• on Dec 17th, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 29 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service delivery workforce consists of city and rural letter carriers, who perform similar duties, but have differences in compensation and work rules. City letter carriers typically work routes that are high density and low mileage. These routes are classified as either “mounted” routes (for those that require a vehicle) or “walking” routes (for those that are done on foot). City letter carriers are also given a $371 per year uniform allowance. Rural letter carriers typically work routes that have a lower density of delivery points and higher mileage than those of city letter carriers. They work mounted routes, leaving their vehicles only to deliver to grouped mailboxes or to deliver an item that must be taken to a customer's door. However, rural routes have expanded to suburbs and exurbs, which are more densely populated and urbanized. These routes are similar to mounted “city” routes. Because suburban areas in the country continue to flourish, the rural carrier craft is the only craft in the Postal Service still growing. Postal Service policy states that rural carriers must present a neat, clean, and professional appearance reflecting a positive postal image, but does not require rural carriers to wear uniforms like their city counterparts. The 114,000 rural carriers and non-career rural carrier associates serve as a post office on wheels. They perform many of the services that a customer could receive at a retail counter. They sell stamps and money orders; provide Priority Mail flat rate boxes; accept Express and Priority mail; offer signature and delivery confirmation; and collect mail and parcels. Rural carriers provide their own vehicles to deliver mail on nearly half of the more than 73,000 rural routes. Now that the rural carrier craft is becoming more "urbanized," they are more visible to the public. Also, the past few years has seen an increase in the number of rural carriers delivering mail in Postal Service vehicles with the logo on the side. Do you think a uniformed shirt for rural carriers would be an overall positive change for the Postal Service as far as image, branding, marketing, and security? Would a uniformed shirt for rural carriers give employees a larger sense of unity and ownership to the mission of the Postal Service? Or is the idea of a uniform old-fashioned?
  • on Dec 3rd, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 6 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research. A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month. The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters. The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world. Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets. “A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says. How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.
  • on Oct 8th, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 10 comments
    The digital revolution has changed communications, and with it, the operations and finances of the U.S. Postal Service. It also has brought deep changes in the way we design networks and analyze systems. Many organizations rely on mathematical modeling to test ideas before they become operational, conserving money and time. The Postal Service, facing limited capital and resources, has also adopted this practice. It is discovering how important these tools are for assessing strategies for designing the future mail network. The Office of Inspector General has explored some of the main components of the postal supply chain - retail, mail processing and transportation, and delivery – using a systems modeling approach. This approach has allowed the OIG to use objective methods to determine how the network could be redesigned to meet current needs and future demands. This research also helps us to understand some of the challenges in developing information-based decision models for the Postal Service. A primary challenge in any modeling effort is collecting the necessary information. Without this data, the model cannot fully assess the efficiency of the operations it is modeling, and develop an optimal network solution. Postal information systems can be a complex array of the hundreds of highly varied and specialized information systems that are often developed and maintained under separate contracts. Simplifying this landscape also could enable more insightful analyses to better guide decision makers. As the Postal Service considers how it can best serve the public through its products and services, modeling efforts can help it to evaluate different proposals for change. As we develop better efficiency standards with more rich data sources, we can not only better evaluate the efficiency of operations and system design, but we can better explore how operations may be changed to meet the needs of new environments.

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