United States Postal Service
Overview
The United States Postal Service (also known as USPS, the Post Office or U.S. Mail) is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service
Mail
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...

 in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution
Postal Clause
Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads".-History:...

.

The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

, where Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 was appointed the first postmaster general. The cabinet-level
United States Cabinet
The Cabinet of the United States is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, which are generally the heads of the federal executive departments...

 Post Office Department
United States Post Office Department
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....

 was created in 1792 from Franklin's operation and transformed into its current form in 1971 under the Postal Reorganization Act
Postal Reorganization Act
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 abolished the United States Post Office Department, a part of the cabinet, and created the United States Postal Service, a corporation-like independent agency with an official monopoly on the delivery of mail in the United States. was signed by President...

.

The USPS has not directly received taxpayer-dollars since the early 1980s with the minor exception of subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters.
Encyclopedia
The United States Postal Service (also known as USPS, the Post Office or U.S. Mail) is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service
Mail
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...

 in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution
Postal Clause
Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads".-History:...

.

The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

, where Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 was appointed the first postmaster general. The cabinet-level
United States Cabinet
The Cabinet of the United States is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, which are generally the heads of the federal executive departments...

 Post Office Department
United States Post Office Department
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....

 was created in 1792 from Franklin's operation and transformed into its current form in 1971 under the Postal Reorganization Act
Postal Reorganization Act
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 abolished the United States Post Office Department, a part of the cabinet, and created the United States Postal Service, a corporation-like independent agency with an official monopoly on the delivery of mail in the United States. was signed by President...

.

The USPS has not directly received taxpayer-dollars since the early 1980s with the minor exception of subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters. Revenue in the 2000s has been dropping sharply due to declining mail volume, prompting the postal service to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs to reduce its budget deficit.

The USPS employs over 574,000 workers and operates over 218,000 vehicles. It is the 48th-largest employer in the United States. The USPS is the operator of the largest vehicle fleet in the world. The USPS is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. The USPS has exclusive access to letter box
Letter box
A letter box, letterbox, letter plate, letter hole, mail slot, or mailbox is a receptacle for receiving incoming mail at a private residence or business...

es marked "U.S. Mail" and personal letterboxes in the United States, but still competes against private package delivery
Package delivery
Package delivery or parcel delivery is the shipping of packages or high value mail as single shipments. While the service is provided by most postal systems, private package delivery services have also existed in competition with and in place of public postal services.-Package delivery in the...

 services, such as UPS
United Parcel Service
United Parcel Service, Inc. , typically referred to by the acronym UPS, is a package delivery company. Headquartered in Sandy Springs, Georgia, United States, UPS delivers more than 15 million packages a day to 6.1 million customers in more than 220 countries and territories around the...

 and FedEx
FedEx
FedEx Corporation , originally known as FDX Corporation, is a logistics services company, based in the United States with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee...

.

History

The first postal service in America arose in February 1692, when a grant from King William & Queen Mary
William and Mary
The phrase William and Mary usually refers to the coregency over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, of King William III & II and Queen Mary II...

 empowered Thomas Neale
Thomas Neale
Thomas Neale was a British project-manager and politician who was also well-known in the United States as the first person to hold a position equivalent to postmaster-general of the North American colonies....

 "to erect, settle and establish within the chief parts of their majesties' colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for the receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years."

The United States Post Office (USPO) was created in Philadelphia under Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 on Wednesday, July 26, 1775, by decree of the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

. Based on the Postal Clause
Postal Clause
Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads".-History:...

 in Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. The Article establishes the powers of and limitations on the Congress, consisting of a House of Representatives composed of Representatives, with each state gaining or...

, empowering Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 "To establish post offices
Post office
A post office is a facility forming part of a postal system for the posting, receipt, sorting, handling, transmission or delivery of mail.Post offices offer mail-related services such as post office boxes, postage and packaging supplies...

 and post roads
Post road
For other uses, see Post Road .A post road is a road designated for the transportation of postal mail. In past centuries only major towns had a post house, and the roads used by post riders or mail coaches to carry mail among them were particularly important ones or, due to the special attention...

", it became the Post Office Department
United States Post Office Department
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....

(USPOD) in 1792. Until 1971, it was part of the Presidential cabinet and the Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

 was the last person in the United States presidential line of succession
United States presidential line of succession
The United States presidential line of succession defines who may become or act as President of the United States upon the incapacity, death, resignation, or removal from office of a sitting president or a president-elect.- Current order :This is a list of the current presidential line of...

.

The Post Office Department was enlarged during the tenure of President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

. As the Post Office expanded, difficulties were experienced due to a lack of employees and transportation. The Post Office's employees at that time were still subject to the so-called "spoils" system, where faithful political supporters of the executive branch were appointed to positions in the post office and other government corporations as a reward for their patronage. These appointees rarely had prior experience in postal service and mail delivery. This system of political patronage was replaced in 1883, after passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of United States is a federal law established in 1883 that stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit. The act provided selection of government employees competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation...

.

Ten years before waterways were declared post roads in 1823, the Post Office used steamboats to carry mail between post towns where no roads existed. Once it became clear that the postal system in the United States needed to expand across the entire country, the use of the railroad to transport the mail was instituted in 1832, on one line in Pennsylvania. All railroads in the United States were designated as post routes, after passage of the Act of July 7, 1838. Mail service by railroad increased rapidly thereafter.
An Act of Congress provided for the issuance of stamps on March 3, 1847, and the Postmaster General immediately let a contract to the New York City engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson. The first stamp issue of the U.S. was offered for sale on July 1, 1847, in NYC, with Boston receiving stamps the following day and other cities thereafter. The 5 cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 oz (28.3 g) and travelling less than 300 miles, the 10 cent stamp for deliveries to locations greater than 300 miles, or twice the weight deliverable for the 5 cent stamp.

In 1847, the U.S. Mail Steamship Company
U.S. Mail Steamship Company
U.S. Mail Steamship Company was a company formed in 1848 by George Law, Marshall O. Roberts and Bowes R. McIlvaine to assume the contract to carry the U. S. mails from New York, with stops in New Orleans and Havana, to the Isthmus of Panama for delivery in California...

 acquired the contract to carry the U.S. mails from New York, with stops in New Orleans and Havana
Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

, to the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

 for delivery in California. The same year, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Pacific Mail Steamship Company
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company was founded April 18, 1848 as a joint stock company under the laws of the State of New York by a group of New York City merchants, William H. Aspinwall, Edwin Bartlett, Henry Chauncey, Mr. Alsop, G.G. Howland and S.S. Howland...

 had acquired the right to transport mail under contract from the United States Government from the Isthmus of Panama to California. In 1855, William Henry Aspinwall
William Henry Aspinwall
William Henry Aspinwall was an American businessman.In 1832, he became president of the Howland & Aspinwall merchant firm, which had been founded by his cousin and expanded trade to South America, China, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the East and West Indies. Howland & Aspinwall owned some of the...

 completed the Panama Railway, the first transcontinental railroad, providing service from the east coast across the Isthmus to California in three weeks for the mails, passengers and goods, and remained an important route until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Railroad companies greatly expanded mail transport service after 1862, and the Railway Mail Service
Railway Mail Service
The United States Postal Service's Railway Mail Service was a significant mail transportation service in the US during the time period from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century. The RMS, or its successor the Postal Transportation Service , carried the vast majority of letters and...

 was inaugurated in 1869. Rail cars designed to sort and distribute mail while rolling were soon introduced. RMS employees sorted mail 'on the fly' during the journey, and became some of the most skilled workers in the postal service. An RMS sorter had to be able to separate the mail quickly into compartments based on its final destination, before the first destination arrived, and work at the rate of 600 pieces of mail an hour. They were tested regularly for speed and accuracy. The advent of rural free delivery in the U.S. in 1896, and the inauguration of parcel post
Parcel post
Parcel post is a service of a postal administration for sending parcels through the post. It is generally one of the less expensive ways to ship packages that are too heavy to be sent by regular letter post and is usually a slower method of transportation....

 service in 1913 greatly increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient postal transportation systems.

On August 12, 1918, the Post Office Department took over air mail service from the U.S. Army Air Service (USAAS). Assistant Postmaster General, Otto Praeger, appointed Benjamin B. Lipsner to head the civilian-operated Air Mail Service
Airmails of the United States
Airmails of the United States or U.S. Air Mail relates to the servicing of flown mails by the U.S. postal system within the United States, its possessions, and/or territories, marked as "Via Air Mail" , appropriately franked, and afforded any then existing class or sub-class of U.S...

. One of Lipsner's first acts was to hire four pilots, each with at least 1,000 hours flying experience, paying them an average of $4,000 per year. The Post Office Department used mostly World War I military surplus de Havilland DH-4 aircraft. During 1918, the Post Office hired an additional 36 pilots. In its first year of operation, the Post Office completed 1,208 airmail flights with 90 forced landings. Of those, 53 were due to weather and 37 to engine failure. By 1920, the Air Mail service had delivered 49 million letters. Domestic air mail
Airmails of the United States
Airmails of the United States or U.S. Air Mail relates to the servicing of flown mails by the U.S. postal system within the United States, its possessions, and/or territories, marked as "Via Air Mail" , appropriately franked, and afforded any then existing class or sub-class of U.S...

 became obsolete in 1975, and international air mail in 1995, when the USPS began transporting First-Class mail by air on a routine basis.

The Post Office was one of the first government departments to regulate obscene
Obscenity
An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious...

 materials on a national basis. When the U.S. Congress passed the Comstock laws of 1873, it became illegal to send through the U.S. mail any material considered obscene, indecent
Decency
Decency is the quality or state of conforming to social or moral standards of taste and propriety.-See also:*Taste *Communications Decency Act*Public indecency*Indecent exposure*Sodomy law*Norm *Grotesque body...

 or which promoted abortion issues, contraception
Contraception
Contraception is the prevention of the fusion of gametes during or after sexual activity. The term contraception is a contraction of contra, which means against, and the word conception, meaning fertilization...

, or alcohol
Alcoholic beverage
An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption...

 consumption.

