Is the Post Office Affected by the Federal Shutdown?

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March 12, 2024

Even in the rain, heat, or dark, postal work was one of the essential services that kept the world running as regions around the globe went on lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the United States, USPS (United States Postal Service), also known as U.S. Postal Service (or simply the “Postal Service”), operated on the front line, delivering mail and packages to houses and businesses during the countrywide shutdown.

Many U.S. citizens rely on USPS to meet their needs. As such, post office workers take significant risks despite a global health crisis.

This situation often raises questions regarding USPS operations, especially during government shutdowns. 

Despite shutdowns affecting other federal organizations, USPS has shown a remarkable continuity in its operations. 

This trend lies in the Postal Service’s unique financial structure, distinguishing it from the usual shutdown-related disruptions experienced by other government bodies.

Ever wonder how USPS post offices remain open during federal shutdowns?

FindPostOffice.org is a trusted resource for essential information regarding USPS post offices nationwide. This article discusses the connection between USPS and national shutdowns to understand why its services will likely remain unaffected during political tensions.

Learn more about USPS’ adaptability and how it sustains delivery operations even during federal lockdowns.

What Causes a Government Shutdown?

Government shutdowns typically happen when Congress fails to approve appropriations bills, resulting in insufficient funding for government agencies and programs. 

Appropriation refers to the congressional law granting an agency budget authority. This legislation authorizes the agency to assume obligations and collect funds from the U.S. Treasury for specific purposes.

The scenario above usually happens due to disagreements over spending policies, reforms, or other contentious issues. 

Unfortunately, these disagreements often lead to partisanship during tense situations, such as global health crises, preventing lawmakers from enacting significant laws.  

As Americans witness political standoffs, the tax dollars at the center of government funding debates might be redirected from essential federal services, impacting communities negatively.

As a result, federal agencies may be forced to discontinue non-essential operations and furlough (suspend or discharge due to an economic situation) employees until a funding resolution comes into effect.

The Effects of a Government Shutdown

Government shutdowns have far-reaching repercussions, like disruptions in federal services, delayed payments to contractors, and financial instability for federal employees. 

Public services like health, national security, and law enforcement usually remain open. On the other hand, services like national parks and museums can face closures.

Does the Post Office Close During a Government Shutdown? 

Despite its federal connection, the U.S. Postal Service is set up to operate self-sufficiently. 

USPS primarily depends on revenue from postage and other services, making it less vulnerable to political turbulence than other government agencies.

Consequently, the institution can remain open during a government shutdown.

The Post Office Is Still Working During the Shutdown

Again, during a government shutdown, the U.S. Postal Service remains essential to the nation’s communication infrastructure and maintains vital communication channels open for Americans.

USPS postal workers’ salaries come from stamp and mail service revenues, so they can continue their service to individuals and businesses during political strife.

Why the U.S. Postal Service Is Never Affected by Government Shutdowns

USPS’ financial independence is a crucial factor that shields it from the impact of government shutdowns. 

Unlike federal agencies directly affected by partisan battles between Democrats and Republicans, USPS’ self-sustaining revenue model usually spares it from the fiscal year ups and downs caused by legislative feuds. 

By earning revenue through the sale of postage, delivery services, and other products, the Postal Service remains economically self-sufficient.

Is the Post Office Still Part of the Federal Government?

USPS is part of the federal government but functions as an independent agency. The Postal Service is a hybrid institution with both public service and business elements.

While it retains its federal identity, the Postal Service’s operational autonomy means it’s less constrained by the political trends often faced by other government agencies.

USPS is subject to some federal laws and regulations. Still, its own funding mechanisms and management structure set it apart from other government offices.

What Is the Post Office’s Relationship With the Federal Government?

The U.S. Postal Service is run by Congress, as defined by the Constitution’s Postal Clause (Article I, Section 8). 

While USPS follows federal regulations, its relatively independent status prevents it from getting involved in the partisan conflicts that often escalate into government shutdowns.

Congress vested USPS with extensive authority within the marketplace, exempting it from most federal laws and regulations governing properties, contracts, officers, workers, employees, budgets, and funding. 

This special status also extends to the establishment, adjudication, and judicial review of administrative decisions and procedures. 

