WITT: Changes needed to protect USPS

The United States Postal Service has undergone tremendous change over its lifetime, from the earliest days when it tried to emulate postal delivery in England and Benjamin Franklin’s oversight to today’s highly mechanized service.

Regrettably, the USPS today faces onslaughts from those, within and outside of Congress, who would love to see it privatized, claiming, without substantive proof, that privatization would result in cheaper and better service.

Many are still around who can recall when a first-class stamp cost 3 cents (from 1932 to 1958), escalated today to 55 cents.

Still, would anyone suggest that a piece of mail could be delivered by the writer — even across town — for a paltry 55 cents? It would cost that much just in fuel, not even accounting for vehicle upkeep and reasonable remuneration for the time spent to make the delivery.

Uneducated members of Congress seem to think that the USPS should be operated like a business. It has never been a business, but a public service. In fact, the Postal Policy Act of 1958 clearly stated that the post office is “not a business enterprise conducted for profit or for raising general funds.”

Perhaps the straits in which the USPS finds itself today can be characterized somewhat by the changes that occurred with the architecture of the buildings that have housed it.

All across the country, post office buildings have undergone monumental changes, and those changes have not produced new “monuments” that were deliberate creations in the early 20th century to emphasize the importance of the post office.

Take our own local post office, for instance. Hardly anyone would deny that the old post office building on Cleveland Street, dedicated in 1913, is a building that presents itself as a representation of something truly grand, especially compared to the building currently serving as our post office, erected in 1987. This community is fortunate that the older building has been re-purposed for local governmental use and has retained virtually all of its original charm.

The same is true for former post offices in surrounding communities and all across the country. Lexington’s is now a judicial center; Mount Sterling’s has been secured by a local church and the architecture maintained. In almost all cases, the replacements are mediocre buildings, erected merely to meet the exigencies of moving the mail, without much thought of how they reflect the values of the community or the importance of the post office itself.

Today, the USPS faces huge roadblocks to maintaining its status as the principal mail carrier of the nation.

Perhaps the most heinous attack on the service occurred in 2006, when Congress mandated the PAEA, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (another one of those Congressional laws couched in catchphrase language to disguise its true intention, which was to make the service more receptive to private takeover), which required that the service fund its retirement plan for 75 years into the future, a mandate that is enforced on no other business and that has acted to create unsustainable hardship on the service.

Also today, the USPS is headed up by a political appointee who, before his appointment, was a staunch advocate of privatizing the service and who has set about creating policies designed more to further cripple the mails than to make the service more competitive and efficient. The recent furor of these activities and how they will impact mail-in voting in the general election has brought to light some of these policies.

The people who make mail delivery possible are hard working individuals who get the mail out six days a week (and keep it moving the seventh). The hardships foisted on them are not deserved and changes must be made to assure the continuation of adequate, efficient mail service.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.

Recommended reading

“How the Post Office Created America” by Winifred Gallagher