The Postal Reorganization Act
Postal Reorganization Act
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 abolished the United States Post Office Department, a part of the cabinet, and created the United States Postal Service, a corporation-like independent agency with an official monopoly on the delivery of mail in the United States. was signed by President...

 signed by President Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 on August 12, 1970, replaced the cabinet-level Post Office Department
United States Post Office Department
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....

 with the independent United States Postal Service. The Act took effect on July 1, 1971.

On May 11, 2009, the price of a First-Class Mail stamp rose to 44 cents.

Current operations

The United States Postal Service employs some 574,000 workers, making it the second-largest civilian employer in the United States (excluding the federal government), following only Wal-Mart. In a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Court noted: "Each day, according to the Government's submissions here, the United States Postal Service delivers some 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million delivery points." As of 2011, the USPS operates 31,000 post offices and locations in the U.S., and delivers 177 billion pieces of mail annually.

The USPS operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 218,684 vehicles, the majority of which are the easily identified Chevrolet
Chevrolet
Chevrolet , also known as Chevy , is a brand of vehicle produced by General Motors Company . Founded by Louis Chevrolet and ousted GM founder William C. Durant on November 3, 1911, General Motors acquired Chevrolet in 1918...

/Grumman LLV
Grumman LLV
The Grumman Long Life Vehicle or LLV is a light transport truck designed for and primarily used by the United States Postal Service.In the United States, it is the most common vehicle used by letter carriers for curbside and residential delivery of mail, replacing the previous standard...

 (Long-Life Vehicle), and the newer Ford/Utilimaster FFV (Flex-Fuel Vehicle), originally also referred to as the "CRV" (Carrier Route Vehicle). For every penny increase in the national average price of gasoline, the USPS spends an extra $8 million per year to fuel its fleet. The number of gallons of fuel used in 2009 was 444 million, at a cost of billion. The fleet is notable in that many of its vehicles are right-hand drive, an arrangement intended to give drivers the easiest access to roadside mailboxes. Some Rural Letter Carrier
Rural Letter Carrier
Rural letter carriers are United States Postal Service employees who deliver mail in what are traditionally considered rural areas of the United States...

s use personal vehicles. Standard postal-owned vehicles do not have license plates. These vehicles are identified by a seven digit number displayed on the front and rear.
The Department of Defense and the USPS jointly operate a postal system to deliver mail for the military; this is known as the Army Post Office (for Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 and Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 postal facilities) and the Fleet Post Office (for Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 and Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

 postal facilities).

Revenue decline

Declining mail volume is a symptom of the weak national economy, particularly related to the financial and housing industries, and to trends toward the use of electronic mail. In addition to the weak or contracting economy and the diversion of mail to electronic means, the pre-funding of retiree health benefits continues to have a significant impact on Postal Service finances. First-Class mail volume (which is protected by legal monopoly) peaked in 2001and has declined 29% from 1998 to 2008, due to the increasing use of email and the World Wide Web for correspondence and business transactions. Lower volume means lower revenues to support the fixed commitment to deliver to every address once a day, six days a week. In response, the USPS has increased productivity each year from 2000 to 2007, through increased automation, route re-optimization, and facility consolidation. Despite these efforts, the organization saw an $8.5 billion budget shortfall in 2010.

To cut costs, the U.S. Postal Service proposes to close as many as 3,700 small post offices and replacing some of them as 'village post offices' to offer the most basic mail services at lower costs inside such places as grocery stores and drugstores with signs -'Village Post Office'- in the window since August 2011. The Postal Service will pay Mini-mart about $2,000 a year. One benefit of the new policy is service hours which are longer than the old post office.

Other plans

In October 2008, the Postal Service released Vision 2013, a five-year plan required by law starting in 1993. One planned improvement is the introduction of the Intelligent Mail Barcode
Intelligent Mail Barcode
The Intelligent Mail Barcode is a 65-bar code for use on mail in the United States. The term “Intelligent Mail” refers to services offered by the United States Postal Service for domestic mail delivery. is intended to provide greater information and functionality than its predecessors POSTNET and...

, which will allow pieces of mail to be tracked through the delivery system, as competitors like UPS and FedEx currently do.

Governance and organization

The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service
Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service
The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service is an eleven-member board comparable to a board of directors of a private corporation, except in service of the American postal system. Nine members are appointed by the President of the United States, subject to confirmation by the Senate...

 sets policy, procedure, and postal rates for services rendered, and has a similar role to a corporate board of directors. Of the eleven members of the Board, nine are appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 (see ). The nine appointed members then select the United States Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

, who serves as the board's tenth member, and who oversees the day to day activities of the service as Chief Executive Officer (see ). The ten-member board then nominates a Deputy Postmaster General, who acts as Chief Operating Officer, to the eleventh and last remaining open seat.

The USPS is often mistaken for a government-owned corporation (e.g., Amtrak
Amtrak
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "America" and "track". It is headquartered at Union...

) because it operates much like a business, but as noted above, it is legally defined as an "independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States", as it is controlled by Presidential appointees and the Postmaster General. As a quasi-governmental agency, it has many special privileges, including sovereign immunity
Sovereign immunity
Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine by which the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution....

, eminent domain
Eminent domain
Eminent domain , compulsory purchase , resumption/compulsory acquisition , or expropriation is an action of the state to seize a citizen's private property, expropriate property, or seize a citizen's rights in property with due monetary compensation, but without the owner's consent...

 powers, powers to negotiate postal treaties
Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union is an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration , the Postal Operations Council and the...

 with foreign nations, and an exclusive legal right to deliver first-class and third-class mail. Indeed, in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the USPS was not a government-owned corporation, and therefore could not be sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act
Sherman Antitrust Act
The Sherman Antitrust Act requires the United States federal government to investigate and pursue trusts, companies, and organizations suspected of violating the Act. It was the first Federal statute to limit cartels and monopolies, and today still forms the basis for most antitrust litigation by...

. The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld the USPS's statutory monopoly on access to letter boxes against a First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 freedom of speech
Freedom of speech in the United States
Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws, with the exception of obscenity, defamation, incitement to riot, and fighting words, as well as harassment, privileged...

 challenge; it thus remains illegal in the U.S. for anyone, other than the employees and agents of the USPS, to deliver mailpieces to letter boxes marked "U.S. Mail."

The Postal Service also has a Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee and local Postal Customer Councils, which are advisory and primarily involve business customers.

Universal service obligation and monopoly status

Article I, section 8, Clause 7
Postal Clause
Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads".-History:...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 grants Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads, which has been interpreted as a de facto Congressional monopoly over the delivery of mail. Accordingly, no other system for delivering mail – public or private – can be established, absent Congress's consent. Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has allowed an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters.

The mission of the Postal Service is to provide the American public with trusted universal postal service at affordable prices. While not explicitly defined, the Postal Service's universal service obligation (USO) is broadly outlined in statute and includes multiple dimensions: geographic scope, range of products, access to services and facilities, delivery frequency, affordable and uniform pricing, service quality, and security of the mail. While other carriers may claim to voluntarily provide delivery on a broad basis, the Postal Service is the only carrier with a legal obligation to provide all the various aspects of universal service at affordable rates.

Proponents of universal service principles claim that since any obligation must be matched by the financial capability to meet that obligation, the postal monopoly was put in place as a funding mechanism for the USO, and it has been in place for over a hundred years. It consists of two parts: the Private Express Statutes
Private Express Statutes
The Private Express Statutes are a group of United States federal civil and criminal laws placing various restrictions on the carriage and delivery of letters by all organizations other than the United States Postal Service.-History:...

 (PES) and the mailbox access rule. The PES refers to the Postal Service's monopoly on the delivery of letters, and the mailbox rule refers to the Postal Service's exclusive access to customer mailboxes.

Proponents of universal service principles further claim that eliminating or reducing the PES or mailbox rule would have an impact on the ability of the Postal Service to provide affordable universal service. If, for example, the PES and the mailbox rule were to be eliminated, and the USO maintained, then either billions of dollars in tax revenues or some other source of funding would have to be found. As the operating environment of the Postal Service continues to change, additional flexibilities will likely be necessary to fulfill the USO.

Some proponents of universal service principles suggest that private communications that are protected by the veil of government promote the exchange of free ideas and communications. This separates private communications from the ability of a private organization or company motivated by profit to corrupt. Security for the individual is in this way protected by the United States Post Office, maintaining confidentiality and anonymity, as well as government employee's being much less likely to be instructed by superiors to engage in nefarious action related to communications between persons, organizations or competitors in all nature of associations. It is seen by some as a dangerous step to extract the universal service principle from the post office, as the untainted nature of private communications is preserved as assurance of the protection of individual freedom of privacy.

Critics of universal service principles include several professional economists advocating for the privatization of the mail delivery system, or at least a relaxation of the universal service model that currently exists. Rick Geddes argued in 2000:
  • First, basic economics implies that rural customers are unlikely to be without service under competition; they would simply have to pay the true cost of delivery to them, which may or may not be lower than under monopoly.
  • Second, basic notions of fairness imply that the cross-subsidy should be eliminated. To the extent that people make choices about where they live, they should assume the costs of that decision.
  • Third, there is no reason why the government monopoly is necessary to ensure service to sparsely populated areas. The government could easily award competitive contracts to private firms for that service.
  • Fourth, early concerns that rural residents of the United States would somehow become isolated without federally subsidized mail delivery today are simply unfounded. ... Once both sender and receiver have access to a computer, the marginal cost of sending an electronic message is close to zero.

However, as the recent notice of a termination of mail service to residents of the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness indicates, mail service has been contracted to private firms such as Arnold Aviation for many decades. KTVB-TV reported:
'"We cannot go out every week and pick up our mail....it's impossible", said Heinz Sippel. "Everyone gets their mail. Why can't we?" said Sue Anderson. Getting mail delivered, once a week, by airplane is not a luxury, it's a necessity for those who live in Idaho's vast wilderness – those along the Salmon and Selway rivers. It's a service that's been provided to them for more than half a century – mostly by Ray Arnold of Arnold Aviation.


The decision was reversed; U.S. Postmaster General John Potter indicated that acceptable service to back country customers could not be achieved in any other fashion than continuing an air mail contract with Arnold Aviation to deliver the mail."

