I used to be a fan of the United States Postal Service, USPS for short even before seeing Kevin Costner's iconic film, The Postman, in which Costner takes on the unenviable task of delivering the mail to what remains of the United States in a future post-atomic-disaster era. Costner's heroic efforts serve to link the few remaining American settlements together, eventually leading to the re-establishment of a postal service and eventually of a nation. Unfortunately, though, the reality of the USPS today would better be depicted by a sequel to another film: Dumb and Dumber.
Recently, the USPS announced the worst loss in its history: some $8.5 billion, part of which may be due to accounting changes, but most of which is due, they claim, to the email revolution which has vastly reduced the usage of the mails. That's what the USPS claims and, indeed, it is even partly true, although most of us have not seen a big drop-off in what comes to mailboxes. But there is a darker side to the plight of the USPS today, which has nothing to do with the vast expansion of email.
That darker side is the result of incompetence bordering on malfeasance, and the rigidity of the USPS hierarchy and procedures from the local level to the regional level right up to the USPS headquarters in Washington. Take, for example, what one would think is a simple matter: post office box rentals. We travel abroad each summer, using a P.O. box for our mail while we are away. When we return, we switch over to our physical address in the North Georgia foothills, only checking the P.O. box occasionally. One day we found a notice that we were overdue in paying our P.O. box rent the first such notice we got, and already a late fee was demanded for late payment. We were told that the "system" would demand that fee, so there was no flexibility; when we asked why a notice could not have been sent to our valid physical address, the local postmaster indicated that was not required and it appeared to be too much bother to do so. No slightest responsibility was to be taken by the local P.O.
When we asked how we could appeal this unfair ruling, we were told that we had to send a regular letter to the Consumer Affairs section at the Atlanta regional post office; we were not given their phone number and they do not accept email inquiries or complaints, even though handling complaints is their function. Not only that the local postmaster later boasted to us that she had called Consumer Affairs even before we had filed our complaint, in an obvious attempt to condition and influence their response. That is such a gross violation of all standards of due process as to be unbelievable, but the local postmaster saw nothing wrong with her procedurejust heading off trouble, it would seem.
We managed to get a phone number for Atlanta Consumer Affairs from another post office, but that public-service section of the USPS does not answer callsinstead, the caller gets a standard message that "all representatives are busy' and has to leave a number for a callback, which may or may not occur, as the spirit moves Consumer Affairs. Even at the opening bell for their office, one gets that "we are all busy" message they are always busy, it seems, but doing what might be a good question. Eventually, a representative did call to tell us our complaint was being dismissed out of hand the local P.O. had followed the rules, which is all they are required to do, no matter how dumb those rules are. The idea of going the extra mile is totally foreign to the USPS.
Therefore, since Atlanta claimed these were national rules, we attempted to email the USPS headquarters in Washington, using a contact-us form several times, all of those contacts totally ignored. We then sent a letter by regular mail to the Postmaster General, also totally ignored. Finally, we found links on the USPS website to their Office of the Inspector General or OIG, which is charged with investigating all sorts of errors and blunders by the USPS, and we wrote the OIG several times, all totally ignored. Finally, we found another link to file a Freedom of Information request, and we used that link to try, again, to reach someone in authority in the Postmaster General's office after a few more emails and days, we actually did hear from the Freedom of Information people that our complaint has been referred back to the Atlanta Consumer Affairs staff the same exact people who had already refused to do anything!