Post Office Bullshit

Allow me to preface this post by stating that I believe I’m a relatively smart, modern, with-it kind of person; I have the ability to both accept and give instruction in a manner that leads to good outcomes. However, the post office system confuses the hell out of me. I never know what “level” of mail to use and it seems that “First Class” doesn’t exist any more. It’s “Priority” or “Express” or others which I can’t describe. This is a failing of mine, I realize: my inability to comprehend the American postal service.

I have recently started participating in Paperback Swap, an online service for exchanging books. The upshot is, you pay for postage on books you send to people, and then you request books from others which arrive at no cost to you. Your total outlay is on postage purchased1. One of the things that the service does is suggest the postage necessary for mailing the book Parcel Post via the US Postal Service, intending, I guess, for you to slap on some stamps and away it goes. This would work well except that you must hand the package to a USPS Representative in order to send packages using parcel post; I can’t dump it into the convenient package slot next to the 24/7 automated kiosk. That’s a problem. Also, the suggested $2.23 postage from Paperback Swap doesn’t jive with the USPS’s costs for a minimum-weight parcel post package ($4.55).

Aha! But now there’s this new thing called Media Mail—which might not be new but it’s new to me—that I can use. Apparently it’s bottom price for something the size of a paperback is $2.23, so mystery solved. That still leaves the issue of needing to hand it over the counter to a USPS customer service person, which is another issue entirely and might kill my participation in the Paperback Swap program, but what I’m really here to bitch about are these signs.

Post Office Self Service Kisosk sign.  This reads: Attention: 13-Ounce Rule.  Stamped Mail over 13 Ounces Prohibited.  Due to heightened security, all mail that bears postage stamps and weighs more than 13 ouces must be taken by the customer to a retail service counter at a Post Office.  Failure to do so will result in the return of your mailpiece.

This reads: Attention: 13-Ounce Rule. Stamped Mail over 13 Ounces Prohibited. Due to heightened security, all mail that bears postage stamps and weighs more than 13 ouces must be taken by the customer to a retail service counter at a Post Office. Failure to do so will result in the return of your mailpiece.

Post Office Self Service Kisosk sign. This reads: You may deposit ONLY: Domestic mail with electronic postage purchased using the Automated Postal Center weighing up to 70 lbs. Domestic mail with postage purchased online. Domestic mail with Metered postage. Stamped mail weighing less than 13 oz. Do not place stamped domestic, international, or military APO/FPO mail weighing 13 oz or more in this receptacle.  Please take this mail, in person, to a retail associate during business hours.

This reads: You may deposit ONLY: Domestic mail with electronic postage purchased using the Automated Postal Center weighing up to 70 lbs. Domestic mail with postage purchased online. Domestic mail with Metered postage. Stamped mail weighing less than 13 oz. Do not place stamped domestic, international, or military APO/FPO mail weighing 13 oz or more in this receptacle. Please take this mail, in person, to a retail associate during business hours.

Paperback swap was my first encounter with this 13 oz rule. At first blush it seemed that these signs were saying, “If it weighs more than 13 ounces, you must hand it to a USPS customer service associate” which had the virtue of being clear, if not reasonable. I wondered, “Why the rule?” So I went looking.

New 13-Ounce Mail Rule to Take Effect July 30

WASHINGTON, DC — A new Postal Service rule goes into effect next week for packages and envelopes that weigh more than 13 ounces, if they’re being mailed with only stamps as postage at a location other than a Post Office retail service counter.

Previously, the prohibition applied to mail over 16 ounces. The change is part of ongoing security measures established by the Postal Service, in cooperation with other government agencies to keep the public, customers, employees and the U.S. Mail safe.

That seems pretty clear. I also found this:

Special notice — Federal Aviation Administration security guidelines are still in effect. Mail with postage paid by postage stamps (not postage meter strips) that weigh over 13 oz. must be presented to a postal clerk at a Post Office rather than deposited in a collection box. Returns meeting this description that are deposited in collection boxes will be returned to the sender.

The signs are saying, “Security security security! Don’t blow up our planes, our post offices, or our people!”

Then I read them more closely. It’s not that you can’t mail packages weighing more than 13 oz., it’s merely that you can’t mail them if you placed postage stamps on them. Metered mail2 can be placed into the drop box, as well as mail that you purchased a label for online at home, but not anything that you put those ever-so-convenient stamp thingies on. If you bring your 70 pound box to the kiosk without postage and meter it there, you can mail it; if you bring your 14 ounce letter with your own stamps, you’re out of luck.