The Postal Act of 2006 required the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to submit a report to the President and Congress on universal postal service and the postal monopoly in December 2008. The report must include any recommended changes. The Postal Service report supports the requirement that the PRC is to consult with and solicit written comments from the Postal Service. In addition, the Government Accountability Office is required to evaluate broader business model issues by 2011.

On October 15, 2008, the Postal Service submitted a report to the PRC on its position related to the Universal Service Obligation (USO). It said no changes to the USO and restriction on mailbox access were necessary at this time, but increased regulatory flexibility was required to ensure affordable universal service in the future.

Obligations of the USO include uniform prices, quality of service, access to services, and six-day delivery to every part of the country. To assure financial support for these obligations, the postal monopoly provides the Postal Service the exclusive right to deliver letters and restricts mailbox access solely for mail. The report argued that eliminating or reducing either aspect of the monopoly "would have a devastating impact on the ability...to provide the affordable universal service that the country values so highly." Relaxing access to the mailbox would also pose security concerns, increase delivery costs, and hurt customer service, according to the Post Office. The report notes:
It is somewhat misleading to characterize the mailbox rule as a "monopoly," because the enforcement of leaves customers with ample alternative means of delivering their messages. Customers can deliver their messages either by paying postage, by placing messages on or under a door or a doormat, by using newspaper or non-postal boxes, by telephoning or emailing, by engaging in person-to-person delivery in public areas, by tacking or taping their notices on a door post, or by placing advertisements in local newspapers. These methods are comparable in efficacy to communication via the mailbox.


The Postal Service said that the USO should continue to be broadly defined and there should be no changes to the postal monopoly. Any changes would have far-reaching effects on customers and the trillion dollar mailing industry. "A more rigidly defined USO would … ultimately harm the American public and businesses," according to the report, which cautions that any potential change must be studied carefully and the effects fully understood.

During hearings held earlier this year, the PRC also heard from mailers, mailing associations, and postal unions and management associations. Comments generally indicated that changes are not currently needed.

Competitors

FedEx
FedEx
FedEx Corporation , originally known as FDX Corporation, is a logistics services company, based in the United States with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee...

 and United Parcel Service
United Parcel Service
United Parcel Service, Inc. , typically referred to by the acronym UPS, is a package delivery company. Headquartered in Sandy Springs, Georgia, United States, UPS delivers more than 15 million packages a day to 6.1 million customers in more than 220 countries and territories around the...

 (UPS) directly compete with USPS express mail and package delivery services, making nationwide deliveries of urgent letters and packages. Due to the postal monopoly, they are not allowed to deliver non-urgent letters and may not directly ship to U.S. Mail boxes at residential and commercial destinations. However both companies have transit agreements with the USPS in which an item can be dropped off with either FedEx or UPS who will then provide shipment up to the destination post office serving the intended recipient where it will be transferred for delivery to the US Mail destination, including Post Office Box destinations. These services also deliver packages which are larger and heavier than USPS will accept. DHL Express
DHL Express
DHL Express is a division of the German logistics company Deutsche Post providing international express mail services. DHL is a world market leader in sea and air mail....

 was the third major competitor until February 2009, when it ceased domestic delivery operations in the United States.

A variety of other transportation companies in the United States move cargo around the country, but either have limited geographic scope for delivery points, or specialize in items too large to be mailed. Many of the thousands of courier
Courier
A courier is a person or a company who delivers messages, packages, and mail. Couriers are distinguished from ordinary mail services by features such as speed, security, tracking, signature, specialization and individualization of express services, and swift delivery times, which are optional for...

 companies focus on same-day delivery, for example, by bicycle messenger
Bicycle messenger
Bicycle messengers are people who work for courier companies carrying and delivering items by bicycle. Bicycle messengers are most often found in the central business districts of metropolitan areas...

.

Alternative transmission methods

The Post Office Department owned and operated the first public telegraph lines in the United States, starting in 1844 from Washington to Baltimore, and eventually extending to New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. In 1847 the telegraph system was privatized, except for a period during World War I, when it was used to accelerate the delivery of letters arriving at night.

Between 1942 and 1945 "V-Mail
V-mail
V-mail, short for Victory Mail, is a hybrid mail process used during the Second World War in America as the primary and secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad...

" (for "Victory Mail") service was available for military mail
Military mail
A primary feature of military mail systems is that normally they are subsidized to ensure that military mail posted between duty stations abroad and the home country does not cost the sender any more than normal domestic mail traffic...

. Letters were converted into microfilm and reprinted near the destination, to save room on transport vehicles for military cargo.

From 1982 to 1985 Electronic Computer Originated Mail was accepted for bulk mailings. Text was transmitted electronically to one of 25 post offices nationwide. The Postal Service would print the mail and put it in special envelopes bearing a blue ECOM logo. Delivery was assured within 2 days.

Postal Inspection Service

The United States Postal Inspection Service
United States Postal Inspection Service
The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service. Its jurisdiction is defined as "crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S...

 (USPIS) is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Founded by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, its mission is to protect the Postal Service, its employees, and its customers from crime and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse.

Postal Inspectors enforce over 200 federal laws providing for the protection of mail in investigations of crimes
Criminal procedure
Criminal procedure refers to the legal process for adjudicating claims that someone has violated criminal law.-Basic rights:Currently, in many countries with a democratic system and the rule of law, criminal procedure puts the burden of proof on the prosecution – that is, it is up to the...

 that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system or postal employees.

The USPIS has the power to enforce the USPS monopoly by conducting search and seizure raids on entities they suspect of sending non-urgent mail through overnight delivery competitors. According to the American Enterprise Institute
American Enterprise Institute
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a conservative think tank founded in 1943. Its stated mission is "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism—limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and...

, a private conservative think tank
Think tank
A think tank is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues. Most think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax...

, the USPIS raided Equifax
Equifax
Equifax Inc. is a consumer credit reporting agency in the United States, considered one of the three largest American credit agencies along with Experian and TransUnion. Founded in 1899, Equifax is the oldest of the three agencies and gathers and maintains information on over 400 million credit...

 offices in 1993 to ascertain if the mail they were sending through Federal Express
FedEx
FedEx Corporation , originally known as FDX Corporation, is a logistics services company, based in the United States with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee...

 was truly "extremely urgent." It was found that the mail was not, and Equifax was fined $30,000.

Lastly, the PIS oversees the activities of the Postal Police Force who patrol in and around selected high-risk postal facilities in major metropolitan areas in the United States and its territories.

Office of Inspector General

The United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) was authorized by law in 1996. Prior to the 1996 legislation, the Postal Inspection Service performed the duties of the OIG. The Inspector General, who is independent of postal management, is appointed by and reports directly to the nine presidentially-appointed, Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

confirmed
Advice and consent
Advice and consent is an English phrase frequently used in enacting formulae of bills and in other legal or constitutional contexts, describing a situation in which the executive branch of a government enacts something previously approved of by the legislative branch.-General:The expression is...

 members of the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service
Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service
The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service is an eleven-member board comparable to a board of directors of a private corporation, except in service of the American postal system. Nine members are appointed by the President of the United States, subject to confirmation by the Senate...

.

The primary purpose of the OIG is to prevent, detect and report fraud, waste and program abuse, and promote efficiency in the operations of the Postal Service. The OIG has "oversight" responsibility for all activities of the Postal Inspection Service.

Elements of addressing and preparing domestic mail

All mailable articles (e.g., letters, flats, machinable parcels, irregular parcels, etc.) shipped within the United States must comply with an array of standards published in the USPS Domestic Mail Manual (DMM). Before addressing the mailpiece, one must first comply with the various mailability standards relating to attributes of the actual mailpiece such as: minimum/maximum dimensions & weight, acceptable mailing containers, proper mailpiece sealing/closure, utilization of various markings, and restrictions relating to various hazardous (e.g., explosives, flammables, etc.) & restricted (e.g., cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, etc.) materials, as well as others articulated in § 601 of the DMM.

The USPS specifies the following key elements when preparing the face of a mailpiece:
  1. Proper Placement: The Delivery Address should be left-justified and located roughly in the center of mailpiece's largest side. More precisely, on a letter-size piece, the recommended address placement is within the optical character reader (OCR) read area, which is a space on the address side of the mailpiece defined by these boundaries: Left – 1/2 inch (13 mm) from the left edge of the piece; Right – 1/2 inch (13 mm) from the right edge of the piece; Top – 2-3/4 inches (70 mm) from the bottom edge of the piece; Bottom – 5/8 inch (16 mm) from the bottom edge of the piece. Preferred placement of a return address is in the upper left portion of the mailpiece—on the side of the piece bearing postage. Finally, postage (e.g., stamps, meter imprints, information-based indicia [IBI], etc.) is to be affixed in the upper right corner of the address side of the mail cover. It should be noted that any stamp/indicia partly concealed or otherwise obscured by an overlapping stamp/indicia may not be counted as valid postage.
  2. Delivery Address (party receiving mail): The mail piece must have the address of the intended recipient, visible and legible, only on the side of the mail piece bearing postage. Generally, the name of the addressee should be included above the address
    Address (geography)
    An address is a collection of information, presented in a mostly fixed format, used for describing the location of a building, apartment, or other structure or a plot of land, generally using political boundaries and street names as references, along with other identifiers such as house or...

     itself. A ZIP+4 code will facilitate delivery.
  3. Return Address (party sending mail): A return address tells the USPS where the sender wants the mail returned if it is undeliverable. Usage of a return address is required for most all postal services (e.g., all parcel services, Priority Mail, Express Mail, Periodicals in envelopes or wrappers, Insured Mail, Registered Mail, etc.).
  4. Postage Payment: All mailpieces must include appropriate valid postage. Postage payment may be in the form of stamps, stamped stationery, precanceled stamps, postage meter imprints & PC Postage products ("Postage Evidencing Systems"), or permit imprint (indicia). Members of the U.S. Congress, among others, have franking privilege
    Franking
    Franking are any and all devices or markings such as postage stamps , printed or stamped impressions, codings, labels, manuscript writings , and/or any other authorized form of markings affixed or applied to mails to qualify them to be postally serviced.-Franking types and...

    s, which only require a signature.

