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Ten Thousand Flowers and the Confused Postal Service

I’m up to twenty flowers in my Ten Thousand Flowers project, with four sent out so far.  I’ve gotten one envelope from across town, two from across the country and another from across the world.

I’d never had the occasion to use an International Reply Coupon before, but I didn’t think it would be any more complicated than taking it to the post office, finding the guy in the back who knew what to do with it and sending the flower on its merry way.  Instead, the moment I got home from finally getting it sent out, I sat down and composed the following letter:

Mr. Patrick R. Donahoe

Postmaster General
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW
Washington DC 20260-0010

Dear Mr. Donahoe—

I wish to bring to your attention an inconsistency in the operation of the United States Postal Service that is of some concern to me and I believe should concern every citizen of our increasingly global society.

I have recently embarked on the project of giving hand-drawn flowers to anybody who requests one from me by mailing me an envelope and sufficient postage. While a SASE is easily obtained in the United States, in order to send my work to other countries I have requested an International Reply Coupon (“IRC”) with the envelope. It did not occur to me that there would be any trouble in exchanging one for sufficient postage to mail a single envelope back to its country of origin.

Unfortunately, I am perplexed to discover that some post offices in my area simply refuse to accept them. I recently received an envelope and IRC from a resident of New Zealand, and while she admitted to some trouble in acquiring one, I never imagined the trouble I would go through to redeem one.

I visited the post office closest to me and the overwhelmed clerk apparently had no idea what to do with the IRC—she put a stamp on the envelope, another stamp on the IRC and then asked for payment for both. I explained that the IRC was the payment and one manager and supervisor later I was informed that the location did not accept them. Fortunately, the stamps were easily removed and I returned home and called another location recommended to me to confirm that they accepted IRCs. I was told that they did not and I asked which location did. I was provided with a phone number that was busy every time I attempted to call it. I called your information line at 800-ASK-USPS and the gentleman I spoke to assured me that any postal location would accept my IRC. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that this was not the case, and provided me with phone numbers of nearby locations with the suggestion that I call them directly. I finally reached someone at Buckhead Station who was likewise surprised to hear that certain locations refused my IRC but assured me that it could be redeemed there. I drove there and Mr. _____ behind the counter took my IRC, placed three beautiful stamps on my envelope and sent it on its way. (Mr. _____ was a joy to work with, by the way, and should be commended for his service.)

A simple postal transaction should not be rendered a bureaucratic tangle this way. If individual post offices are going to be inconsistent in whether or not they accept IRCs, this information should be made available on your website so that consumers can plan accordingly. Otherwise, all post offices should be prepared to accept IRCs at any time, no matter how intermittently they may be needed.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter and for your service to the United States Postal Service.

Sincerely yours,

Sheila O’Shea

I have no idea if it will make any difference, but I felt the need to make the effort.  At any rate, I do at least know of one post office near enough to me that will accept any International Reply Coupons, so I should be able to continue my global flower distribution efforts unimpeded.

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