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Brock: Postal Service not doing everything to help Oil Patch

Harvey Brock

Did you hear the story about the North Dakota farmer who found a genie in a bottle while plowing his fields? When asked for his wish, the farmer said he wanted to go to Hawaii but was afraid to fly. So his wish was for a bridge from the mainland to Hawaii so he could drive.

The genie responded that it would be next to impossible to build a bridge to Hawaii. The farmer said, “OK, I just wish my mail would be delivered on time to my farm in North Dakota.” To which the genie said, “Now back to that bridge. Would two lanes be enough?”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees the United States Postal Service, recently completed her first year in office and said her staff has received feedback about Postal Service issues from the start. She said she hears complaints about service standards at the post office everywhere she goes in North Dakota. Friday she held a forum in Dickinson to address concerns about postal delivery.

Customers, contractors, and current and former postal employees at the forum expressed their concerns and frustrations about service standards — most related to understaffing problems due to the growth in southwestern North Dakota.

Roy Reynolds, the Postal Service’s district manager for the Dakotas, said it’s extremely difficult to find workers. Though Postal Service employees in certain places, such as Alaska and Hawaii, receive stipends in an effort to offset high costs of living, he said that isn’t likely to happen for employees in the Oil Patch, nor will the post office offer housing to potential employees.

It isn’t surprising they have staffing shortages when the post office isn’t willing to match wages or housing assistance offered by companies competing for employees.

The bigger picture is that the post office refuses to run their operation like private businesses.

Virtually every private business has quickly changed the way they operate in response to the oil boom. Wages and benefits are paid on what the market requires, and technology has been applied wherever possible.

To their credit, North Dakota’s senators have went out of their way to make Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the U.S. Government Accountability Office aware that what is going on in our state is unique and that it requires companies and organizations to rethink the historical way they operated and adapt to the challenges and opportunities in Oil Patch.

Being in the newspaper business for 25 years, I have marveled at the level of service postal carriers and small town postmasters deliver to their customers. They always seem to put the needs of their customers first and adapt at a moment’s notice to make sure their customers get their mail on time whenever possible.

At the same time, I have also been amazed how the bureaucracy that is the U.S. Postal Service not only can’t seem to appreciate them but does everything possible to make their jobs more difficult. Customers large and small can’t understand postal rules and regulations that constantly change, but then again, neither do many of their own employees.

The U.S. Postal Service has shut down many post offices in rural America and cut services but once again will raise rates this month.

Remarkably, their policy of reducing customer service while raising rates doesn’t seem to be solving their problems.

North Dakota’s senators both understand the need for reliable mail delivery in our country and want to fix the mess that is the U.S. Postal Service. But I think it might be easier for them to start working on a bridge to Hawaii.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press. Email him at