Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal


What is the United States Postal Service (USPS)? The entity’s future, financial and otherwise, is wrapped up in the answer to this fundamental, yet surprisingly complicated, question. The postal service in the United States began as a part of the federal government, but over the years, Congress has altered its structure. Today’s USPS is an entity situated somewhere between a public, governmental agency and a private business. It has attributes resembling both, and while most observers agree that it is becoming more “privatized,” it is still subject to a significant number of laws and regulations that do not apply to private businesses. In addition, the USPS has a federally imposed “universal service obligation”—a requirement to deliver mail to every corner of the country—and a public-oriented mission that predates the birth of America itself. This Essay argues that the USPS’s structural identity—or lack thereof—poses innumerable problems, including and especially the lack of a readily available safety net, such as bankruptcy, in the event of the entity’s financial crisis. The need for more clarity on exactly what the USPS is—public agency or private business—is increasingly important as the USPS plunges deeper into a financial crisis that is decades in the making. Thus, this Essay contends that the way forward for the USPS is another restructuring, this time in the form of a commitment to transform the USPS into either a fully public agency or a fully private business. The status quo, in which it is unclear whether the USPS is one or the other, is simply untenable. The Essay proceeds as follows. Part II provides a history of the USPS, while Part III describes its current financial predicament. Part IV discusses why bankruptcy is not an appropriate or workable option for the USPS to resolve its financial difficulties, while Part V sets forth this Essay’s recommendations for the future structure of the USPS. Part VI briefly concludes by emphasizing the uniqueness of the USPS’s situation and status.