Stop Girdling the Post Office

Yves here. One of the very few silver linings of Covid is that the increased use of “vote by mail” has put a spotlight on the Post Office, and in particular, the concerted and long-standing efforts of Republicans (and some Democrats, witness the profiteering of DiFi’s husband) to enrich their allies via its privatization. The problem is I don’t see evidence that Team Biden has saving the Post Office on its radar.

By Mark Jamison, Retired North Carolina Postmaster. Originally published at Save the Post Office

In forestry the practice of tree girdling is well known. Although there are some circumstances where this can be a useful practice, in most cases the technique is used for nefarious ends. Girdling involves removing the bark and layers below the bark, usually around the trunk of the tree. The cut, when it includes the entire circumference of the tree, makes it impossible for the tree to heal itself and everything above the cut will eventually die. In forests where logging is limited to dying or diseased trees, loggers will girdle healthy trees to kill them and make them available for harvest.

For at least the last fifty years, the right wing has been girdling the post office and the postal network in the hope of undermining its health and thereby reaping a financial harvest. The very people who have been charged with caring for and sustaining the Postal Service have instead repeatedly cut services, saddled the institution with requirements that undermine its ability to function, and denigrated the value of the network.

Louis DeJoy and Robert Duncan are the latest in the long line of postal girdlers. But they have taken their game to a higher level and for what are clearly political reasons. Both are products of the president that appointed them and both evidence their benefactor’s outright mendacity. They have made it clear that regardless of the law, public necessity, or public opinion, their goal is to cut postal operations. The recent OIG report reviewed here at STPO  demonstrates that clearly.

DeJoy and Duncan are political men doing political deeds. Both have engaged in major fundraising for the Republican Party and both have been active and vocal in partisan politics. That their deeds in their current positions as Postmaster General and chairman of the postal Board of Governors are political should be obvious to anyone with even a scintilla of common sense.

But to borrow from Shakespeare, I come not to criticize DeJoy and Duncan but to bury them. Having chosen to serve political goals rather than the American public during a national crisis, they have proven themselves unfit. They lack the competence and foresight required to administer an essential national infrastructure. They have to go. 

Come November 3rd whatever political support and license they have will likely be gone. The issue then becomes how to mitigate the damage they have done.

The Biden transition team should issue a statement that makes it clear that postal reform will be a priority. Congress should create a transitional postal management structure tasked with restoring service and stabilizing the network. This can be accomplished quickly by inserting language, probably in a stimulus bill, amending Title 39 with respect to the postal Board of Governors and the Postmaster General. This will allow Congress and the President to replace the PMG and the Board as soon as possible.

In addition to creating a transitional management team to see the Postal Service through a real reform process, Congress should include sufficient funds to stabilize postal finances. They also should begin the reform process by directing the Postal Regulatory Commission to begin a thorough review of the universal service obligation with a specific mandate to describe the USO broadly in the context of a network serving as infrastructure.

In my declaration before Judge Marrero in the Jones lawsuit I offered a framework for how we should approach universal service and the postal network. That framework should serve as a starting point for creating a clear commitment to universal service:

Within the context of the USPS, we often return to the words “binding the nation together”. We do so because they speak to the fundamental wisdom of the Founding Fathers. They understood that a healthy and robust post was an integral part in the physical, commercial, and intellectual infrastructure of the nation. From that first principle, from that grand idea we are able to articulate the essential truth embodied in the concept of the universal service obligation. There is a profound truth in the concept of universal service, there is an understanding that a successful democracy relies on our ability to provide equal access to all our citizens. Further this truth leads us to an understanding of the essential role of government in providing universal, neutral infrastructure which fosters and facilitates growth that benefits all the citizens of the country.

If you have followed the Postal Service and discussions of postal policy for the last ten years or longer, you’ve gotten used to seeing statements about postal losses and liabilities. Mr. DeJoy has tried to justify his attacks on service by focusing on the financial condition of the Postal Service. The problem with that argument, as it always has been, is that it based on false assumptions and manufactured imperatives. Quoting again from my affidavit in Jones:

The financial challenges that face the Postal Service today are, at heart, manufactured, the result of dysfunctional Congressional oversight and a myopic postal management that seeks at every turn to undermine the very basis for its existence. The postal network we have developed over generations provides not only mail delivery but an essential governmental presence in every community and corner of the nation. This network, which should be viewed as an asset rather than simply as overbuilt industrial capacity, truly has served to bind the nation together. Dissolving and dismantling this important piece of our national infrastructure would be a tragic mistake.

