Troops’ Mail at Risk If U.S. Leaves International Postal Pact

  • Delayed holiday mail to U.S. troops could hurt morale
  • Contingency planning under way, agencies, postal service say

Troops abroad expecting holiday letters and packages from home could be disappointed if the U.S. withdraws from the Universal Postal Union in October, just ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to companies that handle international mail.

Their concern is that leaving the international postal body that regulates global mail delivery will inadvertently cut off mail service for at least some time to Army/Air Force Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) addresses.

The Department of Defense “is preparing contingency plans should there be any impacts to military mail,” said Fonda Bock at the Army Human Resources Command, which coordinates military mail handling with the U.S. Postal Service and foreign governments.

Priority_Mail
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Priority mail packages sit on a conveyor belt at the U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center in Merrifield, Va., on Dec. 19, 2018.

President Donald Trump announced Oct. 17, 2018, that the U.S. was initiating the one-year withdrawal process from the postal union, but, if the UPU overhauled its rules, the U.S. would rescind the notice and remain. The UPU, which was established in 1874, became a United Nations organization in 1948. If the U.S. follows through, it would be the first country to ever withdraw from the organization.

Last Chance

The U.S. has one more chance to convince the 192 member countries of the UPU to amend its rules at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 24-25 in Geneva, Switzerland. But if the U.S. doesn’t win that vote, it’s likely to withdraw from the mail union—a scenario many postal consultants say is growing more likely.

Despite the Oct. 17 deadline for departure from the UPU, the U.S. is confident that it will find a solution that will allow it to remain, a State Department official said in an email.

The White House, State and Defense departments, and the U.S. Postal Service are developing plans to ensure continuity of service should the U.S. fail to reach an acceptable agreement on rates, with minimal or no disruption to the consumer, the State official said.

“Because the U.S. may no longer be a member of the UPU by mid-October 2019, the Postal Service is undertaking parallel efforts to ensure the continued exchange of international mail items even if the negotiations to remain in the UPU are unsuccessful,” USPS spokeswoman Martha Johnson said.

Yet fears persist. “It goes without saying that morale will plummet” if military mail service is cut off, said John Couch, manager of Global Package Solutions LLC.

Unintended Consequences

Military mail delivery is shrouded in secrecy because the location of troops and ships is a national security concern. Still, mail is subject to the host country’s customs requirements and processing, so senders must fill out forms describing the value and contents of packages sent to APO/FPO addresses.

“Some managers of mail to military and diplomatic addresses have expressed concerns about delivery to APO, FPO, and DPO addresses if the U.S. withdraws from the UPU,” said Merry Law, president of WorldVu LLC.

“There are potential unknowns and unintended consequences of a U.S. withdrawal, and with limited information available on what might happen in October, disruption of APO, FPO, and DPO mail is among them,” Law said

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com