Notably, USPS remains exempt from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), a set of rules governing purchases by federal executive agencies using appropriated funds. 

As an independent entity, USPS does not rely on appropriations and isn’t directly subject to many Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements regarding budgetary disclosures. 

That said, USPS follows OMB’s guidelines for federal agencies. The shipping agency also regularly testifies before congressional committees regarding various topics, including annual oversight hearings.

Has the Government Bailed Out the Post Office?

Despite USPS’ relative immunity to government shutdowns, the institution has faced many financial challenges. This scenario often requires government assistance.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, USPS’ operational costs surged due to the following reasons:

  • The need to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees
  • Reduced access to air transportation for deliveries
  • Increased paid sick leave credits
  • Low customer demand

In the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, Congress granted a $10 billion emergency loan to USPS. The legislative body considered the loan sufficient to cover the Postal Service’s immediate cash needs.

Still, unlike federal workers who experience financial difficulties during government shutdowns, postal workers’ job security remains intact as the Postal Service copes with economic challenges without relying on government intervention.

USPS may focus on cost-cutting measures, efficiency gains, and strategic planning to remain financially viable during crises.

How Long Will the Post Office Remain Open for Business?

With a self-sustaining revenue model and very little reorganization of its operations, USPS will likely continue to provide services even during government shutdowns.

Postal Service Funding Basics: Does USPS Get Paid During a Government Shutdown?

Yes. As mentioned, the U.S. Postal Service generates revenue from its operations, ensuring its funding stability and ability to provide essential mail and package delivery services during a government shutdown.

How Is the U.S. Postal Service Funded?

Again, a government shutdown generally does not affect the U.S. Postal Service. 

The institution is an independent entity supported by revenue from its services and products, not tax dollars.

Although USPS receives an annual appropriation, the agency does not depend on government grants. This appropriation is approximately $100 million annually, around 0.1% of USPS’ $75 billion operating budget.

Who Pays the Salaries of U.S. Postal Workers?

As mentioned, USPS relies on revenue from selling stamps, products, and services to fund its operations, including the salaries of the institution’s postal workers. 

What Role Does the Postal Service Play?

The U.S. Postal Service facilitates commerce, communication, and connectivity nationwide. The institution serves as the backbone of the supply chain by ensuring the efficient and timely delivery of mail and packages.

USPS’ role increased even more during the pandemic, as it helped deliver essential items and connect people when physical interactions were limited.

The ability of the Postal Service to remain operational during a partial government shutdown is essential to keeping vital connections between people and businesses.

How Is the U.S. Postal Service Managed?

A Board of Governors, chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate, oversees the U.S. Postal Service.

The Postmaster General, selected by the Board, supervises the day-to-day operations of the Postal Service, ensuring that services such as healthcare shipments and food stamp distribution continue seamlessly.

While USPS remains independent mainly from direct government control, it is still affected by broader government decisions, such as passing a spending bill that could affect its operations and services.

A Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) with five members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate regulates USPS, including the rates it charges.

So, the executive branch, as led today by President Biden, can influence the direction of the Postal Service. 

The Privileges Enjoyed by the Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service holds exclusive privileges that differentiate it from private-sector competitors. 

These privileges include granting affordable mail delivery rates, accessing mailboxes, and enjoying legal exemptions from state and local taxes. 

These privileges are essential for the Postal Service to function effectively, especially when small businesses and individuals increasingly depend on it.

Postal Service Management Structure

The organizational structure of the U.S. Postal Service is defined by a dual leadership model comprising the Board of Governors and its appointed Postmaster General. 

The Board of Governors plans, implements policies, and oversees the institution’s operations. 

This committee comprises nine members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. 

The Postmaster General, appointed by the Board, oversees daily operations, including mail delivery, retail mail distribution, and transportation logistics.

Decisions regarding back pay for postal workers, especially after a partial government shutdown, fall under the authority of the Postal Service’s management.

Which Federal Agencies Are Affected by the Shutdown? 

Government shutdowns affect many federal agencies, triggering furloughs, service disruptions, and financial strains. Affected agencies vary depending on whether the budget was approved before the shutdown.

