The United States Postmaster General
Steven P. Rosen, CPA, MBA, CPA
The History and Power of the Office of the Postmaster General
By: Steven P. Rosen, CPA, MBA, CPA
The position of the Postmaster General (PMG) is something that has existed since before the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution. Benjamin Frankilin was appointed to the first holder of the title by the Continental Congress on July 26, 1775 and was later supplanted by Richard Bache and Ebenezer Hazard as roles of the key players in the American Revolution and the formation of the United States of America unfolded.
In the early years of our country, the position was one of a reward to loyalty to the President but was one of great importance as it was a central a vital service to a young developing country as it was the “Post Office” was the only way to safely send communications among the former colonies, conduct interstate commerce, and resolve financial transactions as the banking system was not clearly defined. This why under Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 established the power to form Post Offices and Post Roads, these powers, rules and regulations are covered under Title 18, Chapter 83 of the United States Code. The powers granted under these laws while modified on the surface over the years have not been repealed or replaced by any means.
George Washington signed the first legislation creating the United Post Office Department (USPOD) in 1792 but the term,” Post Office”, was used until 1823 when then Postmaster General John McLean started using the official name of Postal Department. The power and prestige of the USPOD changed significantly when Andrew Jackson appointed William T. Barry to the position of Postmaster General and made him a sitting member of the cabinet. In order to maintain the integrity of the USPOD, the Pendelton Civil Service Reform Act of 1838 removed the political spoils aspect of the appointment of PMG to be subject to confirmation by the United States Senate. Further, this also when the practice of the PMG negotiating treaties between other countries and agreements for the establishment of international mail service. This latter led to the formation of the Universal Postal Union which is an assemblage of the entirety of the postal services around the planet. A “governing body” of which the PMG still sits on today,
With the unreliability of the banking system over the years led the USPOD the be brought to service in providing a stable and uniform way for citizens to safely and securely conduct business. The UPOD was responsible for the issuance of postage stamps (a form of legal tender), transportation of gold and currency through the mail, train and ocean vessel, and with the formation of the United States Postal Savings System in 1910 was a primary source of banking in the country. Even the transportation of gold, silver, and copper for the United States Mint and Department of the Treasury was the duty of the USPOD.
Additionally, during times of war, the USPOD was the primary transaction source for War Bonds to finance military operations. If it was not for the reliability of the USPOD and the reliability of its Postal Savings System, the United States would have not recovered from the Great Depression as it took until the 1950 for people to regain “trust” in banks.
The USPOD was the cornerstone of United States economics and commerce from 1823 until 1967 when Lyndon B. Johnson without legal authority dismantled the Postal Savings System by Executive Order. This was a deliberate and calculated measure to financially destabilize the USPOD that led to funding issues, labor strife, and political gamesmanship that survives to this day.
Things changed with Richard M. Nixon signing the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 that change the USPOD to the United States Postal Service (USPS) and formed the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRG) for oversight. While the name changed and the management structure got a new look, not of the duties, responsibilities of the Post Office changed nor the powers of the PMG except for the removal of the position as a cabinet post. However, the right of appointment and ultimate control of the USPS remains in the oval office.
Another item of note is that the reported financial woes of the Post Service is not from its operations, but from the requirements of the Posta Reform Act of 1996 that required the USPS to pre-fund 75% of its pension, welfare and benefit obligations in advance. This is a requirement that is not put upon any other agency, business, department or non-government organization in existence.
Whether you call it the Post Office, United States Post Office Department, or United States Postal Service, the duties, responsibility of the Postmaster General is the same, they and their department are the ones responsible for the following, just to name a few:
Overseeing all U.S. Postal Service Operations Worldwide.
Protecting the Assets, Property, and Personnel of the U.S. Postal Service
Training of all U.S. Postal Service Personnel
Per Executive Order 11002, Responsible for the oversight, development, deployment, and maintenance of the United State Emergency Registration System. Coordinate with the Defense Department, Office of Emergency Planning, and other Federal Agencies and Departments to provide for the National Defense and the protection of United States Citizenry, Property, and Territories.
Directing Postal Employees to provide centralized response, welfare inquires, and provide the forms of Procurement, Transportation, Storage, and Distribution of necessary response to a National Emergency in Coordination with the Department of Defense.
Delivering and Overseeing Mail Operations for the Department of Defense and all its bases, facilities, offices, and outposts around the world.
Represent the interests of the United States before the Universal Postal Union.
Act as the Liaison between the USPS and all other U.S. Government Agencies and affiliates to guarantee and insure the mail services needs of said organizations.