POSTAL SERVICE AND THE PUBLIC: A CASE STUDY IN PUBLIC POLICY
This is a study of postal service development in the United States from the 1770s to the present. It presents a comparative perspective on the change of the Post Office from a government department to a public corporation and what this transformation tells us about the American political system's approach to public service provision.
The history of the Post Office indicates three major tensions in the approach to postal service. All three represent continuing accommodations within the American political culture. The Post Office has always been a national institution, but the types of ties to localities have changed so that it is presently removed from significant input from communities. Its role in helping to promote commerce has always been important, but recent reforms have moved the Post Office closer to a business form, which changes its abilities or stance as a public service. Finally, there have always been financial constraints on the Post Office, but whereas earlier the extension of service was politically attractive and economically feasible, the economics of postal service and Post Office deficits have made finances a significant focus of postal decisionmaking.
The development of postal service in the United States reflects changes in the political system and the way in which it deals with public service demands. The use of the government corporation form subjects the Post Office to different pressures and influences than use of the government department form, and so defines public service in a changed manner. The Postal Service has become more attentive to demands consistent with a corporate form, while it has become less responsive to more traditional types of political pressure placed on government departments. This has altered the orientation and nature of service, and the place of the Post Office within the context of a governmental agency.