is a term used in connection with the United States postal service
The Post Office Department was the name of the United States Postal Service when it was a Cabinet department. It was headed by the Postmaster General....
and the contracting of mail delivery services. The term is defunct as of 1970, but still is occasionally used to refer to Highway Contract Routes
or (HCRs) which replaced the Star routes.
Prior to 1845, transportation of inland mail
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...
, other than by railroad or steamboat
A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels...
, was given to bidders who offered stage or coach service.
This was abolished by act of Congress on March 3, 1845, which provided that the postmaster-general should lease all such contracts to the lowest bidder who tendered sufficient guarantee of faithful performance, without any conditions, except to provide for due celerity, certainty and security of transportation. These bids became known as "celerity, certainty and security bids" and were designated on the route registers by three stars (***), thus becoming known as "star routes."
Star Route Frauds
The Star Route Frauds
scandal involved a lucrative nineteenth century scheme whereby United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
postal officials received bribes in exchange for awarding postal delivery contracts in southern and western areas.
An investigation into the Star Routes corruption took place under President James A. Garfield in 1881. Two previous congressional investigations into the Star Route frauds had occurred in 1872 and 1876 during the Grant Administration. The 1872 investigation results had been tainted by bribery, while the 1876 investigation managed to shut down the Star Route frauds temporarily. A resurgence of graft took place in 1878 in the Hayes Administration, continuing into the Garfield Administration. Among the major players involved were some of the large contractors, the ex-US Representative Bradley Barlow
Bradley Barlow was a United States Representative from Vermont. He was born in Fairfield, Vermont. He attended the common schools and then engaged in mercantile pursuits in Philadelphia until 1858, when he moved to St...
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...
, the Second Assistant Postmaster-General, some of the subordinates in the department, and Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...
Senator Stephen W. Dorsey, who became Secretary of the Republican National Committee during James A. Garfield's 1880 presidential campaign. After Garfield's death by assassination, President Chester A. Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur was the 21st President of the United States . Becoming President after the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Arthur struggled to overcome suspicions of his beginnings as a politician from the New York City Republican machine, succeeding at that task by embracing...
pursued the investigation. A federal prosecution and trial took place in 1882, that was finally able to shut down the postal ring.
Although the fraudulent scheme was widespread, there were few convictions. Many of the defendants in the Star Routes trials were successfully defended by noted lawyer and orator, Robert Ingersoll
Robert Green "Bob" Ingersoll was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed "The Great Agnostic."-Life and career:Robert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York...
. Public disgust over the Star Routes graft served as an impetus for civil service reform and the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of United States is a federal law established in 1883 that stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit. The act provided selection of government employees competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation...
Star Routes, now known as Highway Contract Routes (or HCRs) as of 1970, have become a controversial mode of delivering mail directly to customers. Historically, Highway Contract Routes were used rarely for mail delivery to households. An exception was in rural areas with less than one customer per mile.
In modern usage, HCRs can be used any place to deliver mail directly to customers. They are often used to deliver mail in growth areas such as new housing tracts. Some of these routes are being started in areas where there are as few as twenty deliveries per day.
Since 2000, the US Postal Service has added the term "Contract Delivery Service" (CDS) as their newest version of the Star Route. These routes are specifically set up to serve newly created urban communities. CDS carriers do not transport mail, and are being used in an attempt to find delivery drivers who will work for less than USPS carrier wages. As of 2007, several thousand of these CDS routes have been created, with plans for far more.
Both the CDS routes and the expanded HCR routes have had problems with delivery quality. Many contractors are no longer individuals wanting to transport mail between post offices, or to deliver mail in a remote community where they live. This new concentration of more urban contract routes has made it practical for businesses to bid on multiple contracts, and then seek out workers who will carry those routes for less money than the US Postal Service pays on each contract. As a result, many contract route customers have complained about a revolving door of carriers and very bad service. The US Postal Service is still attempting to find an equilibrium between the dependability of career postal carriers and the cost savings of contractors acting as a temp agency.
There is some debate as to how much control the Postal Service can exercise over these contract routes and have them remain contractors. Exactly where the line is that will mark the difference between an HCR being a contractor and an employee is not clear.