenges.
- The Post Office is one of the few agencies authorized by the Constitution.
Article I, Section 8, empowers Congress to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” In the 1840s, Congress gave the Post Office a national monopoly on letter-carrying and an annual appropriation, indicating it was not expected to be profitable.
- Fifty years ago, the Post Office became an independent executive agency.
In 1970, after a nationwide strike by postal workers, President Nixon signed the Postal Reorganizing Act. It abolished the Cabinet-level Post Office Department and reorganized it as the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), an independent executive agency run essentially as a corporation.
- USPS delivers many millions of items a day.
The USPS processes and delivers a daily average of 472 million pieces of mail, including 182 million first-class pieces. It employed more than 630,000 workers in 2019. There are more than 31,000 post offices nationwide.
- The USPS is heavily in debt.
The Postal Service has lost $69 billion over the past 11 fiscal years. Its total unfunded liabilities and debt ($143 billion in fiscal year 2018) have grown to double its annual revenue. Main causes of the debt include a 44 percent drop in first-class mail since 2006; recent coronavirus-driven drops in advertising pieces; costly retiree pensions and health benefits; and mandates to deliver mail in remote, unprofitable areas.
- The GAO suggests several ways to stabilize the USPS financially.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office suggests several ways to put the USPS on better financial footing. They include eliminating Saturday letter delivery (saving up to $1.8 billion annually); providing federal subsidies; and allowing the USPS to eliminate some non-profitable services (as other nations have done).