U.S. Postal Service: Back to the future?
The U.S. Postal Service has proposed to close 252 mail-processing plants to help cut costs.
December 5th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

U.S. Postal Service: Back to the future?

To save money, the U.S. Postal Service is proposing to deliver mail at about the same speed it delivered mail when it was first founded, back in 1775.

That’s not how postal officials framed the news. But that’s what their announcement amounts to. We did the math.

First, back to the future.

The year - 1775. There is no United States. Just a bunch of Colonies with a dream. Britain’s the enemy. News travels slowly. And that’s a problem for the generals of the future America, especially George Washington. They needed to communicate as quickly as possible with people all over the Colonies.

Benjamin Franklin knows well the importance of a postal service to achieving independence. Because, when Franklin was 31, he was put in charge of the postal service from England to the Colonies. When the Colonies rebelled, England dismantled that service.

Franklin convinced the Continental Congress to create a U.S. Post Office. It put him in charge.

So was born the Continental Post, in 1775, when Franklin was 69.

Fast-forward 236 years.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Monday that it’s losing so much money - 5 billion a year - that it must make serious cutbacks that will slow the delivery time of first-class mail. It currently goes door to door in one to three days. The future slower pace would be two to five days.

Back when our nation was founded, mail was delivered on horseback. Average speed, around four miles an hour. So for Thomas Jefferson to get a first-class letter or a newspaper (which is a large number of stories printed on a bulky collection of paper) from, say, Philadelphia to his wife, Martha, back home in Monticello, Virginia, took roughly two to five days.

And soon, if the Postal Service’s new proposal is accepted, if you live in, say, Philadelphia, and want to send a first-class letter to a friend in Monticello, Virginia, it will take about two to five days.

Brand new age. Same old speed.

Ah, you say. But now we have instant mail. E-mail. And overnight deliveries are guaranteed by UPS and FedEx and any number of private services.

Which leads to a question of national importance.

When our nation was founded, a national postal service was considered a matter of national security.

Is it still today?

For that, we are reaching out to top national security experts.

Check this link later Monday, and you’ll find out what they say.

That’s fast delivery.

soundoff (308 Responses)
  1. Devin

    Alex, UPS and Fedex don't offer universal service so stop the dam lying.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    The reason the post office is losing so much money is the benefit it pay it employee, better than the military retiree get after twenty years, however, not as good a Federal politicians get after one term.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Cat

      The reason the USPS is "losing" so much money is that they are REQUIRED by CONGRESS to "pre-fund" all of the retirement by all of their employees by over a decade. This means that they are REQUIRED to put the first XX number of years of money into the retirement fund for a NEW HIRE on day ONE of the new hire's retirement fund. That would be like YOUR employer having to put their share of the first XX years of paying into your 401(k) on your first day of work. this was a requirement for the USPS to go from a Government entity to a PRIVATE BUSINESS.

      Then Congress "borrows" that money so it's not there any more. But the USPS is REQUIRED to keep that balance so they have to add MORE money to cover what Congress BORROWS. When the USPS asks for more "funds" from the Federal Government (they are no longer a PART of the Federal Government, they are a PRIVATE BUSINESS) they are really asking for their OWN money that Congress is sitting on.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • BobDole

      The USPS does have really good retirement benefits for its employees. That much is true. However The USPS receives ZERO federal dollars. It was made to be self reliant. The biggest budget problem facing the USPS is the mandate placed on it by an outgoing Republican Congress in 2006, requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund, over a decade, its employee pensions for 75 years. . No other pension plan, either public or private, is required to pre-fund for 75 years into the future. Without this burden, the USPS would be in the black today. The cost of pre-funding has exceeded $20 billion over the past 4 years – an amount that roughly equals USPS losses for that period. The Inspector General has determined that the Postal Service overpaid into the federal retirement system – between $50 and $120 billion! Those funds could be redirected to the USPS pension fund, allowing it to meet the extreme pre-funding mandate. That, of course, would require commonsense action by the current Congress which is controlled by Tea Party conservatives bent on decimating government services, including the delivery of mail.
      This is all the GOP doing. They want to eliminate something that is part of our history something that helped win the revolution. They want to do this so their buddies can make huge profits and thye get a kick down. I understand people dont like big government because it waste money. Before this stupid law was passed the USPS took 0 dollars from our Taxes. Mean while Bush and Obama sendt 1.4 trillion dollars to the Banks. Bush sent 1 trillion dollars to Iraq. Its just a rigged game now. The rich are going to stay rich and they dangle this "dream" where if you work hard you will be well off. The reality is you can work as hard as you want but if a CEO wants a new yatch you butt is getting fired.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. thedofc

    "And soon, if the Postal Service’s new proposal is accepted, if you live in, say, Philadelphia, and want to send a first-class letter to a friend in Monticello, Virginia, it will take about two to five days."

