U.S. Postal Service:

Information About Restrictions on Mailbox Access

GGD-97-85: Published: May 30, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1997.

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Bernard L. Ungar
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information to help Congress assess whether changes are needed to the law that essentially gives the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) exclusive access to mailboxes, focusing on: (1) the purpose and history of the mailbox restriction; (2) current U.S. public attitudes toward the mailbox restriction; (3) views of the U.S. Postal Service, competitors, major mailers, postal labor organizations, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Postal Rate Commission on the mailbox restriction; and (4) the experience of the United States and certain other countries regarding mail theft and the need for a mailbox restriction. GAO did not independently verify this information, evaluate the effectiveness of open access to mailboxes in the 8 foreign countries, or reach an independent judgment on whether theft or mail from mailboxes is a problem in the United States or the 8 foreign countries.

GAO noted that: (1) Congress adopted the mailbox restriction in 1934 to protect postal revenue by preventing delivery of unstamped matter to mailboxes; (2) the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the mailbox restriction in 1981; (3) on the basis of its national survey, GAO estimated that the vast majority of adults are opposed to allowing just anyone to put mail into their mailboxes; (4) however, views differed regarding the desirability of mailbox access for particular companies or particular items; (5) USPS, the 7 major postal labor unions and management associations, and a contractors' association said that the mailbox restriction should remain unchanged; (6) USPS said it protects postal revenue, facilitates the efficient and secure delivery of mail, and promotes the privacy of postal customers; (7) the 7 major postal labor unions and management associations and a contractors' association gave similar reasons, saying that the restriction ensures mail security and privacy, among other things; (8) DOJ also opposed any relaxation, saying the restriction deters the distribution of sexually explicit materials to mailboxes because certain laws and regulations governing the distribution of such material apply only to mail delivered by USPS and would not apply to others if they were allowed to deliver material to mailboxes; (9) USPS's competitors generally said the restriction should be repealed or modified because it is unnecessary, impedes competition, and infringes on private property; (10) a majority of mailer groups and mailers that responded favored retaining the restriction but others had varying views about the extent to which the restriction should be changed; (11) although the Postal Inspection Service had no data on the number of mail thefts from mailboxes, Inspection Service officials said that mail theft from mailboxes is a very serious problem in the United States; (12) 6 of the 8 foreign postal administrations GAO surveyed reported minor or no problems with mail theft from mailboxes in their countries; (13) however, two factors apparently contribute to the better mailbox security reported by most of the 8 foreign postal administrations GAO surveyed: (1) the mix of residential mail receptacles was different from the mix in the United States; and (2) 7 foreign postal administrations reported that they generally do not collect outgoing mail from residential customers' mailboxes; and (14) officials of the Inspection Service said the mail box restriction helps deter mail theft and makes it easier to detect, investigate, and resolve cases of mail theft from mailboxes.

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