USPS Saturday Delivery Elimination: Could It Be Illegal?

Last week, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to Twitter to call out the United States Postal Service (USPS) for its recent elimination of Saturday mail delivery, stating, "@USPS decision to eliminate Saturday delivery is inconsistent with current law and threatens to further jeopardize its customer base.” 

Is Senator Collins correct that federal law specifies the days the mail must be delivered? Congress’ imposition of a 75-year pre-funding for retiree healthcare is already crippling the USPS. If Collins is indeed correct, congress is further restricting the service’s ability to provide mail service. Thankfully, Senator Collins is wrong.

Current postal operations are governed by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 and the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. These bills are implemented by 39USC (Title 39). Appropriations from Congress, regulations established by the Postal Regulatory Commission, and the Universal Postal Convention serve as the other legally binding documents for the USPS. None of these documents specifically require the USPS to deliver mail six days per week.

Title 39 requires the postal service to provide mail service to all parts of the country at reasonable rates. It also requires the establishment of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure this is done. In December 2008, the Postal Regulatory Commission submitted a report to Congress and the President on how the USO is being fulfilled and how it will be fulfilled in the future. This report was mandated by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. 

The USO is broken down in to seven parts:

- Geographic scope

- Range of products

- Access

- Delivery services

- Rates

- Quality of service

- User protection

When addressing delivery services, the USO references Title 39. “The "Universal service" provides for the receipt, transmission, and delivery of postal items (§ 403(a)).” 

The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 established the USPS as an independent government entity. Unlike other government agencies, it is required to be self-supporting. However, congress does maintain oversight. This oversight was never more evidenced by the requirement in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 that the postal service establish and fully fund within ten years, a fund to cover the health insurance costs of postal service retirees 75 years into the future. No other government agency has this requirement. This $5.5 billion annual requirement is a significant factor in the service’s current budgetary problems.

Unless congress changes or eliminates the retiree health insurance prepayment requirement, the USPS must look for other ways to save money. Increase in postage rates has become an annual practice. Post offices have been closed or identified for closure. Service reductions are the next step. This latest effort to reduce costs should not be a surprise. Any business wants to be profitable and the USPS is required to operate at a profit.

Current postal laws require the postal service to provide mail service to the entire country at reasonable rates. How the USPS does this is not specified. The elimination of Saturday delivery may be inconvenient to some, but contrary to what Senator Collins believes, it is not illegal.