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Nine ways the Postal Service is not a real business
Posted On: Oct 07, 2013

Nine Ways the Postal Service Is Not Like a Real Business

The hand wringing about the U.S. Postal Service’s broken “business model” doesn’t fool us. The “dot com” at the end of “” doesn’t fool us. The nagging of politicians and pundits who say USPS should operate more like a business doesn’t fool us.

Despite all the talk about the Postal Service being a business, regular people understand it has the soul of a government agency and in fact is not allowed to act in a businesslike manner. Here are nine examples of how USPS is not like a real business:
  1. Real businesses underfund their pensions. The Postal Service overfunded its pension plan (to the benefit of the federal government, not postal employees).

  2. When a too-big-to-fail business gets into financial trouble, the federal government often props it up with interest-free loans in the name of economic stimulus. When the Postal Service ran into financial trouble, Congress insisted that it continue lending interest-free money to the federal government in the guise of prepaid retiree health benefits.

  3. A real business with thousands of employees might pay its CEO $50 million a year, and no one bats an eyelash. But if the Postmaster General, who oversees 600,000-plus workers, earns 1% of that amount ($500,000), watch the politicians fall all over themselves lambasting the Postal Service’s lavish spending.

  4. Real businesses are governed by a board of directors, generally consisting of about a dozen leaders who are or soon become intimately familiar with the enterprise. But the supposedly independent Postal Service in reality is governed by a 535-member board known as Congress, whose members generally know nothing about the USPS’s operations except how to get a post office named and how to prevent it from closing.

  5. Board members of a real business have powerful incentives, like stock options, to make the company run more efficiently. But a member of the Postal Service’s real board (that is, a Congressman) only has incentives to preserve inefficiencies that maximize the number of postal employees and facilities in his district.

  6. When the board of a real business fails to act, board members get punished with a lower stock price and the prospect of not being re-elected. When the Postal Service’s real board of directors fails to act, postal customers get punished with higher prices.

  7. Real businesses make money on monopolies – at least until the trust busters come along. The Postal Service has a government-protected monopoly on the mailbox, but it comes with such onerous conditions that the monopoly is unprofitable.

  8. Real businesses make campaign contributions and use lobbyists to curry favor with members of Congress. The only “campaign donation” USPS makes is the franking privilege, which enables Congress members to send free mail to constituents (usually just before election time). USPS's lobbying efforts are limited severely by law.

  9. A real business that is billions in debt, has too many locations and employees, and is subject to strong union contracts would have declared Chapter 11 by now. The law would be on its side as it tried to walk away from most of its debts, scale back its operations, and even slip out of its union contracts. The Postal Service, however, apparently cannot turn to the bankruptcy courts – one more example of how the law treats it as just another government agency even though it’s supposed to operate like a business.

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