On March 22, 1981, the cost of mailing a first-class letter will go to 18 cents from the current 15 cents. But the stamp will be a non-denominational “B” postage stamp. This indicates that the postal service’s board of governors is not satisfied. It wants at least 20 cents to be the price you pay and is asking the Postal Rate Commission to raise first-class mail to that level. In 1973, first-class postage was eight cents.
Service continues to deteriorate. There is no longer any delivery to the door at new housing projects. The mailman delivers to a cluster of mailboxes and residents have to go there to pick up their mail, rain or shine. In many areas mail pickups have been reduced to one a day. Mailboxes have been removed from many residential areas. Saturday window service has been cut back. Even Saturday delivery may be dropped.
The board of governors of the postal service is run by business executives with a sprinkling of academics. For years, the chairman was M.A. Wright, the top executive of Exxon U.S.A. Now the chairman is Robert Hardesty, a vice chancellor at the University of Texas. There are no representatives of first class household users or of the neighborhoods where the postal service’s historic function of binding together the nation occurs or does not occur.
I asked the postmaster general, William F. Bolger, about this gap. He replied that he thought he represented the neighborhood people on the board. I asked whether he would support a regular public session between the board of governors during their monthly meeting in Washington and members of the mail-using public who could come and sit in the room. Presently, the board meets partly in privacy and party in public where several dozen chairs for observing visitors are available.
Bolger strongly opposed, as contrary to management principles, what I believe would be good sensitivity sessions providing citizen feedback to the excessivly unknown board. (How many Americans scoffing at the postal service in the ’70s knew that an Exxon executive was the chairman of its board, for example?)
In December, I submitted to Bolger a proposal to facilitate the informed organization of postal customers who are interested in responsive delivery service and reasonable rates. Such a consumer organization would have local chapters around the country and a professional staff to deal with immediate and far-range postal problems and opportunities. A grass-roots awareness and knowledge would be built up around this essential but declining mass communications system.
Let’s call this organization the Post Office Consumer Action Group (POCAG). It could be funded by voluntary contributions solicited on a regular basis by a mailing sent to all residential postal addresses. Presently, Bolger is considering a mailing to all such addresses to explain the nine-digit ZIP code. An invitation to join POCAG (for, say, $5 annual dues) could be included in this mailing at very nominal cost. Or a special annual mailing could be conducted through the postal service. POCAG members could vote for their local and national council of directors, who, in turn, would retain skilled advocates and specialists.
U.S. postal policy decision presently are shaped by management, labor unions and lobbyists for mass mailers. The household-small business, first-class user has no organization and no advocates.
Besieged by the competition of the telephone, new electronic mail transmission systems and private companies competing for package deliveries, the postal service needs help. Its management and top personnel are too introverted to recognize that values other than strict mercantile ones must measure the adequacy and future of mail service. Postal service spokesmen, for instance, receive their priorities from mail-volume percentages. Household users mail less than 18 percent of the annual postal service delivery volume. Yet they make up the vast proportion of all the people who use the service and their message are qualitatively different than, say, a third-class, mail order seller.
A postal users group can present these other values effectively from Elm Street to Main Street to Washington. Let Postmaster General William Bolger know your views by writing him at the U.S. Postal Service, Washington, D.C., 20260. If you want a copy of my letter to Bolger, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to K. Conkey, P.O. Box 19312, Washington, D.C., 20036.