The Postal Service has been saddled with an unreasonable burden and expectation – the idea that this essential national infrastructure should be self-sustaining. This idea arises from the false conception that everything in this country, including government and the infrastructures that serve all Americans, should behave like a corporation. These corporatizers have only one tool — the hammer of privatization — and they treat everything as if it were a nail.

Free markets and business models are not synonymous with efficiency and sustainability. Sometimes government does it better. The public administration of national assets and infrastructures can level the playing field and enhance opportunity and participation in the economy. Despite what some ideologues would have us believe, this is not socialism. It is just common sense and the wisdom of experience.

Thankfully the American public and some in the media have come to understand the importance of a national postal network. Reporting on the Postal Service no longer begins and ends with a blind acceptance of the false narrative about “unsustainable” liabilities and losses. Folks are waking up to the idea of the importance of a robust national postal network supported by a strong and broad commitment to universal service.

It’s time to stop girdling the Postal Service. We need to take the concept of “binding the nation together” to heart. A well-conceived and well-supported postal network offers sustenance to the American economy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Brooklin Bridge

    “Thankfully the American public and some in the media have come to understand the importance of a national postal network.”

    I suspect, that, is a bit optimistic. As far as the media goes, and it is nothing if not uniform, it seems more likely that “some” are aware not that the Post Office is a great and vital national service for all, but rather that in this one single instance, where the whole purpose of Earth’s very existence in the universe is to get rid of Donald John Trump, the Post Office serves (even in a shadow of it’s former self) almost as great a necessity as that of privatization; namely, a vehicle for those with enough native intellegence to avoid crowds during a lethal and contagious pandemic to more safely exercise their little plasitic steering wheel giving the impression of a right to self determination . Once gone, Trump that is, the Post Office instantly reverts to being one more tantalizingly ripe hangover of Democracy whose manifest purpose can only be that of exploitation for private profit by the scions of Capitalism.

    The media, is, after all, a vetted resource from a vetted public.

    1. Dr. John Carpenter


      I fully expect after the election, regardless of the outcome, we won’t hear any more about the Post Office or voting machines or polling places, etc., etc. until about this time four years from now.

    2. Susan the other

      Off subject here. I do wish someone would reinvent the toilet and design a highly useful eco-toilet and name it the Donald John. Just for Karma.

  2. Bill Smith

    There are many legitimate reasons why the Post Office needs to undergo serious change. Some of those reasons should make it clear that the Post Office cannot be self sustaining. What it should look like is up for debate, but I agree it should be something universal.

    The use drop boxes to drop off a ballot does undermine the need for the post office to be as universal to a small extent.

    I do like this: “the result of dysfunctional Congressional oversight and a myopic postal management that seeks at every turn to undermine the very basis for its existence.” Under the US system, for better or worse doesn’t’ the Congress decide these things (within the bounds of the Constitution)? isn’t Jamison asking a judge to legislate?

    If Congress wanted the Post Office to have something like national 5 day delivery, 5 days a week on first class mail why wouldn’t that be constitutional?

    1. tegnost

      if you’re going to say there are reasons the P.O. needs to undergo change in in order for the P.O. to be self sustaining you need to say what they are.
      Yes congress decides things,
      from wiki…postal accountablity act of 2009 (remind me who was president then?)

      “It reorganized the Postal Rate Commission, compelled the USPS to pay in advance for the health and retirement benefits of all of its employees for at least 50 years, and stipulated that the price of postage could not increase faster than the rate of inflation. It also mandated the USPS to deliver six days of the week.”

      In this case they “decided” things by voice vote so no one would have to run as a postal defunder.

      1. Bob

        Not sure However I think that the pension prefunding scam came from Darrell Issa (R) California.

        The aim is two fold –

        First to reward the package delivery services who funded Darrell’s campaign.
        Second there are real estate folks who drool every time the Postal Service property is mentioned.

        A good bet for postal service operation improvements would be to allow the Postal Service to provide internet service to under served areas. And we should note that the present pandemic shows that some areas are very much underserved thus creating a wide open opportunity for public service.

        1. tegnost

          That’s a great idea, but I think it would need to be every post office not just underserved areas. We’ll see what the starlink looks like, it’s touted as the answer for rural areas. Also transferring mail and banking into the cloud is a known goal, so getting rid of the P.O. serves that agenda. As usual it’s incrementalism for us hoi polloi and gigantic leaps for the in crowd.

