The Modern Postal Service: Agency or Business?
Until adoption of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, the U.S. Postal Service functioned as a regular, tax-supported, agency of the federal government.
According to the laws under which it now operates, the U.S. Postal Service is a semi-independent federal agency, mandated to be revenue-neutral. That is, it is supposed to break even, not make a profit.
In 1982, U.S. postage stamps became "postal products," rather than a form of taxation. Since then, The bulk of the cost of operating the postal system has been paid for by customers through the sale of "postal products" and services rather than taxes.
Each class of mail is also expected to cover its share of the costs, a requirement that causes the percentage rate adjustments to vary in different classes of mail, according the costs associated with the processing and delivery characteristics of each class.
According to the costs of operations, U.S. Postal Service rates are set by the Postal Rate Commission according to the recommendations of the Postal Board of Governors. [See: Postal Service Says It Needs Even More]
Look, it's an agency!
The USPS is created as a government agency under Title 39, Section 101.1 of the United States Code which states, in part:
(a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.
Under paragraph (d) of Title 39, Section 101.1, "Postal rates shall be established to apportion the costs of all postal operations to all users of the mail on a fair and equitable basis."
No, it's a business!
the Postal Service takes on some several very non-governmental attributes via the powers granted to it under Title 39, Section 401, which include:
power to sue (and be sued) under its own name
power to adopt, amend and repeal its own regulations
power to "enter into and perform contracts, execute instruments, and determine the character of, and necessity for, its expenditures"
power to buy, sell and lease private property
power to build, operate, lease and maintain buildings and facilities
All of which are typical functions and powers of a private business. However, unlike other private businesses, the Postal Service is exempt from paying federal taxes. USPS can borrow money at discounted rates, and can condemn and acquire private property under governmental rights of eminent domain.
The USPS does get some taxpayer support. Around $96 million is budgeted annually by Congress for the "Postal Service Fund." These funds are used to compensate USPS for postage-free mailing for all legally blind persons and for mail-in election ballots sent from US citizens living overseas. A portion of the funds also pays USPS for providing address information to state and local child support enforcement agencies, and for keeping some rural posts offices in operation.
Under federal law, only the Postal Service can handle or charge postage for handling letters. Despite this virtual monopoly worth some $45 billion a year, the law does not require that the Postal Service make a profit -- only break even. Still, the US Postal Service has averaged a profit of over $1 billion per year in each of the last five years. Yet, Postal Service officials argue that they must continue to raise postage at regular intervals in order make up for the increased use of email. [See: Postal Service Says It Needs Even More]
In it's private business persona, the Postal Service ventures into E-commerce with "USPS eBillPay," a popular online bill paying service and "Postmark America," an online store for postal oriented gifts, clothing and collectibles.
For email senders, USPS offers an email certification system which enables customers to create and send messages via the Internet through a secured postal account. Customers don’t need an Internet service provider to send electronic messages.
USPS -- One Big and Busy Outfit
Today, the U.S. Postal Service:
Delivered mail to 134 million delivery addresses, including 20 million post office boxes. About 1 million new addresses are added each year.
Carried more mail to more people over a larger geographic area than any other country
Served 7 million customers daily at one of 38,000 postal retail outlets
Employed 750,000 career mail carriers, including 235,985 veterans and 47,937 employees with disabilities
Leased more than 27,000 facilities at a cost of $727 million a year, providing tax revenue to thousands of communities
Paid $1.6 billion in employee salaries and benefits every two weeks
The Postal Service currently handles more than 200 billion pieces of mail a year, or five pieces per address per day.
Source : http://usgovinfo.about.com/blpostalservice.htm