Once as much of a test of a civilian government's effectiveness as collecting the garbage and keeping the peace in the streets, the delivery of packages and letters via a government postal service has undergone tremendous changes since the days when Benjamin Franklin got the unenviable task of being the nation's first postmaster general.
In the United States, it became evident nearly a century ago that there was money to be made by delivering packages more quickly and reliably than the U.S. Postal Service. People would pay a premium for faster, more reliable service, and pioneering businesses like UPS and later Federal Express would prosper.
The logic followed that if private firms could make money doing what the postal service was doing with a public subsidy, then the postal service should also, if properly managed, be able to at least break even. It remains to be seen if this is the case, largely because the key words "properly managed" have not applied to the postal service in many years.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the current incarnation of the postal service has decreed that the new Kelly Glen neighborhood off of Conowingo Road on the north side of Bel Air will not qualify for house-by-house mail delivery even as surrounding neighborhoods have been receiving such delivery service for years.
Strictly speaking, the dispute between the residents of Kelly Glen and the postal service is of little consequence. It involves a grand total of about 28 homes at this point, although it will probably involve more as the neighborhood is built out and if the postal service remains intransigent.
The issue is, however, illustrative of the foolishness that drives policy making at the postal service.
As e-mail and online bill paying are used by an increasing number of customers of all manner of services, the postal service has seen a substantial erosion in one of its major customer bases. Competition with the likes of Federal Express and UPS also have bitten into the postal service's revenue base, which increasingly revolves around direct mail advertising.
To make ends meet, the postal service has engaged in cost cutting measures and, apparently, the idea of denying curbside delivery service to new neighborhoods is one such measure to save money and improve the bottom line
It stands to reason that such unrealistic measures would be taken by the postal service, as its subjected to many an unrealistic whim of Congress. Congress says the postal service should be able to break even, but refuses to allow for the consolidation of a network of neighborhood post offices that was established in the era of the horse as the transportation method of choice.
There's also the matter of members of Congress having a Constitutional franking privilege, under which any member of Congress can send out unlimited mail for free, so long as that mail bears the senator or representative's signature likeness, or frank.
UPS doesn't have an office building or two in every ZIP code, nor does FedEx, but the postal service is expected to maintain this infrastructure. Similarly, only the postal service is obliged to carry the burden of delivering, for free, campaign literature bearing the names of incumbents.
As usual, bad management starts at the top. As long as the expectations of Congress for the postal service are based in the politics of demanding expensive infrastructure and refusing to pay for it, we can continue to expect poor service and cynicism about public service from the leadership of the postal service.
On the whole, a major re-evaluation of the postal service and what it should be doing is long overdue. It may be the case that providing curbside delivery to neighborhoods like Kelly Glen is prohibitively expensive. But if that's the case, then curbside delivery should be cut to all similarly situated neighborhoods, which is in turn likely to make for a multitude of unhappy customers.