Guest Editorial Week Of 11/14/2022

Ross Marchand

Is mission creep plaguing the work of postal service?

For the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, delivering the mail on time without torpedoing taxpayer dollars has proven quite the challenge. Policing a vast array of mail crime is even more difficult and requires constant vigilance on the part of America’s mail carrier. With the help of the New York Police Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) recently nabbed four people involved in a multi-million-dollar scheme to steal credit cards from the mail and use them at high-end retail stores. Unfortunately, these successful enforcement cases are rare and mail crime too often goes unpunished. It’s imperative that the USPIS focuses on delivering justice.
Over the past couple of years, postal consumers have had to make do with lackluster service and rising theft. On the same day that the House Oversight Committee met to discuss postal issues plaguing Pennsylvania, the Cheltenham Township Police Department “advised residents not to put mail with cash or checks inside the blue drop box outside the Elkins Park Post office on Ashbourne Road. The box, according to police, has been a favorite target for money-hungry thieves.” Pennsylvania is one of the top states for mailed check theft, and these crimes have gone largely unresolved thanks to the USPS’ lackluster investigations process. From March 2020 through February 2021, the USPIS opened about 1,100 mail theft cases, a tiny fraction of the 300,000 mail thefts reported over that time period.
While the USPIS has more than 2,000 employees and a budget of roughly $500 million per year, the service is plagued by mission creep
In April 2021, Yahoo News reported that the service runs an investigation unit known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP; since renamed the “Analytics Team”) which sounds more like a CIA op than a postal division. According to the news outlet, “[t]he work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.”
As if that isn’t creepy enough, the agency uses facial recognition software during internet searches “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals.” All this snooping has come at the expense of direly needed investigations of criminal activity. According to the IG, about a third of USPIS’ investigative activities, “do not directly support protection of Postal Service assets, Postal Service employees, or the mail system.”
Restoring a basic semblance of mail security requires that USPS leadership hold the Postal Inspection Service accountable and tie future funding to core investigative activities.
New agency policies can also ensure that mail is transported speedily and more securely. The USPS already contracts out some of its deliveries via the Contract Delivery Service (CDS), though contractors currently deliver to less than 2 percent of all delivery points. Interestingly, the USPS has consistently overestimated CDS costs (by about 7 percent), which may have led to the agency not using contractors as much as it could have over the past few years.
Turbocharging this service could mean more trucks humming along on the last mile with greater security precautions at a fraction of ordinary compensation costs. Contractors, after all, have skin in the game and know too well that stolen mail will lead to the termination of their postal partnerships.
Postal consumers have had to worry about their mail being stolen for far too long. It’s time for the USPS to reassess its mission and deliver on a secure and affordable mail system.

Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.


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