Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service

Chapter 8

Congressional

Policy Considerations

Introduction

Congressional authority over the role of the
U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in electronic mail
and message systems (EMS) derives in the
first instance from the U.S. Constitution
which vests in Congress the power to establish
post offices and post roads (sec. 8, clause 7)
and to regulate commerce among the several
States (sec. 8, clause 3).
USPS operates as an independent Federal
agency pursuant to the Postal Reorganization
Act enacted by Congress in 1970. It is sub
ject to policy direction by the USPS Board of
Governors and to regulatory review of mail
rates and classifications by the Postal Rate
Commission (PRC), both established by the
Postal Act. Private EMS firms operate pur
suant to the Communications Act of 1934 and
regulations promulgated by the Federal Com-
munications Commission (FCC) under authori
ty granted by the Communications Act.
Historically, technology has been used to
improve and speed up the processing, trans
portation, and delivery of mail. Thus, the
railroad, plane, truck, and automated sorting
machine have been integrated into postal op
erations. The Postal Act reiterates and
strengthens the mandate to use new facilities
and equipment to improve the convenience, ef
ficiency, and cost effectiveness of mail service.
Electronic message technology is viewed from
this perspective as one more step in an evolu
tionary process of keeping the "post offices
and post roads" up to date and competitive.
Over the last three decades, there has been
a continuing revolution in computer and com-
munication technology, a gradual deregulation
of the telecommunication industry (the com
puter industry being essentially unregulated),
and a proliferation of new and old firms offer
ing or planning to offer EMS services. Con
gress has generally encouraged this deregula
tory process, and continues to work to revise

the 1934 Communications Act to bring it in
line with current technological, economic, and
competitive realities. During the last decade
and a half, there has also been a concerted ef
fort by Congress, exemplified by the 1967
"Brooks Act" amendment to the Federal
Property and Administrative Services Act and
the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, to im
prove the Federal Government's management
and procurement of data processing and re
lated telecommunication equipment and serv
ices, and to rely on the private sector for pro
vision of such equipment and services on a
competitive basis wherever possible.
In essence, technological advances have
reached the point where these three original
ly independent congressional policy directions
are increasingly in conflict. USPS stands near
the center of this conflict. Privately offered
EMS services can and ultimately will compete
with and divert a significant portion of the
USPS conventional mainstream, based on the
market penetration analysis in chapters 3 and
4. Absent any USPS participation, this pros
pect would likely lead to significant rate in
creases and/or service and labor force reduc
tions by the year 2000. It seems clear that
USPS can benefit from participation in pro
viding EMS services, and indeed it can be
argued (see ch. 7) that USPS has the statutory
authority to participate as long as the final
output is in hardcopy letter form delivered
over postal roads. But even a minimal USPS
role delivery of EMS hardcopy output is of
concern to some private firms if such delivery
is considered subject to the Private Express
Statutes (PES). These firms believe that de
livery of hardcopy output is ancillary to com-
munication services subject to the Communi
cations Act as well as the Postal Act.
A larger USPS role that involves message
processing and computer based printing and

United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc39480/. Accessed August 30, 2015.