Saturday, November 26, 2011

The USPS 13-Ounce Rule

Over lunch this past week I learned more details about the USPS 13-Ounce Rule. I myself have seldom run afoul of the rule because I generally don't weigh packages at home before shipping. The essence of the rule is this: if a package weighs over 13 ounces, you have to deliver it to the post office in person. You can't drop it in a mail slot or a blue post office box. You have to stand in line, no matter how long the line is, and wait. This way you can be asked if there are any explosives in the package.

This rule went into effect in 2007 as a Homeland Security measure. It makes terrorists tremble in fear because terrorists are not very good at lying (haha) and will no doubt break down in the face of such stringent interrogation by a mailing clerk. "Does your package contain explosives?" "Uhm, gee, I hope not."

The real effect of the rule is to make lines even longer at the post office, and to make business in America still more inefficient.

There are companies that used to be able to mail in normal ways that did not waste part of a day, but now they must send someone to the post office to stand in line. At least this is a job that won't be shipped overseas.

Here's another interesting feature of the rule. Suppose the terrorist wanted to send a bomb to Judge William Jenkins (name is fictitious). Instead of mailing the bomb at the post office, he sticks the one pound package in a mail slot. The package is then delivered to the judge because it was not properly shipped and must be returned to sender. This kind of thing actually happens.

This year it appears that our local U.S. Postal Service is planning to close some of the local branches of the post office. If I understand the plan, they will actually be closing the sorting and delivery features of the Duluth offices so that mail will be received, then sent to Minneapolis to be sorted then returned to Duluth. The lines will be lengthened for those who need to follow the irrational Homeland Security 13-Ounce Rule, and the mailing delays will be... inconvenient.

As a kid I enjoyed reading about the Pony Express, whose mission was to see how fast they could deliver the mail to remote regions. Today's artificial inefficiencies are sadly comical because they don't address the real problems. Like so many things in modern life, things get more complicated and keep getting worse, but we're told it's getting better all the time.

This past week I've been reading One Click, an inside look at Jeff Bezos and the rise of Amazon.com by Richard Brandt. The focal point of Bezos' vision and total dedication was to maximum efficiency and ease-of-use by the consumer. This customer orientation resulted in billions of dollars of profits for the company and its stakeholders. In contrast, during this same period the U.S. Post Office has lost billions. How is it that our post office has become so backward in this regard?

What happens next is anyone's guess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently ran into this idiocy. I belong to a PaperBackSwap.com, a book swapping club. Books are swapped between members for the cost of postage alone. For the past 6 months I've been setting out books in my home mail box, hanging on to my house next to my front door, for my carrier to pick up and take back to the post office. Each package has my name and return address, and I usually mail several a week. I've been living in my house for over 20 years and have had the same carrier for at least 10. My carrier has even picked up and shipped packages containing 2 or 3 books weighing well over a pound.

Today, however, one of those books was returned to me with the idiot label explaining the 13 oz rule. The package had been unsealed and the contents inspected, and was returned to my mailbox in an opened condition, so that I could take it to the post office and wait in line.

I am partially disabled by arthritis. I walk with a cane, and experience pain when waiting in lines. When I shop at grocery stores, I take advantage of the motorized scooters they provide. In years past I didn't mind going to the post office and waiting, because I could take a ticket and sit on a bench until my number was called. A couple years ago, the numbers were removed as a "cost saving" measure. So I began to purchase stamps online directly from usps.com.

What's truly idiotic about the 13 oz rule is that usps.com offers a wide array of stamps of all denominations, including $5, $10 and even $20 stamps. What kind of package under 13 oz requires a $20 stamp?!

In the past 6 months I have spent several hundred dollars buying stamps online and mailing books all over the country. I feel I'm doing my part to keep the US postal system alive.

There are services one can purchase to print labels and postage - at an extra fee. The post office could easily provide such a service. Amazon.com provides that service to its sellers at the low cost of 7 cents per transaction. If I take my package to a retail clerk, it's going to cost the post office at least that amount to ask if my media mail package actually contains only a book, or if I'm also including some hazardous material. And, ironically, as you state in your blog, he or she is simply going to take my word.

If I were a terrorist, I might be sending a coded message to my henchmen using the old page, line and word number system. However, even then, the post office is not going to figure that out and then trace the book back to me simply by having me hand the book to a retail clerk. In any case, I would be smart enough to use a book that weighed less than 13 ozs!