Domestic first-class mail costs 44¢ for envelope
Envelope
An envelope is a common packaging item, usually made of thin flat material. It is designed to contain a flat object, such as a letter or card....

s (29¢ for post cards
Postcard
A postcard or post card is a rectangular piece of thick paper or thin cardboard intended for writing and mailing without an envelope....

) and upwards, depending on the weight and dimensions of the letter and the class.

Undeliverable mails that cannot be readily returned, including those without return addresses, are treated as dead mails at a Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia. According to the 2010 census, Atlanta's population is 420,003. Atlanta is the cultural and economic center of the Atlanta metropolitan area, which is home to 5,268,860 people and is the ninth largest metropolitan area in...

 or Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul is the capital and second-most populous city of the U.S. state of Minnesota. The city lies mostly on the east bank of the Mississippi River in the area surrounding its point of confluence with the Minnesota River, and adjoins Minneapolis, the state's largest city...

.
The formatting of the address is as follows:
Line 1: Name of recipient
Line 2: Street address or P.O. Box
Line 3: City State (ISO 3166-2:US code
ISO 3166-2:US
ISO 3166-2:US is the entry for the United States in ISO 3166-2, part of the ISO 3166 standard published by the International Organization for Standardization , which defines codes for the names of the principal subdivisions of all countries coded in ISO 3166-1.Currently for the United States, ISO...

 or APO/FPO code) and ZIP+4 code


Example:
John Q. Public
John Q. Public
John Q. Public is a generic name in the United States to denote a hypothetical member of society deemed a "common man." He is presumed to represent the randomly selected "man on the street."...

789 UNIVERSAL DR
PORTLAND OR 97086-1234


The USPS maintains a list of proper abbreviations.
The formatting of a return address is identical. Though some style manuals do recommend using a comma between the city and state name when typesetting addresses in other contexts, for optimal automatic character recognition, the Post Office does not recommend this when addressing mail. The official recommendation is to use all upper case block letters with appropriate formats and abbreviations, and leave out all punctuation except for the hyphen
Hyphen
The hyphen is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The use of hyphens is called hyphenation. The hyphen should not be confused with dashes , which are longer and have different uses, or with the minus sign which is also longer...

 in the ZIP+4 code. If the address is unusually formatted or illegible enough, it will require hand-processing, delaying that particular item. The USPS publishes the entirety of their postal addressing standards.

Customers can look up ZIP codes on usps.com, and purchase postage if they have an account.

Paying postage

The actual postage can be paid via:
  • Stamps purchased online, at a Post Office, from a stamp vending machine or "Automated Postal Center" which can also handle packages, or from a third party (such as a grocery store)
  • Pre-cancelled stamps for bulk mailings
  • Postal meter
  • Prepaid envelope
  • Shipping label purchased online and printed by the customer on standard paper (e.g. with Click-N-Ship
    Click-N-Ship
    Click-N-Ship is a service offered by the United States Postal Service which allows customers to create pre-paid shipping labels on standard printing paper. This covers the postage due and includes a free delivery confirmation number to show the date and time of delivery or an attempted delivery...

    , or via a third-party such as Paypal
    PayPal
    PayPal is an American-based global e-commerce business allowing payments and money transfers to be made through the Internet. Online money transfers serve as electronic alternatives to paying with traditional paper methods, such as checks and money orders....

     or Amazon shipping
    Amazon.com
    Amazon.com, Inc. is a multinational electronic commerce company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is the world's largest online retailer. Amazon has separate websites for the following countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and...

    )


All unused U.S. postage stamps issued since 1861 are still valid as postage at their indicated value. Stamps with no value shown or denominated by a letter are also still valid, although the value depends upon the particular stamp. For some stamps issued without a printed value, the current value is the original value. But some stamps beginning in 1988 or earlier, including "Forever Stamps" that were issued beginning in April 2007, and all 1st class mail 1st ounce stamps beginning 2011-01-21, the value is the current value of a 1st class mail 1st ounce stamps. (The USPS calls these "Forever Stamps". The generic name is non-denominated postage
Non-denominated postage
Non-denominated postage is postage intended to meet a certain postage rate that retains full validity for that intended postage rate even after the rate is increased. It does not show a monetary value, or denomination, on the face. In many English speaking countries, it is called non-value...

.)

Forever stamps are sold at the first-class mail postage rate at the time of purchase, but will always be valid for first-class mail (1 oz and under), no matter how rates rise in the future. Britain has had a similar stamp since 1989. However, one of the tenets of the Universal Postal Union
Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union is an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration , the Postal Operations Council and the...

 is having a single flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world, which is true for Britain (since 1995), but not the U.S. The cost of mailing a 1 oz (28.3 g) First-Class letter increased to 44 cents on May 11.

Postage meters

A postage meter is a mechanical device used to create and apply physical evidence of postage (or franking) to mailed matter. Postage meters are regulated by a country's postal authority; for example, in the United States, the United States Postal Service specifies the rules for the creation, support, and use of postage meters. A postage meter imprints an amount of postage, functioning as a postage stamp, a cancellation and a dated postmark all in one. The meter stamp serves as proof of payment and eliminates the need for adhesive stamps.

PC postage

In addition to using standard stamps, postage can now be printed in the form of an electronic stamp, or e-stamp, from a personal computer using a system called Information Based Indicia
Information Based Indicia
Information Based Indicia refers to a system used by the United States Postal Service for labels or marks to be applied to the mail item to indicate electronic postage payment....

. This online PC Postage method relies upon application software on the customer's computer contacting a postal security device at the office of the postal service. Authorized providers of PC Postage are listed below (many others--such as Amazon--are secondary providers, which use one of the authorized providers to do the actual service):
  • Click-N-Ship
    Click-N-Ship
    Click-N-Ship is a service offered by the United States Postal Service which allows customers to create pre-paid shipping labels on standard printing paper. This covers the postage due and includes a free delivery confirmation number to show the date and time of delivery or an attempted delivery...

     (USPS)
  • eBay
    EBay
    eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages eBay.com, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...

  • Endicia
  • Pitney Bowes
    Pitney Bowes
    Pitney Bowes Inc. is a Stamford, Connecticut-based manufacturer of software and hardware and a provider of services related to documents, packaging, mailing, and shipping, collectively referred to as mailstream. The company has approximately 36,000 employees worldwide. It is one of 87 existing...

  • Stamps.com
    Stamps.com
    Stamps.com is a Los Angeles, California-based company that provides Internet-based mailing and shipping services. Stamps.com is a public company and trades on the NYSE exchange under the symbol STMP.- History :On April 13, 1998, the U.S...


Other electronic postage payment methods

Electronic Verification System (eVS) is the Postal Service's integrated mail management technology that centralizes payment processing and electronic postage reports. Part of an evolving suite of USPS electronic payment services called PostalOne!, eVS allows mailers shipping large volumes of parcels through the Postal Service a way to circumvent use of hard-copy manifests, postage statements and drop-shipment verification forms. Instead, mailers can pay postage automatically through a centralized account and track payments online.

Beginning in August 2007, the Postal Service began requiring mailers shipping Parcel Select packages using a permit imprint to use eVS for manifesting their packages.

Stamp copyright and reproduction

All U.S. postage stamps issued under the former United States Post Office Department
United States Post Office Department
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....

 and other postage items that were released before 1978 are not subject to copyright, but stamp designs since 1978 are copyrighted. Following the creation of the United States Postal Service, the United States Copyright Office
United States Copyright Office
The United States Copyright Office, a part of the Library of Congress, is the official U.S. government body that maintains records of copyright registration in the United States. It is used by copyright title searchers who are attempting to clear a chain of title for copyrighted works.The head of...

 in section 206.02(b) of the Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices
Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices
Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices is a manual produced by the United States Copyright Office. It is intended to be used primarily by the Copyright Office staff, as a general guide to the Copyright Office policies and procedures....

 holds that "Works of the U.S. Postal Service, as now constituted, are not considered U.S. Government works." Here, the U.S. Copyright Office has clarified that works of the U.S. Postal Service, of the government of the District of Columbia, or of the government of Puerto Rico
Government of Puerto Rico
The Government of Puerto Rico is a republican form of government subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. Its current powers are all delegated by the United States Congress and lack full protection under the United States Constitution...

 are not "works of the U.S. government" and thus are subject to copyright. Thus, postal service holds copyright to such materials released since 1978 under Title 17 of the United States Code
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

. Written permission is required for use of copyrighted postage stamp images, although under USPS rules, permission is "generally" not required for "educational use", "news reporting" or "philatelic advertising use," but users must cite USPS as the source of the image and include language such as "© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved."

General domestic services

Domestic postage includes Monday through Saturday delivery (excepting federal holidays) to any address, Post Office Box, or general delivery Post Office in the United States, or any U.S. military mail
Military mail
A primary feature of military mail systems is that normally they are subsidized to ensure that military mail posted between duty stations abroad and the home country does not cost the sender any more than normal domestic mail traffic...

 destination.

The Post Office will not deliver packages heavier than 70 lb (31.8 kg) or if the two largest dimensions (length and width) are greater than 108 inches (274 cm) combined. Other carriers handle packages that do not meet these conditions. Mail sent at a level other than First-Class (such as Second Class or Third Class), will not be forwarded or returned to sender, unless an additional fee is paid; "return service requested" may need to appear on the outside of the item. Deliveries outside the contiguous United States
Contiguous United States
The contiguous United States are the 48 U.S. states on the continent of North America that are south of Canada and north of Mexico, plus the District of Columbia....

 may take longer.

As of April 2011, domestic postage levels for low-volume mailers include:
  • Express Mail
    Express mail
    In most postal systems express mail refers to an accelerated delivery service for which the customer pays a surcharge and receives faster delivery. Express mail is a service for domestic mail and is governed by a country's own postal administration...