See, it’s even in that press release I mentioned above:

New 13-Ounce Mail Rule to Take Effect July 30

Starting Monday, July 30, customers can use one of several convenient online postage applications — available 24/7 — or an Automated Postal Center, if they wish to mail items that weigh more than 13 ounces in Postal Service collection boxes or Post Office lobby mail slots; or if they wish to leave the items for pickup by their letter carriers. Online postage applications include the Postal Service’s Click-N-Ship service on usps.com and PC Postage from an authorized USPS vendor.

If a customer is unable to use one of the above methods to prepare and affix postage, items weighing more than 13 ounces must be presented for mailing to an employee at a Post Office retail service counter. Business customers who use postage meters may continue to use meter postage for packages of any weight and mailing method.

Stamped2 mail = security risk; Metered mail = Ok.

I don’t get it. Truly! I really don’t get it! I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I cannot come up with a scenario where this makes sense. Let’s assume that security is the overriding concern; packages over 13 oz. might contain bombs and therefore must be “feel screened” by a postal employee. Why, then, allow people to meter the package rather than place stamps on it?

Maybe it’s because if you meter it at the kiosk, they get a video of you, therefore if you’re Unabomber II, you’ll be on record and catchable. Why, then, allow people to meter the mail using an online service?

Maybe it’s because if you purchase your shipping label online, you have to log in to an account and pay with a credit card, therefore you’re similarly catchable if you perpetrate a crime.

Personally I think it’s all Bullshit™. I can think of easy ways to defeat my two scenarios above. Wearing hats keeps cameras from seeing you and stealing credit cards allows you to buy stuff online without identifying yourself. The prohibition against stamps seems nonsensical to me.

My cynical view is that they’re doing this to prevent monetary loss by people shipping packages that aren’t stamped correctly, or trying to cut down on wastage by reducing the number of times they have to ship incorrectly stamped packages back to the sender. Security? I don’t buy it.

I, of course, am subject to being wrong. If there’s a good reason for this apparent stamped vs. metered 13 oz. weirdness, I’d love to hear about it. Until then, I’ll keep saying that this is bullshit and is similarly effective as the Transportation Security Administration’s airport screening requirements.


1I wonder how Paperback Swap makes money. Their business model doesn’t seem to include that. I never receive any advertising and there’s no fee for participation. Weird.

2Through these lessons I’ve learned that “stamped mail” is a special subclass that only includes mail upon which you place actual stamps. Anything that receives those little stickers from the 24/7 USPS kiosks or printed postage from one of those automated postage machines is “metered mail”.

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7 Responses to Post Office Bullshit

  1. Annie says:

    My USPS contacts are currently out of the state on vacation, and I don’t feel like making the hubby get the reasoning out of his parents via cell phone.

    Maybe, someday, we’ll have an answer for you.

  2. Bill says:

    I would love for someone to explain this to me, if only so I can have a better feeling about our government.

  3. Chris says:

    I think you’re on the right track with the ‘traceability’ argument rather than the ‘inspect for unsafe contents’ argument. I think the purpose is to provide a trail of some kind leading to the sender.

    I’m guessing that all postal meters/kiosks have either identification codes or monitoring cameras (like the main postal counter). Online postage requires a paper trail also: credit card, etc. These can be obscured (a hat) or faked, but ultimately the trail exists. I’m guessing it’s completely legal to drop off a package wearing a clown suit, but I bet you’d get special attention.

    Stamps are truly anonymous. Anyone with cash (untraceable) can walk into any grocery or convenience store (too many to correlate to) anywhere in the country and buy stamps (untraceable). To correlate a particular package with the location the stamps were purchased would be a ridiculous exercise in statistics. The postal drop boxes are likewise untraceable.

    So I would agree that although the paper trail (or electron trail) of an online postage purchase is tenuous at best, it is considerably more solid than stamps.

  4. Jess says:

    I just ran into this problem today trying to mail a heavier than usual letter. The post office was closed for veterans day and I had no clue whether my letter weighed more than 13 oz. So I didnt mail it. Its very annoying!! Not everyone has a scale for weighing mail in their home.

  5. Roberta says:

    My goodnessakes just buy a little food scale at the dollar store and go online to USPS.com and print your postage online and leave it in your mailbox for your carrier to pick up……..no problems whatsoever……the post office really does come to you when you need it…….

  6. Bill Ruhsam says:

    Roberta: You obviously didn’t read the first paragraph. Try again.

  7. Pingback: United States Postal Service | The Evil Eyebrow

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