The Postal Service in the 21st Century: A Recent History

  • The Postal Service weathered enormous challenges since the turn of the new millennium, including the 9/11 and anthrax attacks, the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Declining mail volume accelerated by electronic diversion strained USPS finances, and the agency made substantial investments in its package business.
  • Efforts to restore the Postal Service to financial health included a presidential commission, transformation and strategic plans, postal reform legislation, and a host of initiatives to streamline the processing and retail network.
  • As the country navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, USPS delivered millions of test kits and election ballots to the American people.

The Postal Service has weathered tremendous changes since the turn of the 21st century. Despite financial challenges and declining mail volume, USPS remains a foundational institution that continues to deliver for the people of this country.

In this white paper, the OIG sought to provide a high-level overview of the Postal Service’s operational environment since 2000. The paper identifies major postal trends over the past 22 years and contextualizes those trends against the broader social, economic, and legislative environment.

The 2000s saw mail volume hit a record high, then crater following the onset of the Great Recession in late 2007. At various points in the decade, the Postal Service, Congress, and other agencies took actions intended to preserve USPS’s future.

The 2010s brought continued financial pressure, with the Postal Service’s expenses outstripping revenue during every year of the decade. The 2010s also saw its Board of Governors shrink in size, ultimately reaching zero independent governors at the end of 2016.

At the beginning of the 2020s, the Postal Service released a new 10-year strategic plan to achieve break-even operating performance and worked with legislators to pass the most significant postal reform bill since 2006, and while only two years old, the 2020s have also given the Postal Service an opportunity to showcase its value to the nation. As the country faced the COVID-19 pandemic, the Postal Service processed millions of election ballots, fulfilled orders for COVID-19 test kits, and delivered an increasing number of packages to Americans to help them through the crisis.

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