     – "Overnight Guaranteed" to most locations
    • Sunday and holiday delivery available for additional charge
    • $100 insurance included
    • Tracking included
    • Flat rate envelope available. Otherwise, variable pricing
      Variable pricing
      Most firms use a fixed price policy. That is, they examine the situation, determine an appropriate price, and leave the price fixed at that amount until the situation changes, at which point they go through the process again...

       by weight, size, and ZIP code.
  • Priority Mail – 2 or 3-day service (not guaranteed)
    • Flat rate envelope and boxes (various sizes) available. Otherwise, variable pricing by weight, size, and ZIP code.
  • First-Class Mail
    • Fast service (2–3 days) for letters and small packages
    • Flat rate depending on size and weight
      • Postcards (5" x 3.5" x 0.007 to 6" x 4.25" x 0.016" [127 x 89 x 0.18 to 152 x 108 x 0.4 mm]): 29¢
      • Letters (up to 11.5" x 6.125" x 0.25", 3.5 oz [292 x 156 x 6.4 mm, 100 g]): 44¢ + 20¢ each additional ounce
      • Large Envelope or Flat (up to 15" x 12" x 0.75", 13 oz [381 x 305 x 19 mm, 370 g]): 88¢ + 20¢ each add'l ounce (28 g). Must be rectangular, uniformly thick, and not too rigid.
      • Package/Parcel (Up to 108" [274 cm] length + width, 13 oz [370 g]): $1.71 + 17¢ each add'l ounce (28 g) over 3 ounces (84 g)
  • Parcel Post
    Parcel post
    Parcel post is a service of a postal administration for sending parcels through the post. It is generally one of the less expensive ways to ship packages that are too heavy to be sent by regular letter post and is usually a slower method of transportation....

    • Slowest but cheapest service for packages – uses surface transport
    • 2-9-day service to contiguous U.S., 4–14 days internal to AK/HI/territories, 3–6 weeks between mainland and outlying areas (travels by ship)
    • Variable pricing by weight and ZIP code
    • Free forwarding if recipient has filed change-of-address form, or return if the item is undeliverable
  • Media Mail (formerly "Book Rate")
    • Books and recorded media only
    • No advertising
    • Flat rate pricing by weight only
    • Transit time similar to Parcel Post
    • Cheaper than Parcel Post but only due to increased restrictions on package contents.
  • Library Mail
    • Similar to Media Mail, but cheaper and restricted to academic institutions, public libraries, museums, etc.

Bulk mail

Discounts are available for large volumes of mail. Depending on the postage level, certain conditions might be required or optional for an additional discount:
  • Minimum number of pieces
  • Weight limits
  • Ability for the USPS to process by machine
  • Addresses formatting standardized
  • USPS-readable barcode
  • Sorted by 3-digit ZIP code prefix, 5-digit ZIP code, ZIP+4, or 11-digit delivery point
  • Delivered in trays, bundles, or pallets partitioned by destination
  • Delivered directly to a regional Bulk Mail Center, destination SCF, or destination Post Office
  • Certification of mailing list accuracy and freshness (e.g. correct ZIP codes, purging of stale addresses, processing of change-of-address notifications)


In addition to bulk discounts on Express, Priority, and First-Class Mail, the following postage levels are available for bulk mailers:
  • Periodicals
  • Standard Mail (A)
    • Automation
    • Enhanced Carrier Route
    • Regular
  • Standard Mail (B)
    • Parcel Post
    • Bound Printed Matter
      Printed matter
      Printed matter is a term to describe printed material produced by printers or publishers, such as books, magazines, booklets, brochures and other publicity materials and in some cases, newspapers...

       – Cheaper than Media Mail, for advertising catalogs, phone books, etc. up to 15 lb
    • Special Standard Mail
    • Library Mail
    • Nonprofit

Add-on services

Depending on the type of mail, additional services are available for an additional fee:
  • Certificate of Mailing – Proof of the date a package was mailed.
  • Delivery Confirmation – Provides proof of delivery to sorting facilities, local post office and destination, but no signature is required.
  • Signature Confirmation – Delivery requires a signature, which is kept on file. The online tracking system displays the first initial and last name of the signatory.
  • Return Receipt – Actively sends Signature Confirmation information back to the sender by postcard or emailed PDF (as opposed to merely putting this information into the online tracking system).
  • Insurance against loss or damage, for the value of the goods mailed. Amount of coverage can be specified, up to $5000.
  • Certified Mail – Provides proof of mailing, and a delivery record. Used for serving legal documents and for sending U.S. Government classified information
    Classified information in the United States
    The United States government classification system is currently established under Executive Order 13526, the latest in a long series of executive orders on the topic. Issued by President Barack Obama in 2009, Executive Order 13526 replaced earlier executive orders on the topic and modified the...

    , up to the "confidential" level.
  • Restricted Delivery – Requires delivery to a specific person or their authorized agent, not just to a mailbox.
  • Collect On Delivery (C.O.D.) – Allows merchants to offer customers an option to pay upon delivery, up to $1000. Includes insurance.
  • Special Handling – For unusual items, like live animals.
  • Registered Mail – Used for highly valuable or irreplaceable items, and classified information
    Classified information in the United States
    The United States government classification system is currently established under Executive Order 13526, the latest in a long series of executive orders on the topic. Issued by President Barack Obama in 2009, Executive Order 13526 replaced earlier executive orders on the topic and modified the...

     up to the "secret" level. Registered mail is transported separately from other mail, in locked containers. Tracking is included and insurance up to $25,000 is available.

Postal money orders

Postal money order
Money order
A money order is a payment order for a pre-specified amount of money. Because it is required that the funds be prepaid for the amount shown on it, it is a more trusted method of payment than a cheque.-History of money orders:...

s provide a safe alternative to sending cash
Cash
In common language cash refers to money in the physical form of currency, such as banknotes and coins.In bookkeeping and finance, cash refers to current assets comprising currency or currency equivalents that can be accessed immediately or near-immediately...

 through the mail, and are available in any amount up to $1000. Like a bank check
Cheque
A cheque is a document/instrument See the negotiable cow—itself a fictional story—for discussions of cheques written on unusual surfaces. that orders a payment of money from a bank account...

 money orders are cashable only by the recipient. Unlike a personal bank check, they are prepaid and therefore cannot be returned because of insufficient funds. Money orders are a declining business for the USPS, as companies like PayPal
PayPal
PayPal is an American-based global e-commerce business allowing payments and money transfers to be made through the Internet. Online money transfers serve as electronic alternatives to paying with traditional paper methods, such as checks and money orders....

, PaidByCash and others are offering electronic replacements.

From 1911 to 1966, the Postal Service also operated a savings program, not unlike a savings and loan association
Savings and loan association
A savings and loan association , also known as a thrift, is a financial institution that specializes in accepting savings deposits and making mortgage and other loans...

 with the amount of the deposit limited.

International services

In May 2007, the USPS restructured international service names to correspond with domestic shipping options. Formerly, USPS International services were categorized as Airmail (Letter Post), Economy (Surface) Parcel Post, Airmail Parcel Post, Global Priority, Global Express, and Global Express Guaranteed Mail. The former Airmail (Letter Post) is now First-Class Mail International, and includes small packages weighing up to four pounds (1.8 kg). Economy Parcel Post was discontinued for international service, while Airmail Parcel Post was replaced by Priority Mail International. Priority Mail International Flat-Rate packaging in various sizes was introduced, with the same conditions of service previously used for Global Priority. Global Express is now Express Mail International, while Global Express Guaranteed is unchanged. The international mailing classes with a tracking ability are Express, Express Guaranteed, and Priority (except that tracking is not available for Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes or Priority Mail International Small Flat Rate Boxes). One of the major changes in the new naming and services definitions is that USPS-supplied mailing boxes for Priority and Express mail are now allowed for international use. These services are offered to ship letters and packages to almost every country and territory on the globe. Ironically, the USPS provides much of this service by contracting with a private parcel service, FedEx
FedEx
FedEx Corporation , originally known as FDX Corporation, is a logistics services company, based in the United States with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee...

.

On May 14, 2007, the USPS canceled all outgoing international surface mail
Surface mail
Surface mail, also known as sea mail, is mail that is transported by land and sea , rather than by air, as in airmail...

 (sometimes known as "sea mail") from the United States, citing increased costs and reduced demand due to competition from airmail services such as FedEx and UPS. The decision has been criticized by the Peace Corps and military personnel overseas, as well as independent booksellers and other small businesses who rely on international deliveries.

The USPS provides an service for international shipment of printed matter
Printed matter
Printed matter is a term to describe printed material produced by printers or publishers, such as books, magazines, booklets, brochures and other publicity materials and in some cases, newspapers...

; previously surface M-bags existed, but with the 2007 elimination of surface mail, only airmail M-bags remain. The term "M-bag" is not expanded in USPS publications; M-bags are simply defined as "direct sacks of printed matter ... sent to a single foreign addressee at a single address"; however, the term is sometimes referred to informally as "media bag", as the bag can also contain "discs, tapes, and cassettes", in addition to books, for which the usual umbrella term is "media"; some also refer to them as "mail bags".

Military mail
Military mail
A primary feature of military mail systems is that normally they are subsidized to ensure that military mail posted between duty stations abroad and the home country does not cost the sender any more than normal domestic mail traffic...

 is billed at domestic rates when being sent from the United States to a military outpost, and is free when sent by deployed military personnel. The overseas logistics are handled by the Military Postal Service Agency in the Department of Defense. Outside of forward areas and active operations, military mail First-Class takes 7–10 days, Priority 10–15 days, and Parcel Post about 24 days.

Airline and rail division

The United States Postal Service does not directly own or operate any aircraft or trains. The mail and packages are flown on airlines with which the Postal Service has a contractual agreement. The contracts change periodically. Depending on the contract, aircraft may be painted with the USPS paint scheme. Contract airlines have included: UPS
United Parcel Service
United Parcel Service, Inc. , typically referred to by the acronym UPS, is a package delivery company. Headquartered in Sandy Springs, Georgia, United States, UPS delivers more than 15 million packages a day to 6.1 million customers in more than 220 countries and territories around the...

, Emery Worldwide
Emery Worldwide
Emery Worldwide was a cargo airline, once one of the leading carriers in the cargo airline world. Its headquarters were located in Redwood City, California....