For example, the 35-day shutdown during the term of former President Donald Trump, which started in late December 2018 and lasted until late January 2019, adversely affected these nine federal agencies:

  • Homeland Security
  • Treasury
  • Justice
  • Commerce
  • Agriculture
  • Interior
  • HUD (Housing and Urban Development)
  • Transportation
  • State

Meanwhile, essential services exempt from the typical appropriations processes, like Medicare, are unaffected by funding lapses caused by political impasse.

How Government Shutdowns Affect Other Federal Agencies

As shown above, government shutdowns impact various aspects of federal agencies, often resulting in reduced staffing, service interruptions, and delayed projects.

Institutions that depend on congressional appropriations for funding suffer the greatest hit, while those with independent revenue streams, like USPS, remain operational. 

This resilience ensures that USPS’ essential services, such as First-Class Mail for confidential government correspondence, run smoothly during political uncertainty.

Here are additional agencies affected by government shutdowns:

Social Security Administration

While basic services like processing Social Security payments are maintained, benefits verification and new Social Security card applications may take longer.

EPA and FDA

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigations, pollution monitoring, and regulatory activities might get cut. 

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may delay non-essential evaluations and approvals, compromising food and drug safety.

National Parks

Many national parks and government-run historical sites may close or operate at reduced capacity, affecting visitors and local economies that rely on tourism.

TSA

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may also face staffing shortages due to furloughs of TSA employees, including air traffic controllers. This scenario could result in longer airport security lines and decreased screening procedure efficiency.

IRS

During a government shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may postpone tax return processing, taxpayer assistance, and audits. This scenario can significantly impact government and taxpayers’ revenue collection.

Despite lengthy and shutdown-causing political disputes, USPS remains an exception and can maintain its services even without a congressional appropriation. 

The shipping institution’s financial autonomy enables it to function without direct reliance on federal funding and continue to play an integral role in mail and package delivery.

USPS’ operational continuity during government shutdowns is essential due to its multifaceted role. Beyond traditional mail delivery, the organization contributes positively in the following areas:

  • Economic Impact: The Postal Service facilitates communication and commerce for domestic and international businesses, thus boosting the national economy. For example, eCommerce is a rapidly growing industry that depends on the Postal Service for efficient parcel delivery.
  • Remote and Rural Areas: USPS ensures that even remote and rural regions can access essential mail and package services, providing equitable and comprehensive nationwide delivery coverage.
  • Social Connection: Card, letter, and package exchanges foster social connections in ways that digital gifts and messages could not, especially during holidays and special occasions. USPS’ uninterrupted services help maintain these crucial emotional bonds.

USPS’ ability to cope with government shutdowns underscores the significance of long-term planning, multiple revenue streams, and operational autonomy. 

This independence has gained traction in many trending national conversations, such as former President Donald Trump’s allegation in 2020 that USPS mail-in voting will result in widespread voter fraud.

Meanwhile, the organization’s example can inspire other federal agencies to explore ways to insulate themselves against the damaging consequences of political deadlock and funding concerns. Understanding the complex relationship between USPS and the federal government sheds light on the broader problems posed by government shutdowns and how government organizations can contribute to maintaining social stability.

References

  1. Operating During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    https://www.uspsoig.gov/our-work/blog-post/operating-during-covid-19-pandemic
  2. Glossary of Terms
    https://www.house.gov/the-house-explained/open-government/statement-of-disbursements/glossary-of-terms
  3. Is the Postal Service a business or a public service?
    https://www.uspsoig.gov/our-work/did-you-know/postal-service-business-or-public-service
  4. The Postal Clause’s grant of ‘broad power’ to Congress over a system in crisis
    https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-postal-clauses-grant-of-broad-power-to-congress-over-a-system-in-crisis
  5. 7-7.1 Federal Laws Applicable to the Postal Service
    https://about.usps.com/manuals/spp/html/spp7_035.htm
  6. Information on Services During the Partial Government Shutdown
    https://panetta.house.gov/information-services-during-partial-government-shutdown
  7. Timeline: The Trump Administration and the U.S. Postal Service
    https://www.justsecurity.org/72132/the-trump-administration-and-the-u-s-postal-service-a-timeline/