          1. Susan the other

            There comes a point when Liberalism becomes absurd. It defeats itself with frivolous competition. This is one of those points in time. The USPS is a very good organization; indispensable, imo. So, to assume that delivery services can replace it and promote “capitalism” is way too premature and absurd. It’s simply a money grab. Instead of defunding the USPS we should refund it; turn it into a greater service that can include delivery and email services. A very big organization. Fund it; work with it; understand the differences we are dealing with and then make certain decisions based on rational efficiencies. The “efficiencies” we are pretending to impose are no such thing. To dismantle the USPS would a huge mistake. To bring other services in under the umbrella of the USPS would be an excellent advancement. Do not eliminate the USPS – make it bigger and better.

        2. rob

          that is a good idea.
          The post office is clearly one of the entities that is created in the image of a “corner of the “commons” ”
          It Should be run like a utility. It Should be thought of as a functional tool in the cobbling together of a nation.
          It should not be thought of as a quasi-independent corporation whose revenue must keep it in the black. Do we ask this of the marine corps ,or the navy…. even the coast guard; to pay for themselves?
          And the idea of having the post office , (which the constitutional mandate was to provide for post roads; was it not?) be in front in the move to provide rural broadband… to the areas AT&T and verizon and others don’t seem to think makes them enough money…. Let the FCC grant back the rights to the electromagnetic wavelengths which WERE supposed to be “the commons”, To the post office… So that there is a tangible space for the rights of the people to be expressed, in our forms of communication… the physical hardware, and natural /primordial wellspring of the communications and tech sectors…the wavelengths.
          And tell the corporations and technologies who rely on that spectrum of nature… to pay for its use, from ….. the post office… this will ensure it has a revenue stream to provide rural improvements for everyone.
          Then after some people flesh out a working model of that,,,
          then the commons can go further… and extend into the monetary system….
          and after the ending of the federal reserve act era, and money creation is bestowed to solely the treasury…. there can be a banking component to the postal bank, which could be the interface of the public, and the fruits of the government they created….
          Wake up , man…. you’re dreaming….. time for your shift at the factory…

  3. voteforno6

    While the Biden administration may not have the Post Office on its radar, Congress may take more of an active role in its oversight.

  4. TMoney

    The postal service would be wildly profitable were it allowed to operate under the same rules as other businesses. However, Congress has forced it to prefund it’s pensions at a sort of insane level. It was done in the name of fiscal responsibility but was designed to create the current “crisis”. FedEx and UPS don’t have to do this – they would not be profitable if they did.

    Indeed there is a good argument that the post office has shown that any company with a traditional pension is not profitable and all the “profits” are in fact stolen pension funds.

    1. Alex Cox

      A major part of the process of gutting the Post Office was allowing Fedex and other private companies to compete with the US mail for express services: the most profitable part of the business.

      There is no reason why Fedex or UPS should exist. A properly funded post office could provide the same express delivery, more cheaply.

  5. freebird

    Watch and see whether Biden/Bloomberg/Obama listen to Mr. Jamison, or to Mr. Bezos who I’m sure will have a plan ready to make the USPS a subsidiary of his global empire. I have my bet down on which direction things will go.

  6. fire1

    What you (Yves) and others are describing in the ideal is known as the “public utility model” in governance. I live in a community that owns several public utilities (roads, sewer systems, telecommunications, electricity generation and distribution, airport, etc.) These are all governed by locally elected and/or appointed office holders of many kinds and jurisdictions. I imagine everyone does have some such local self-governing service provisions. All can be measured against similar such entities throughout the world. The TVA and US Department of the Interior National Park Service are familiar examples.

    But perish the thought that Congress can govern such entities directly (see Amtrak). It is too riddled with political favoritism, cronyism, graft and incompetence to manage efficiently while bemoaning the amount of money wasted by their co-incompetency’s. Imagine a homeowners association that in addition to operating the maintenance, enforcing the curb appeal rules, providing the plumbing repair and replacement,, collecting the fees and a myriad of other mandates was now required to make a profit for its directors. – we never seem to learn that lesson. USPS is a service that we tax subsidize so that all may have it at reduced cost; unified instead of fragmented, and everybody contributes to it for the common good. It is not, nor was it intended to be, a Darwinian survivor game in a three-legged race mandated by Congress.

  7. lordkoos

    I’m pessimistic – Democrats could have addressed the USPS funding issue (along with many others) when they had a super-majority under Obama in 2009 but they didn’t discuss it as I recall.

  8. Jeremy Grimm

    Winter, and Christmas are coming. I think watching the scene from the 1947 “Miracle on 34th Street” where the Post Office helps save Kris Kringle might be a good reminder of what the Post Office was and should be. Undermining the Post Office is nothing short of undermining an important support to the American way of life … what remains of it.

Comments are closed.