Regular mail and parcel service to Swans Island and Frenchboro resumed this fall, thanks to the hard work and efforts of private individuals involved in providing the service, an ad hoc group of seasonal and year-round residents, and the interest shown by members of Maine’s congressional delegation.
While the immediate crisis has passed – and carriers hauling the U.S. Mail now can deliver other vital packages and commodities – questions remain about how the U.S. Postal Service could have allowed the mess to happen in the first place.
Like many hierarchical organizations, the U.S. Postal service is awash in rules and regulations for how its business should be conducted. In the offshore island delivery case, an overzealous interpretation of the regulations prohibiting mail carriers from delivering other items as well resulted in service being suspended. Those rules may work well for mainland towns and villages, but they ignore the unusual economic and geographical challenges faced by island communities.
The system that embraced that misplaced priority is not driven by the front-line workers who try to make reasoned decisions within the Post Office’s cultural framework. What it clearly demonstrates is that the government puts a far great priority on adherence to rules than it does on providing essential services to the citizenry.
It also suggests there are far too many managers in the U.S. Postal Service worrying about rules and too few people involved in getting the front-line work done.
Fortunately, a more reasoned interpretation of the regulations allowed a compromise to be struck and vital delivery services to be resumed.
Along with fine-tuning the rules to avoid similar conflicts in the future, the U.S. Postal service needs to inculcate the value among its employees that customer service, not blind loyalty to regulations and practices that run counterintuitive to its core mission, is the institution’s top priority.