, Ryan International Airlines
Ryan International Airlines
Ryan International Airlines, Inc. is an American FAR 121 airline with domestic, flag, and supplemental authority.Based in Rockford, Illinois, the US Postal Service was once the airline's main customer, flying Boeing 727 aircraft on scheduled cargo flights...

, FedEx Express, Rhoades Aviation, American Airlines
American Airlines
American Airlines, Inc. is the world's fourth-largest airline in passenger miles transported and operating revenues. American Airlines is a subsidiary of the AMR Corporation and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas adjacent to its largest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport...

, United Airlines
United Airlines
United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees (which includes the entire holding company United Continental...

, and Express One International
Express One International
Express One International is an airline based in Orlando, Florida, USA. It operates domestic and international cargo services and charter passenger services throughout the USA, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as wet and dry leasing...

. The Postal Service also contracts with Amtrak
Amtrak
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "America" and "track". It is headquartered at Union...

 to carry some mail between certain cities such as Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 and Minneapolis – Saint Paul.

The last air delivery route in the continental U.S., to residents in the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness, was scheduled to be ended in June 2009. The weekly bush plane
Bush plane
A bush airplane is a general aviation aircraft serving remote, undeveloped areas of a country, usually the African bush, Alaskan and Canadian tundra or the Australian Outback...

 route, contracted out to an air taxi
Air taxi
An air taxi is an air charter passenger or cargo aircraft which operates on an on-demand basis.-Regulation:In the United States, air taxi and air charter operations are governed by Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations , unlike the larger scheduled air carriers which are governed by more...

 company, had in its final year an annual cost of $46,000, or $2400/year per residence, over ten times the average cost of delivering mail to a residence in the United States. This decision has been reversed by the U.S. Postmaster General.

Sorting and delivery process

Processing of standard sized envelopes and cards is highly automated, including reading of handwritten addresses. Mail from individual customers and public postboxes is collected by mail carriers into plastic tubs. The tubs are taken to a Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC).
There are approximately 275 such centers across the United States, which sort mail for a given region (typically a radius of around 200 miles) and connect with the national network for interregional mail.

At the P&DC, mail is emptied into hampers which are then automatically dumped into a Dual Pass Rough Cull System (DPRCS). As mail travels through the DPRCS, large items, such as packages and mail bundles, are removed from the stream. As the remaining mail enters the first machine for processing standard mail, the Advanced Facer-Canceler System
Advanced Facer-Canceler System
The Advanced Facer Canceller System is a high-speed machine used by the US Postal Service to cull, face, and cancel letter mail through a series of automated operations. AFCS was first implemented in 1992, and is capable of processing 30,000 pieces of mail per hour.-References:* * *...

 (AFCS), pieces that passed through the DPRCS but do not conform to physical dimensions for processing in the AFCS (i.e. large envelopes or overstuffed standard envelopes) are automatically diverted from the stream. Mail removed from the DPRCS and AFCS is manually processed or sent to parcel sorting machines.

In contrast to the previous system, which merely canceled and postmarked the upper right corner of the envelope, thereby missing any stamps which were inappropriately placed, the Advanced Facer-Canceler System locates indicia (stamp or metered postage mark), regardless of the orientation of the mail as it enters the machine, and cancels it by applying a postmark
Postmark
thumb|USS TexasA postmark is a postal marking made on a letter, package, postcard or the like indicating the date and time that the item was delivered into the care of the postal service...

. Detection of indicia enables the AFCS to determine the orientation of each mailpiece and sort it accordingly, rotating pieces as necessary so all mail is sorted right-side up and faced in the same direction in each output bin. Mail is output by the machine into three categories: mail already affixed with a bar code and addressed (such as business reply envelopes and cards), mail with machine printed (typed) addresses, and mail with handwritten addresses. Additionally, machines with a recent Optical Character Recognition
Optical character recognition
Optical character recognition, usually abbreviated to OCR, is the mechanical or electronic translation of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. It is widely used to convert books and documents into electronic files, to computerize a record-keeping...

 (OCR) upgrade have the capability to read the address information, including handwritten, and sort the mail based on local or outgoing ZIP codes.

Mail with typed addresses goes to a Multiline Optical Character Reader
Multiline Optical Character Reader
A Multiline Optical Character Reader, or MLOCR, is a type of mail sorting machine that uses Optical Character Recognition technology to determine how to route mail through the postal system....

 (MLOCR) which reads the ZIP Code and address information and prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelope. Mail (actually the scanned image of the mail) with handwritten addresses (and machine-printed ones that are not easily recognized) goes to the Remote Bar Coding System
Remote Bar Coding System
Remote Bar Coding System , also called Remote Video Encoding is a method used by the United States Postal Service to encode the address of letter-sized mailpieces that are not decipherable by a Multiline Optical Character Reader...

. It also corrects spelling errors and, where there is an error, omission, or conflict in the written address, identifies the most likely correct address. When it has decided on a correct address, it prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelopes, similarly to the MLOCR system. RBCS also has facilities in place, called Remote Encoding Centers, that have humans look at images of mail pieces and enter the address data. The address data is associated with the image via an ID Tag, a fluorescent Barcode
Barcode
A barcode is an optical machine-readable representation of data, which shows data about the object to which it attaches. Originally barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or 1 dimensional . Later they evolved into rectangles,...

 printed by mail processing equipment on the back of mail pieces.

If a customer has filed a change of address card and his or her mail is detected in the mailstream with the old address, the mailpiece is sent to a machine that automatically connects to a Computerized Forwarding System database to determine the new address. If this address is found, the machine will paste a label over the former address with the current address. The mail is returned to the mailstream to forward to the new location.

Mail with addresses that cannot be resolved by the automated system are separated for human intervention. If a local postal worker can read the address, he or she manually sorts it out according to the ZIP code on the article. If the address cannot be read, mail is either returned to the sender (first-class mail with a valid return address) or is sent to the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia (formerly known as Dead Letter Offices, originated by Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s) where it receives more intense scrutiny, including being opened to determine if any of the contents are a clue. If no valid address can be determined, the items are held for 90 days in case of inquiry by the customer; and if they are not claimed then they are either destroyed or auctioned off at the monthly Postal Service Unclaimed Parcel auction to raise money for the service.

Once the mail is bar coded, it is automatically sorted by a Delivery Bar Code System
Delivery bar code sorter
Delivery Bar Code Sorter or DBCS refers to a set of sorting machines used in mail sorting industry primarily by USPS. The latest generation of these machines in the field are DBCS6. The DBCS7 are scheduled for deployment in the field by July 2008....

 that reads the bar code and determines the destination of the mailpiece to postal stations.

Regional mail is trucked to the appropriate local post office or kept in the building for carrier routes served directly from the P&DC. Out-of-region mail is trucked to the airport and then flown, usually as baggage on commercial airlines, to the airport nearest the destination station. At the destination P&DC, mail is once again read by a DBCS
Delivery bar code sorter
Delivery Bar Code Sorter or DBCS refers to a set of sorting machines used in mail sorting industry primarily by USPS. The latest generation of these machines in the field are DBCS6. The DBCS7 are scheduled for deployment in the field by July 2008....

 which sorts the items into their local destinations, including grouping them by individual mail carrier.

At the carrier route level, 95% of letters arrive pre-sorted; the remaining mail must be sorted by hand. The Post Office is working to increase the percentage of automatically sorted mail, including a pilot program to sort "flats".

Types of postal facilities

Although its customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS recognizes several types of postal facilities, including the following:
  • A main post office (formerly known as a general post office) is the primary postal facility in a community.
  • A station or post office station, a postal facility that is not the main post office, but that is within the corporate limits of the community.
  • A branch or post office branch, a postal facility that is not the main post office and that is outside the corporate limits of the community.
  • A classified unit, a station or branch operated by USPS employees in a facility owned or leased by the USPS.
  • A contract postal unit (or CPU), a station or branch operated by a contractor, typically in a store or other place of business.
  • A community post office (or CPO), a contract postal unit providing services in a small community in which other types of post office facilities have been discontinued.
  • A finance unit, a station or branch that provides window services and accepts mail, but does not provide delivery.
  • A processing and distribution center (P&DC, or processing and distribution facility, formerly known as a General Mail Facility), a central mail facility that processes and dispatches incoming and outgoing mail to and from a designated service area. (275 nationwide.)
  • An international service center (ISC), an international mail processing facility. There are only five such USPS facilities in the United States, located in Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • A sectional center facility (SCF)
    Sectional center facility (SCF)
    A Destination Sectional Center Facility is a Processing and Distribution Center of the United States Postal Service that serves a designated geographical area defined by one or more three-digit ZIP Code prefixes....

    , a P&DC for a designated geographical area defined by one or more three-digit ZIP code
    ZIP Code
    ZIP codes are a system of postal codes used by the United States Postal Service since 1963. The term ZIP, an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan, is properly written in capital letters and was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when senders use the...

     prefixes.
  • A network distribution center, formerly known as a bulk mail
    Bulk mail
    Bulk mail broadly refers to mail that is mailed and processed in bulk at reduced rates. The term does not denote any particular purpose for the mail; but in general usage is synonymous with "junk mail."...

     center (BMC), a central mail facility that processes bulk rate parcels as the hub in a hub and spoke network.
  • An auxiliary sorting facility (ASF), a central mail facility that processes bulk rate parcels as spokes in a hub and spoke network.
  • A remote encoding center (REC), a facility at which clerks receive images of problem mail pieces (those with hard-to-read addresses, etc.) via secure Internet-type feeds and manually type the addresses they can decipher, using a special encoding protocol. The mail pieces are then sprayed with the correct addresses or are sorted for further handling according to the instructions given via encoding. The total number of RECs is down from 55 in 1998 to just 5 centers in April 2009. In 2010, there will be just two remaining RECs open, in Salt Lake City, Utah
    Utah
    Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

     and Wichita, Kansas
    Wichita, Kansas
    Wichita is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas.As of the 2010 census, the city population was 382,368. Located in south-central Kansas on the Arkansas River, Wichita is the county seat of Sedgwick County and the principal city of the Wichita metropolitan area...

    . More closures will occur as computer software becomes more able to read most addresses, but a few centers are expected to remain open (see Evolutionary Network Development below).

