Post offices across the country are falling apart with little prospect of repair or improved safety for workers. According to a recent report by the U.S. Post Office inspector general (IG), an astounding 73 percent of audited facilities had unreported maintenance issues, including broken lights, damaged pavement, and ceiling issues. These maintenance problems are nothing new. A 2021 IG report found that 60 percent of reviewed locations in the Postal Service’s Eastern Area had “building safety and security issues as well as potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.” These repairs don’t come cheap, and America’s mail carrier already spends about $2 billion per year on upkeep. The Postal Service can and should find innovative ways to serve consumers while keeping maintenance costs at a minimum.
Postal consumers and elected officials have spoken out for years about lackluster postal maintenance but little has changed. In 2022, CBS’s San Diego affiliate reported that it had “received concerns from residents about a post office located in the Encanto neighborhood, the Earl B. Gilliam Post Office, named after the city’s first Black federal judge.” CBS 8 continued: “For several years advocates and locals have spoken out about the lack of maintenance at the Encanto Post Office, many calling it an absolute insult to the person it was named after.”
Along with miscellaneous safety concerns cited in a 2017 audit, trash buildup, dead bushes, and graffiti made going to the post office a harrowing ordeal. The Postal Service finally started cleaning up after the embarrassing 2022 CBS report, though it remains to be seen how much progress will be made. (RELATED: Postal Monopoly Fails to Deliver Competition)
The Postal Service is slated to spend an additional $4 billion over the next 10 years — on top of its usual spending — to “provide a world-class customer experience, including updating the appearance of retail facilities.” But the agency is on track to lose $60–70 billion by 2030 and is poorly situated to make these large-scale spending commitments.
One low-cost solution is for the Postal Service to partner with retail stores in providing services to consumers. Large chains with expansive retail footprints could agree to offer mail services to consumers through their own infrastructure in exchange for a portion of postal revenues. Well-capitalized companies tend to face little issue financing maintenance issues, and the Postal Service could save on repairs — and even free up resources — by selling post offices. America’s mail carrier already sells stamps at grocery stores and pharmacies, but a wider-scale partnership could entail companies offering packaging and tracking services for consumers.
Unfortunately, postal unions have prevented this possible solution from becoming a reality. When the Postal Service and Staples launched a pilot program in 2013 to provide mailing services at the retailer’s locations, the American Postal Workers Union cried foul and launched protests and legal action against the agency. The promising partnership — which lowered costs for the Postal Service and expanded options for consumers — was finally killed by a 2016 National Labor Relations Board ruling instigated by the powerful union.
These partnerships could benefit consumers, taxpayers, and even postal workers by creating a lower-cost postal system. Any progress would likely require congressional action to clarify the agency’s rights and responsibilities surrounding retail partnerships. For example, lawmakers could ensure that a set percentage of retail partnership proceeds would be directed toward employer-side Thrift Savings Plan contributions. This shared benefit system could improve relations between the Postal Service and its beleaguered workforce and help get the agency back into the black.
The Postal Service and Congress should deliver on a bold, new plan that harnesses market players to keep maintenance expenses at a minimum.
Ross Marchand is a non-resident fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
READ MORE by Ross Marchand:
Consumers Face Double Whammy of Stamp Fraud and Postal Service Snooping
Postal Regulators Save the Day for Taxpayers and Consumers
The US Postal Service’s (Entirely Avoidable) Religious Liberty Fiasco