A new, unreleased poll by the Consumer Federation of America finds the American public pretty much likes the U.S. Postal Service as it is.

Suggestions that the federal agency be deregulated were overwhelmingly rejected and advertising mail--called "junk mail" in the survey--was said to produce "high levels of irritation." A draft press release outlining the results of the national survey was obtained by The Washington Post.

"We were surprised to learn how positively consumers rate various USPS services," CFA executive director Stephen Brobeck was quoted as saying in the release. "But we also discovered that the public strongly supports the preservation of USPS as a regulated, governmental body."

The findings could be influential as the House Government Reform Committee considers legislation that would give the agency greater pricing flexibility and the ability to sell more nonpostal products. When asked if USPS should be allowed to raise the price of a first-class (33-cent) stamp without the approval of an independent commission, 77 percent of those surveyed said no. Fifty-five percent strongly favored rate regulation.

As for advertising mail, the survey, conducted in June by Opinion Research Corp. International, reported that 76 percent expressed irritation at the amount of such mail they receive. But 23 percent said they liked the mail or didn't care. The amount of irritation varies by age, income and education, the CFA said. Older people were bothered more, as were people with higher incomes and education.

Brobeck was unhappy the survey had been leaked and said the group would not release results this week.

ONLINE OFFLINE: The Postal Service recently trumpeted its first-place award for innovative use of technology from the "1999 On Demand Digital Printing and Publishing Strategy Conference." The award cited Mailing Online, software that lets advertisers create a bulk mailing on a personal computer and then send the mailing electronically to the Postal Service.

Postal officials then turn the electronic file over to a private printer, who prints the mailing and places it in the mail. Introduced in March 1998, the idea is part of the agency's PostOffice Online, an ambitious effort to use the Internet to promote use of the mail.

But don't rush out and expect to use the award-winning system. The agency dropped its plans for Mailing Online on May 5, weeks before it won the award. At the time, the agency told the Postal Rate Commission it couldn't push ahead with the project because of software problems.

A major problem: speed. Computer users "want things to happen quickly," Lee Garvey, manager of the online project, told the commission. "They want them to click and you're there, like that. . . . Currently it does not do that." Postal officials say the project, which has attracted relatively low usage in the test phase, remains "under development."

STAMPED OUT: For the first time in decades, you can't buy stamps at Postal Service headquarters. The agency this month closed its sales counter, which catered to collectors. Stamps are still available at the nearby post office in the L'Enfant Plaza shopping mall.