The colonists figured this out in 1775. Creation and maintenance of a standard national communication system that reached everyone was important then and remains so today. A national postal service is expressly authorized in the U.S. Constitution to carry, deliver and regulate mail. Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster general, helped create a system of efficient routes and rates. Today, electronic, virtual systems dominate the landscape, but even so, public, physical delivery remains essential for many items of commerce and communication. Now that private delivery companies are ubiquitous, the usefulness of a public delivery entity without a profit motive is in question.
The current controversy about ballots carried by the United States Postal Service (USPS) is a stark reminder that there is a place for a standard, ubiquitous and public system without political or profit bias. Although less economically efficient, USPS’s status as a constitutionally-mandated office gives it a singular status and responsibility. Tampering with the postal service is a serious offense; its integrity is jealously guarded by the United States Postal Inspection Service, sworn federal enforcement officers. While economies of scale and technological advances are necessary for effective operation, reliable and competent service of a national network that reaches all communities, large and small, remains a vital component of our society.
In military parlance, an “order of battle” is used to describe the organization and hierarchy of forces used to meet and defeat an enemy. Units vary in size and function, but all depend on communications, logistics and effectiveness. Without an organized and flexible network of command and control, even the best laid plans usually go awry. Civilian organizations follow the same logic; well-run organizations are based on a solid structure of personnel, location, size, activity/communication, equipment and training. Preparation and flexibility take advantage of good economic periods and soften the blows of difficult episodes. When unfortunate circumstances disrupt one set of assumptions and operations, a basic understanding and functional alternative is critical for survival. USPS is a critical component of the United States’ communication structure, a national network that reaches every nook and cranny of our nation.
Questioning efficiencies is always a prudent business discussion, but undermining the intent and premise of the basic system is a paradigm shift with enormous impact. The idiom, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” has significance in this instance. The underlying connection of all communities with standard rules and regulations is of paramount importance. Similar to our national network of highways, usage may be uneven and not always produce a profitable financial return, but strategic connectivity overrides such considerations. Interstate highways and “principal arterials” provide networks of daily commerce and emergency access when necessary. Our postal network fulfills the same function.