Washington Grappling with the threat of bioterrorism, the head of the Postal Service vowed Monday the mail would be delivered just as it has been for the last two centuries. "We're not going to be defeated," Postmaster General John E. Potter said.
The post office is looking to technology like that used to sanitize food as a way to block the movement of anthrax in the mail. And the agency will ask Congress for financial help to cope with declining mail volumes and the costs of dealing with anthrax, Potter said. The post office is supposed to pay its own expenses from fees charged for moving the mail.
Potter told a news conference that postal engineers are visiting manufacturers to determine what sanitization equipment is available and how quickly it can be obtained for postal use.
He said they were looking at equipment that sanitizes fruit and meat to determine what will work best on mail.
"We're very comfortable it's safe," Potter said. "We are going to introduce technology so that we can ... sanitize the mail. Obviously that won't happen overnight, so we want people to be vigilant."
Millions of postcards are being mailed this week, advising people what should make them suspicious about a letter or parcel, and what they should do about it. Officials said the cards should be arriving at American homes over the next eight days.
"We are engaging the American public, we want all of America to help us," Potter said. "It's important that everybody who sees something suspicious lets us know."
He said the agency will not curtail mail deliveries.
"We're not going to be defeated. We have delivered some 20 billion (pieces of mail) since Sept. 11," he said.
Postal Service spokesman Greg Frey explained that technology to sanitize mail is being considered for selected locations. He said the technology would probably be similar to that used in the food-processing industry.
It was not immediately clear how much financial assistance the post office would seek.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency was facing a loss of $1.6 billion this fiscal year despite a rate increase in January and another, smaller one in July. The Postal Service has applied to the independent Postal Rate Commission for a 3-cent increase in the price of a stamp, but even if it was approved, it would not take effect until next year.