Through the United States Postal Service, we receive the vast majority of our mailings each and every day. In that way, the USPS is like the North Star, ever-present, unwavering.
Yet the organization’s recent financial issues have raised questions about its funding, and headlines about U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have underscored its management.
It all begs the question: Is USPS a government agency? Here is the answer you need, and it might not be what you think.
Is USPS a Government Agency?
The United States Postal Service is one of the independent agencies of the U.S. government under the executive branch. As an independent agency, the president’s authority over the organization is limited, particularly their ability to dismiss and name agency leaders. The USPS is not funded by any tax dollars.
To learn more about how the USPS is funded, how it’s governed, if working for the USPS is a federal job, and if the organization could ever be privatized, see all the details below!
Is USPS Funded by the Government?
It might come as a surprise for you to learn that the United States Postal Service, despite being an agency of the executive branch (the same as the president’s office), is not funded by taxes.
That’s right, no part of the USPS is funded by taxpayer dollars; instead, the USPS runs entirely on the “sale of postage, products and services.”
While the Postal Service has made its stretched financial situation work over the decades, recent years have hit the organization hard.
Waning sales, to the tune of billions of dollars less than in previous years, have forced the Postal Service head to make some tough choices, many of which have been criticized.
Without the sure allotment of taxpayer dollars (which many other agencies receive), the Postal Service is on the hook to cover operational costs, as well as retiree benefits and pensions.
USPS’s latest leader, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, recently announced a 10-year plan to help make the organization “financially sustainable.”
But his now-implemented idea to slow First-Class mail – a move which could prove disastrous for rural communities – has been met with significant criticism, even as it saves $160 billion.
According to the Brookings Institute, a huge part of the financial issue is that the organization is legally committed to pre-funding “retiree costs out of current income.”
So while postage/service sales have slowed, USPS must still take big chunks of money out of their revenue to hold for future retirees.
Without the help of taxpayer dollars, this is proving more and more difficult.
Is USPS Privately Owned?
USPS is not privately owned. It is a government agency, albeit an independent one which limits the power of the president to remove and name leaders and members.
So instead of answering to a CEO, as in a private company, the person at the top is the U.S. Postmaster General.
How Is USPS Governed?
According to the Brookings Institute, the Postal Service (called The Post Office Department) became a cabinet department in the late 1800s.
It wasn’t until almost exactly 100 years later, in 1971, that Congress changed the Postal Service’s status to an independent agency.
It is now under the management of the U.S. Postmaster General, the Deputy Postmaster General, and nine governors – this group acts like an executive board at a corporation.
While the governors appoint the Postmaster General, the president can appoint the governors, so the current Commander-In-Chief is limited in power but not entirely removed.
Is Working For USPS a Federal Job?
USPS employees are not technically considered federal employees, however, they must follow federal rules, and they receive federal benefits.
This slightly hazy grey area is likely due to the fact that the Postal Service is an independent agency of the U.S. government, and it is not funded by taxpayers.
This grey area was all the more evident when the Biden administration announced an executive order in 2021 that all federal employees would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
(Or they would be subject to weekly testing.)
There was immediate confusion over whether or not that included Postal Service employees.
As it turned out, Postal Service employees were not subject to the federal employee rule but rather the “businesses employing more than 100 people” rule.
Indeed, the Biden administration had to issue a special statement clarifying the issue, so the relationship between the Postal Service and the federal government is confusing.
Who Owns the Post Office Buildings?
As of 2015, the U.S. Postal Service only owned about 8,500 of its 32,000+ locations at that time.
The land and the buildings – the vast majority are leased from private entities.
As a federally-adjacent organization – an independent agency of the executive branch – with a non-taxpayer funded set-up, USPS pays for its operations out of postage sales.
And those postage sales have seemingly never made it particularly financially sound to actually own that many buildings outright.
A quick Google will reveal a surprising sub-market of real estate involving Post Offices locations.
The site AmericanPostalOwners.com exists to inform and guide interested parties in the benefits and pitfalls of Post Office ownership.
A 2015 article from DailyYonder.com remarks on the phenomenon of long-distance Post Office ownership.
It highlights the difficulties with getting maintenance when the owner is hundreds of miles away and unreachable.
Will USPS Ever Be Privatized?
The idea of privatizing – that is, turning USPS into a privately held, not a government-adjacent organization – the United States Postal Service has long been floated.
In fact, Lisa Graves, on behalf of True North Research and In the Public Interest, compiled a report of attempts by American billionaires to privatize the organization.
Donald Trump, during his tenure as president, also seemingly supported the idea, even proposing a “sweeping reorganization,” though Congress did not take up the gauntlet.
His was just the latest in a series of Republican-led pushes to turn one of the country’s major employers (USPS has 600,000+ employees) into a privately owned company.