  • A village post office (VPO), a post office concept beginning in 2011, village post offices are an integral part of the USPS plan to close low volume post offices. Many of these will be replaced with village post offices that will fill the role of the post office within that zip code and be located in local business or government centers and operated by those entities as specified in the contract negotiated between the entity and USPS.


While common usage refers to all types of postal facilities as "substations", the USPS Glossary of Postal Terms does not define or even list that word. Post Offices often share facilities with other governmental organizations located within a city's central business district. In those locations, often Courthouses and Federal Buildings, the building is owned by the General Services Administration
General Services Administration
The General Services Administration is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S...

 while the U.S. Postal Services operates as a tenant
Tenement (law)
A tenement , in law, is anything that is held, rather than owned. This usage is a holdover from feudalism, which still forms the basis of all real-estate law in the English-speaking world, in which the monarch alone owned the allodial title to all the land within his kingdom.Under feudalism, land...

. There are approximately 36,000 post offices, stations, and branches in the USPS retail system. Temporary stations are also set up for applying pictorial cancellations.

Automated Postal Centers

In 2004 the USPS began deploying Automated Postal Centers (APC). APCs are unattended kiosks that are capable of weighing, franking
Franking
Franking are any and all devices or markings such as postage stamps , printed or stamped impressions, codings, labels, manuscript writings , and/or any other authorized form of markings affixed or applied to mails to qualify them to be postally serviced.-Franking types and...

, and storing packages for later pickup as well as selling domestic and international postage stamps. Similarly, traditional vending machine
Vending machine
A vending machine is a machine which dispenses items such as snacks, beverages, alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, consumer products and even gold and gems to customers automatically, after the customer inserts currency or credit into the machine....

s are available at many post offices to purchase stamps, though these are being phased out in many areas. Due to increasing use of Internet services, as of June, 2009, no retail post office windows are open 24 hours; overnight services are limited to those provided by an Automated Postal Center.

Evolutionary Network Development (END) program

In February 2006, the USPS announced that they plan to replace the nine existing facility-types with five processing facility-types:
  • Regional Distribution Centers (RDCs), which will process all classes of parcels and bundles and serve as Surface Transfer Centers;
  • Local Processing Centers (LPCs), which will process single-piece letters and flats and cancel mail;
  • Destination Processing Centers (DPC), sort the mail for individual mail carriers;
  • Airport Transfer Centers (ATCs), which will serve as transfer points only; and
  • Remote Encoding Centers (RECs).


Over a period of years, these facilities are expected to replace Processing & Distribution Centers, Customer Service Facilities, Bulk Mail Centers, Logistic and Distribution Centers, annexes, the Hub and Spoke Program, Air Mail Centers, and International Service Centers.

The changes are a result of the declining volumes of single-piece first-class mail, population shifts, the increase in drop shipments by advertising mailers at destinating postal facilities, advancements in equipment and technology, redundancies in the existing network, and the need for operational flexibility.

Final delivery

Delivery days

Until 1912, mail was delivered seven days a week. As the postal service grew in popularity and usage in the 19th century, local religious leaders noticed a decline in Sunday-morning church attendance because of local post offices' doubling as gathering places. These leaders appealed to the government to intervene and close post offices on Sundays.

Because of this intervention by the government, U.S. Mail (with the exception of Express Mail) is not delivered on Sunday, except in a few towns in which the local religion has had an effect on the policy, such as Loma Linda, California
Loma Linda, California
Loma Linda is a city in San Bernardino County, California, United States, that was incorporated in 1970. The population was 23,261 at the 2010 census, up from 18,681 at the 2000 census...

, which has a significant Seventh-day Adventist
Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath, and by its emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ...

 population and where U.S. Mail is delivered Sunday through Friday, with the exception of observed federal holidays.

Saturday delivery was temporarily suspended in April 1957, because of lack of funds, but quickly restored. On January 28, 2009, Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

 John E. Potter
John E. Potter
John E. "Jack" Potter is the current President and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority since July 18, 2011. He is the former United States Postmaster General and CEO of the United States Postal Service , having become the 72nd Postmaster General on June 1, 2001.-Early postal...

 testified before the Senate that, if the Postal Service could not readjust its payment toward the pre-funding of retiree health benefits, as mandated by the Postal Accountability & Enhancement Act of 2006, the USPS would be forced to consider cutting delivery to five days per week during June, July, and August.

H.R. 22, addressing this issue, passed the House of Representatives and Senate and was signed into law on September 30, 2009. However, PMG Potter has continued to unveil a plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. The universal service obligation and six day delivery are upheld by Congressional language within Appropriations legislation, so a reduction in service would require action from the House and Senate.

On June 10, 2009, the NRLCA was contacted for its input on the USPS's current study of the impact of five-day delivery along with developing an implementation plan for a five-day service plan. A team of postal service headquarters executives and staff has been given a time frame of sixty days to complete the study. The current concept examines the impact of five-day delivery with no business or collections on Saturday, with Post Offices with current Saturday hours remaining open.

Chairman José Serrano (D
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

NY
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

), of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which oversees language mandating six day service, said "While I understand the seriousness of the Postal Service's fiscal issues, I remain supportive of a six day delivery schedule. I will be in conversations in coming weeks with the senior postal leadership and the postal unions in an effort to avoid service cuts."

On Thursday, April 15, 2010, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to examine the status of the Postal Service and recent reports on short and long term strategies for the financial viability and stability of the USPS entitled "Continuing to Deliver: An Examination of the Postal Service's Current Financial Crisis and its Future Viability." At which, PMG Potter testified that by the year 2020, the USPS cumulative losses could exceed $238 billion, and that mail volume could drop 15 percent from 2009.

Direct delivery vs. customer pickup

Originally, mail was not delivered to homes and businesses, but to post offices. In 1863, "city delivery" began in urban areas with enough customers to make this economical. This required streets to be named, houses to be numbered, with sidewalks and lighting provided, and these street addresses to be added to envelopes. The number of routes served expanded over time. In 1891, the first experiments with Rural Free Delivery began in less densely populated areas.

To compensate for high mail volume and slow long-distance transportation which saw mail arrive at post offices throughout the day, deliveries were made multiple times a day. This ranged from twice for residential areas to up to seven times for the central business district of Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York. In the late 19th century, mail boxes were encouraged, saving carriers the time it took to deliver directly to the addressee in person; in the 1910s and 1920s, they were phased in as a requirement for service. In the 1940s, multiple daily deliveries began to be reduced, especially on Saturdays. By 1990, the last twice-daily deliveries in New York City were eliminated.

Today, mail is delivered once a day on-site to most private homes and businesses. The USPS still distinguishes between city delivery (where carriers generally walk and deliver to mailboxes hung on exterior walls or porches, or to commercial reception areas) and rural delivery (where carriers generally drive). With "curbside delivery", mailboxes are at the ends of driveways, on the nearest convenient road. "Central point delivery" is used in some locations, where several nearby residences share a "cluster" of individual mailboxes in a single housing.

Some customers choose to use post office box
Post Office box
A post-office box or Post Office box is a uniquely addressable lockable box located on the premises of a post office station....

es for an additional fee, for privacy or convenience. This provides a locked box at the post office to which mail is addressed and delivered (usually earlier in the day than home delivery). Customers in less densely populated areas where there is no city delivery and who do not qualify for rural delivery may only receive mail through post office boxes. High-volume business customers can also arrange for special pick-up.

Another option is the old-style general delivery, for people who have neither post office boxes nor street addresses. Mail is held at the post office until they present identification and pick it up.

Some customers receive free post office boxes if the USPS declines to provide door-to-door delivery to their location or a nearby box. People with medical problems can request door-to-door delivery. Homeless people are also eligible for post office boxes at the discretion of the local postmaster, or can use general delivery.

Special delivery

From 1885 to 1997, a service called special delivery
Special delivery (postal service)
Special Delivery is a postal service for urgent postal packets. Its meaning varies among postal services and is different and separate from Express mail delivery service offered by many postal administrations...

 was available, which caused a separate delivery to the final location earlier in the day than the usual daily rounds.

Forwarding and holds

Residential customers can fill out a form to forward mail to a new address, and can also send pre-printed forms to any of their frequent correspondents. They can also put their mail on "hold", for example, while on vacation. The Post Office will store mail during the hold, instead of letting it overflow in the mailbox. These services are not available to large buildings and customers of a commercial mail receiving agency
Commercial mail receiving agency
A commercial mail receiving agency , also known as a mail drop, typically operates as a Private Mail Box Operator.A customer of a CMRA can receive mail and other deliveries at the street address of the CMRA rather than the customer's own street address...

, where mail is subsorted by non-Post Office employees into individual mailboxes.

Employment in the USPS

The Postal Service is the nation's second-largest civilian employer, after Wal-Mart. , it employed 574,000 personnel, divided into offices, processing centers, and actual post offices.

Labor unions
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 representing USPS employees include the National Association of Letter Carriers
National Association of Letter Carriers
The National Association of Letter Carriers is an American labor union, representing non-rural letter carriers employed by the United States Postal Service...

 (NALC), which represents city letter carriers, the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
The National Rural Letter Carriers' Association is an American labor union that represents Rural Letter Carriers employed by the United States Postal Service...

 (NRLCA), which represents rural letter carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union
National Postal Mail Handlers Union
The National Postal Mail Handlers Union is a progressive labor union representing more than 50,000 Mail Handler craft members in United States Postal Service facilities across the United States.- Purpose :...

 (NPMHU), which represents mail handlers, and the American Postal Workers Union
American Postal Workers Union
The American Postal Workers Union is a labor union in the United States. It represents employees of the United States Postal Service who are clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers...

 (APWU), which represents clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers. While union membership is voluntary, city carriers are organized near 90% nationally.