    Monticello is not a town, its near Charlottesville.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. seriously

    seriously? to save the business, the strategy is to make the service even schittier? so more customers turn away from USPS in favor of UPS and FedEx?

    December 6, 2011 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. JS

    USPS should be shut down. All they are good for is pushing junk mail that no one wants. Why should any sensible person want to see this agency continue pursuing a business model that essentially promotes SPAM?

    December 6, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      so your saying that people's bills are junk mail? mail that goes to businesses and hospitals and police departments is junk mail? did you think through what you said, or were only thinking about the mail that you receive?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. John

    Raise prices for stamps, Ban e-mail. Everyone has a phone stuck in their ear or up their behind, so use your phone or write a letter. This isn't rocket science, just bad management.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      How, do you purpose, they ban email? This isn't the fault of email, this is the fault of bad management of the USPS and taking for granted that they will always be an in demand service. Not being able to keep up with competition, exorbitant pensions and over extension is the issue, not email.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. John

    Where the hell is Ross Perot when you need him?

    December 6, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dave

    I see stopping Sat mail service and the increase of a penny for a stamp, cutting back on post offices is a good thing for this FAT Gov business but the impact to first class mail is totally stupid. When this occurs the US Post Office will fail and go bankrupt as citizens will find an alternative to USPS mail. I think it's time for UPS, FED-EX to take over and also for businesses to require internet billing to handle this simple service as getting a letter mailed in time. Plus I think it's time for people to say " USPS I don't want your service" so stop bringing those flyers that I never requested.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      what about the people that dont have internet and can't do everything by computer? there are thousands of people that don't have the internet or even a computer so how do you expect them to pay bills?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kenny

    I dont think people take in to consideration all the people that will be laid off and jobless.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      You know what? I did, but the problem is, we can't keep something going just because of job losses. How do you keep something afloat that is a money pit? Do you keep dumping money into it knowing that you will never see it become profitable or break even ever again?

      December 6, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  10. iceload

    If they would stop accepting junk mail they could totally revamp their business model. Or at the very least charge enough where it is profitable. Simply charge enough for junk mail that makes the entire business profitable. If junk mail goes away, revamp the business to the new amounts of mail.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. Elephant

    Go back and look at some of the GAO reports on the USPS in the past and you can see the real reason the USPS is in such dire straights. They spent thousands of dollars on brand new computer equipment that sat in warehouses until they were obsolete, spent thousands of dollars on perks for higher level management employees to go to Europe to promote their advertsing campaign. This while blaming all their woos on the unions and the cost of keeping small post offices open. They wanted to be like the private sector and they are, needing a bail out just like the big banks, mortage companies, etc. All have forgotten that their mission should be service to their customers rather than hugh bonuses and perks for their management elites.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. PEPSICOLA

    tell the federal government to get out of the postal business of making decision for them since they take NO TAX PAYER MONEY, let the postal service operate on its own

    December 6, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Carrier

    Send a letter by UPS or FEDEX, 10+$.
    Do they allow Free Matter for the Blind? Are they required to deliver political mail at cheap rates? Do non-profits get a special rate? Do they deliver everywhere? Do they pre-fund retirement? No on all counts.
    Congress determines what the USPS must do, even if it's not profitable or sustainable, then complain it doesn't make money.
    Understand that if the USPS goes away you may never get a letter or holiday card again, and your shop on line delivery cost could triple.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Losing $5 billion a year to provide "charity and cut-rate services" is not an option. The post office must reduce cost and if the end result is that the post office is no longer needed – so be it. Times change and yes even the post office may need to change or disappear.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Schuyler

      I can't recall the last time I was delivered something useful from the USPS. It's all unsolicited junk that goes straight from my mailbox to the recycling bin. I ship and receive all packages via UPS. The USPS will be obsolete in another generation.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve1959

      Your not getting the point Ed. The Post Office can't make any changes without congressional approval. There is a law that says the USPS can't shut down a postal facility just because it's losing money. There was a law passed in '88 that specifically said USPS had to deliver mail six days a week. The USPS spends billions every year to forward mail, yet they're not allowed to charge for that service, even though every other country does. All the Post Office needs is for congress to allow them to do some of the things everybody keeps saying they should do. So don't blame the Post Office, blame your congressman.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. george

    get rid of Union-busting Postmaster General Patrick Donahue-a puppet of the Koch Brothers and every
    anti-Union corporation and governments lie Wisconsin and Ohio (to hell with you gov.John Kasich!!!!!)

    December 6, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      When you lose $5 billion a year – maybe it is time to get rid of workers if the unions like it or not. Maybe the unions would like it better if the post office shuts down instead of cutting back to a size to meet demand?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Grannybunny

    Actually, the proposed new delivery standard is to go from 1-3 days to 2-3 days, not 2-5 days!

    December 6, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
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