Here I’ve been complaining about how, when I want to send somebody my book — or anything else weighing more than 16 ounces — I have to take an hour off from work to trot down to the post office and hand it directly to a postal worker. I’m told by my local mail carrier this is not the Postal Service’s idea — it’s an FAA regulation in the wake of the TWA Flight 800 disaster.

Well, having stirred up so much trouble over this (see below), I figured I should do some checking. According to the Department of Transportation, this is not an FAA regulation. Rather, it grew out of Recommendation 3.1 of what was known as the Gore Commission — a White House effort to improve airline safety. In this particular instance, the Commission recommended that the USPS advise its customers that items weighing more than 16 ounces and to be shipped by air would be subject to inspection and examination.

Well, that part is fine. X-ray, sniff, pressurize — do whatever you like to my package if it’s ticking. But no place in the recommendation does it say the post office should require these packages to be banned from the ordinary mail drops. That was the USPS’s idea. And it’s really dumb, because it does nothing for safety, yet wastes a tremendous amount of time.

Here’s how it works today:

You put your book with, say, a $3 Priority Mail stamp into a mailbox — or perhaps into your own mailbox with the flag up. The USPS picks it up, takes it to the post office, sees that it weighs more than 16 ounces, delivers it back to you and then waits for you to come down with it to the post office in person and hand it to a clerk, who stamps it — thump — and tosses it onto the pile to be delivered. That thump may be the security measure: If she/he thumps it and it blows up, they know it’s a bomb. And it’s a deterrent, because you know you’ll be blown up along with the postal worker, hence you’ll decide not to be a terrorist after all.

Here’s how it should work:

The USPS should go back to collecting these packages as it always did. For security purposes, by all means inspect and examine anything above a pound if that will help, just as the Gore Commission recommended. End of discussion.

Can you imagine FedEx or UPS sticking with a customer-unfriendly policy like this so long?

Anyway, here’s what some of you had to say about Going Postal II and its predecessor:

From a postal worker on AOL:

I also work for the United States Postal Service. I am a supervisor in an area we call 010, which is the acceptance area, where we cancel all of those 17 oz. packages/magazines. I couldn’t give a —- what you send through the mail system, but I do. Apparently there wasn’t anyone you knew on TWA 881. We have the FAA inspectors with us during our entire shift and we accept their input. In other words —- OFF! Use FedEx, UPS, or any other blind company that’s just in it for a profit and doesn’t care about the safety of your family. I will still try to.

It was TWA flight 800, not 881, and I actually did know someone on it. But I don’t think allowing me to buy registered postage strips at the post office, as I suggested — showing government ID and maybe even having my picture taken — would jeopardize security or lead to more planes blowing up. Today, I can simply hand my package to a postal clerk with no ID. Why is that safer? “Or,” I asked this gentleman in my reply, “are you just very angry in general?”

He wrote back:

No sir I am not JUST very mad. I am angry with the bad rap the USPS is getting from the 16 oz. rule. I am a front line supervisor, what would probably equate to your boss. As you know, your boss more than likely has no power and just follows guidelines. I am the same. Please take note the USPS employees (and supervisors) are mostly veterans and disabled vets who feel the same. I myself don’t understand taking a package to the counter.

So I faxed Postmaster General Marvin Runyon my suggestion a few weeks ago, following the glowing review of his job performance you may have seen on NBC Nightly News, and feel sure I will get an intelligent response — and the regulation changed — any day.

From Thad Fenton:

My goodness! I’m surprised you received such responses to your ‘Going Postal’ column. I fail to see how standing in line will keep a wacko from dropping off a bomb. And does anyone think that the counter clerk will be able to come up with a police sketch days, weeks, months or years later after a mail bomb tragedy? If the USPS were really serious, they would bomb sniff all packages in the sorting centers regardless of how they were received, and abolish the drop off restriction that needlessly clogs already overcrowded USPS walk-in facilities.

From Karen Moulder:

I am a former USPS employee, having had the good sense to quit my job last June. I just want to comment on the regulations regarding the necessity to have your 16+ oz (stamped) packages hand canceled by a postal clerk. I find it incredible that this is required, when airline food service employees that board these planes have not had to go through any personal security background checks and may board planes without restriction. It seems to me that this is just another lesson in futility. I do like the idea of registered stamps. However, because it makes sense, it will undoubtedly not be implemented. Regarding the term ‘going postal’ — lighten up postal employees! It’s a joke…you know your (sic) not crazy (don’t you?).

From Jeff Borders:

I work for the Post Office, and I couldn’t care less what you think about security measures or standing in line. It seems someone of your caliber would not have to participate in such mundane chores but rather could afford to pay someone to do that for you. Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that your company does not have a postage meter, which allows you to bypass all of this. If you can’t afford these simple luxuries, then I don’t believe I need your investment advise (sic)!

The theory here being that it’s OK needlessly to inconvenience low-income people? (Or that high-income people — like that DuPont guy with the wrestling fetish — don’t occasionally go wacko also?)

From Mike Finnicum:
Could not help but read the responses to your suggestions regarding the Postal Service. I very seldom send emails like this, but I think some people need to get a life! We use FedEx and Airborne a lot because of the lack of real ‘Business Practices’ of the USPO (sic).

From Robert at AOL:

I loved your article on the USPS, and the replies. One other point though. Regardless of our problems we have the greatest mail system in the world, no if, and or buts. The best. I love the USPS. (Try mail in Saudi, or India, or….)

That’s the spirit! And I largely agree. But there’s always room for improvement — even with the United States Postal Service.

Tomorrow: A Useful Tip and Just One More Suggestion



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