USPS employees are divided into three major crafts according to the work they engage in:
  • Mail carrier
    Mail carrier
    A mail carrier, mailman, postal carrier, postman, postwoman , postman/postwoman , letter carrier or postie is an employee of the post office or postal service, who delivers mail and parcel post to residences and businesses...

    s
    , also referred to as mailmen are divided into two categories: City Letter Carriers, who are represented by the NALC, and Rural Letter Carrier
    Rural Letter Carrier
    Rural letter carriers are United States Postal Service employees who deliver mail in what are traditionally considered rural areas of the United States...

    s
    , who are represented by the NRLCA. City carriers are paid hourly with the potential for overtime. City Carriers are also subject to "undertime" on a daily basis. "Pivoting" is when a Carrier's assigned route will take less than 8 hours to complete. Management may "pivot" the Carrier to work on another route to fill that Carrier up to 8 hours. Pivoting is a tool postal management uses to redistribute and eliminate overtime costs, based on consultation with the Carrier about his/her estimated workload for the day and mail volume projections from the DOIS (Delivery Operations Information System) computer program. City Carrier routes are adjusted and/ or eliminated based on information (length, time, and overall workload) also controlled by this program, consultations with the Carrier assigned to the route, and a current PS Form 3999 (street observation by a Postal supervisor to determine accurate times spent on actual delivery of mail).
  • Rural carriers are under a form of salary called "evaluated hours", usually with overtime built in to their pay. The evaluated hours are created by having all mail counted for a period of two or four weeks, and a formula used to create the set dollar amount they will be paid for each day worked until the next time the route is counted.
  • Mail handlers and processors, who prepare mail and parcels for delivery.
  • Clerks, who directly handle customer needs and sort standard and bulk-rate mail. Data Conversion Operators, who encode address information at Remote Encoding Centers, are also members of the clerk craft.


Other non-managerial positions in the USPS include:
  • Maintenance and custodians, who see to the overall operation and cleaning of mail sorting machines, work areas, public parking and general facility operations.
  • Transitional employees (TEs), who are hired for terms of 360 days (with the option of appointment to another 360 day term after a 5 day break), are given the same hourly base pay as a Part Time Flexible carrier, but receive no benefits other than annual leave. Transitional employees may be released by the USPS upon completion of their 360 day term, lack of work, or for "just cause" and can be represented by the NALC.
  • Career, Part Time Flexible and Transitional employees (Career, PTF & TE DCOs) at a remote encoding center are still under clerks category but under a different contract than a plant worker or mail carrier and, therefore, are also under a different union (APWU) than the above mentioned Career, TEs and PTFs. There are several differences between working as a carrier or plant worker VS. working at a REC. Even pay is different.


Though the USPS employs many individuals, as more Americans send information via email, fewer postal workers are needed to work dwindling amounts of mail. Post offices and mail facilities are constantly downsizing, replacing craft positions with new machines and consolidating mail routes through the MIARAP (Modified Interim Alternate Route Adjustment Process) agreement. A major round of job cuts, early retirements, and a construction freeze were announced on March 20, 2009.

Violence as "going postal"

In the early 1990s, widely publicized workplace shootings by disgruntled employees at USPS facilities led to a postal regulation that prohibits the possession of firearms in all postal facilities. Due to media coverage, postal employees gained a reputation among the general public as more likely to be mentally ill. The USPS Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace found that "Postal workers are only a third as likely as those in the national workforce to be victims of homicide at work."

This stereotype in turn has influenced American culture, as seen in the slang term "going postal
Going postal
Going postal, in American English slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment....

" (see Patrick Sherrill
Patrick Sherrill
Patrick Henry Sherrill was a United States Postal Service employee who, on August 20, 1986, in Edmond, Oklahoma, killed 14 employees with two .45 caliber pistols at his work place before turning one of the guns on himself and committing suicide...

 for information on his August 20, 1986, rampage) and the computer game Postal. Also, in the opening sequence of Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, a yell of "Disgruntled postal workers" is heard, followed by the arrival of postal workers with machine guns. In an episode of Seinfeld
Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

, the character Newman
Newman (Seinfeld)
Newman is a recurring character on the television show Seinfeld, played by Wayne Knight from 1991 until the show's finale in 1998.-Background:...

, who is a mailman, explained in a dramatic monologue that postal workers "go crazy and kill everyone" because the mail never stops. In The Simpsons episode Sunday, Cruddy Sunday
Sunday, Cruddy Sunday
"Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" is the twelfth episode of The Simpsons tenth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 31, 1999, just after Super Bowl XXXIII. In the episode, while buying new tires for his car, Homer meets a travel agent called Wally Kogen...

, Nelson Muntz
Nelson Muntz
Nelson Mandela Muntz is a fictional character and bully from the animated TV series The Simpsons. He is voiced by Nancy Cartwright. Nelson was introduced in Season 1's "Bart the General" as a bully but later turned into a friend of Bart Simpson, who is best identified by his signature laugh .-Role...

 asks Postmaster Bill if he has "ever gone on a killing spree", with a reply of, "The day of the disgruntled postman went out with the Macarena
Macarena (song)
"Macarena" is a Spanish dance song by Los del Río about a woman of the same name. Appearing on the 1994 album A mí me gusta, it was an international hit between 1995 and 1996, and continues to have a cult following. It was ranked the "#1 Greatest One-Hit Wonder of all Time" by VH1 in 2002.The song...

".

In fiction

  • In the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street
    Miracle on 34th Street
    Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas film written by George Seaton from a story by Valentine Davies, directed by George Seaton and starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn...

    , the identity of Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn
    Edmund Gwenn
    Edmund Gwenn was an English theatre and film actor.-Background:Born Edmund John Kellaway in Wandsworth, London , and educated at St. Olave's School and later at King's College London, Gwenn began his acting career in the theatre in 1895...

    ) as the one and only "Santa Claus" was validated by a state court, based on the delivery of 21 bags of mail (famously carried into the courtroom) to the character in question. The contention was that it would have been illegal for the United States Post Office to deliver mail that was addressed to "Santa Claus" to the character "Kris Kringle" unless he was, in fact, the one and only Santa Claus. Judge Henry X. Harper (played by Gene Lockhart
    Gene Lockhart
    Eugene "Gene" Lockhart was a Canadian character actor, singer, and playwright. He also wrote the lyrics to a number of popular songs.-Early life:...

    ) ruled that since the US Government had demonstrated through the delivery of the bags of mail that Kris Kringle was Santa Claus, the State of New York did not have the authority to overrule that decision.
  • In the TV series Seinfeld
    Seinfeld
    Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

    , Newman
    Newman (Seinfeld)
    Newman is a recurring character on the television show Seinfeld, played by Wayne Knight from 1991 until the show's finale in 1998.-Background:...

     is an employee at the USPS, which is portrayed in the series as a powerful, nefarious organization. He claims that ZIP code
    ZIP Code
    ZIP codes are a system of postal codes used by the United States Postal Service since 1963. The term ZIP, an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan, is properly written in capital letters and was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when senders use the...

    s are meaningless; no mail carrier has successfully delivered more than 50% of their mail (a feat he compares to the 3-minute mile); and that several postal workers go on killing sprees because, as he puts it, "the mail never stops". In one episode, Cosmo Kramer
    Cosmo Kramer
    Cosmo Kramer, usually referred to as simply "Kramer", is a fictional character on the American television sitcom Seinfeld , played by Michael Richards...

     is abducted by Post Office security men for running an anti-mail campaign after he realizes the Postal Service has become obsolete.
  • The TV series Cheers
    Cheers
    Cheers is an American situation comedy television series that ran for 11 seasons from 1982 to 1993. It was produced by Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions, in association with Paramount Network Television for NBC, and was created by the team of James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles...

    featured John Ratzenberger
    John Ratzenberger
    John Deszo Ratzenberger is an American actor, voice actor, and entrepreneur. He is best known for his role as Cliff Clavin in Cheers.-Early life:...

     as Cliff Clavin
    Cliff Clavin
    Clifford C. Clavin, Jr. is a character on the American television show Cheers, co-created and portrayed by John Ratzenberger.- Character history :...

    , a USPS worker and a regular in the bar. Ratzenberger, along with the rest of the show's cast, appears in an induction video for U.S. Postal Services staff.

See also

  • Administrative law judge
    Administrative law judge
    An administrative law judge in the United States is an official who presides at an administrative trial-type hearing to resolve a dispute between a government agency and someone affected by a decision of that agency. The ALJ is usually the initial trier of fact and decision maker...

  • American Letter Mail Company
    American Letter Mail Company
    The American Letter Mail Company was started by Lysander Spooner in 1844, competing with the legal monopoly of the United States Post Office in violation of the Private Express Statutes. It succeeded in delivering mail for lower prices, but the U.S...

  • Canada Post
    Canada Post
    Canada Post Corporation, known more simply as Canada Post , is the Canadian crown corporation which functions as the country's primary postal operator...

  • History of United States postage rates
  • Indian Post – Indian Postal Service
  • Philately
    Philately
    Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...

     – stamp collecting
  • Royal Mail
    Royal Mail
    Royal Mail is the government-owned postal service in the United Kingdom. Royal Mail Holdings plc owns Royal Mail Group Limited, which in turn operates the brands Royal Mail and Parcelforce Worldwide...

     – United Kingdom Postal Service
  • Section of Painting and Sculpture
    Section of Painting and Sculpture
    The Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture , commonly known as "the Section," was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the United States Department of the Treasury....

     – WPA post-office murals
  • U.S. Postal Exams
  • Union
    Trade union
    A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

    s of the U.S. Postal Service:
    • American Postal Workers Union
      American Postal Workers Union
      The American Postal Workers Union is a labor union in the United States. It represents employees of the United States Postal Service who are clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers...

    • National Association of Letter Carriers
      National Association of Letter Carriers
      The National Association of Letter Carriers is an American labor union, representing non-rural letter carriers employed by the United States Postal Service...

    • National Postal Mail Handlers Union
      National Postal Mail Handlers Union
      The National Postal Mail Handlers Union is a progressive labor union representing more than 50,000 Mail Handler craft members in United States Postal Service facilities across the United States.- Purpose :...

    • National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
      National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
      The National Rural Letter Carriers' Association is an American labor union that represents Rural Letter Carriers employed by the United States Postal Service...


  • United States postal abbreviations
  • United States Postal Service creed
    United States Postal Service creed
    The United States Postal Service has no official creed or motto.Often falsely cited as such, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is an inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, derived from...


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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