• on May 14th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments

    In the late 1950s, McDonald’s executives discovered that being in the real estate business was more profitable than focusing solely on the food business. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc had a business partner, Harry J. Sonneborn, who devised a plan to purchase or lease the land on which nearly all McDonald’s restaurants would be located. He then charged franchisees a monthly rental fee for the land, or a percentage of their sales, whichever was greater. The rest, as they say, is entrepreneurial history.

    With 33,000 facilities on more than 300 million square feet of land, the U.S Postal Service operates more retail outlets than McDonald’s. The Postal Service owns and leases properties in high-traffic areas, often in a city’s most desirable location. Is there an opportunity for the Postal Service to lease or sublease its vast real estate holdings to other businesses to generate revenue and improve cash flow? Could the Postal Service sell its facilities in desirable locations and lease back a portion of the facility as needed?

    For example, the Postal Service partnered in 2007 with a development company to renovate and lease out part of the main Post Office in New York City (James A. Farley building) for retail and other purposes, including a new Amtrak train station and hotel space. While the redevelopment has hit construction delays, it remains a promising model for future plans.

    These kinds of opportunities are not necessarily restricted to post offices in large cities. Smaller facilities are likely to be attractive to third parties as well. One example is the Redondo Beach Galleria Station in Redondo CA, a very small retail unit in a shopping mall, currently on the market to be subleased.

    Do you think the Postal Service should sell or lease its facilities in prime real-estate locations? Should it have any restrictions on which facilities it can sell or lease or what types of operations can lease a postal facility? Should there be restrictions on how the Postal Service uses the revenues raised from such a sale or lease? Share your thoughts.

  • on Feb 4th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 2 comments

    The number of Postal Service patents has grown significantly in the past few decades, as have the patents for rival carriers FedEx and UPS. When compared to other industries, such as information technology and wireless communications, the Postal Service has not significantly leveraged its intellectual property or fully recognized the potential financial and strategic value of these assets. If the Postal Service considered the commercial significance of each of its patents and licensed its intellectual property, it might find a valuable source of significant revenue. A 2011 Office of Inspector General report found that the Postal Service has 329 global families of patents, which means each “family” of a patent may have a multiple number of U.S. and international patent documents. The study looked closely at three specific patents to assess the commercial significance of each patent, or the revenue that the Postal Service may be able to generate through licensing of the patent. Those three patents alone hold a commercial value of more than $18 million per year. The report concluded that the Postal Service did not manage its portfolio of patents to maximize commercial significance. However, some stakeholders have argued that the Postal Service is different from private industry, even if it is encouraged to act like a business. It is a public institution held in the public trust. In that sense, it belongs to the American people. Shouldn’t a public institution that belongs to the American people open up the technology and patents it has developed for the benefit of the national infrastructure? There is a risk that in licensing patents or holding proprietary technology, the Postal Service may stymie innovation in the public and private sectors. Some people have looked to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a model. Its idea to link computers into a national system eventually led to the development of the Internet. The key for the Postal Service is to build a strategy and let it guide decisions on how best to leverage intellectual property. The first step might be to have an active program that looks to generate as many intellectual property instruments as possible. Once the Postal Service owns and protects that property, it can determine whether the best approach is to license it, sue for infringement, or share it. Tell us what you think. Take our poll question and then go to the comment section to share what you think would be the best strategy for the Postal Service on intellectual property and patents.

  • on Oct 16th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 13 comments
    There has been a surplus in the U.S. Postal Service’s Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) pension program since 1992. Most recently, the FERS surplus was projected to be $11.4 billion, accounting for most of the Postal Service’s total $13.1 billion pension surplus. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) asked Hay Group, an actuarial firm, to examine the causes of the FERS surplus, and a new OIG white paper presents the results of Hay Group’s work. Hay Group found that the main reason for the surplus was differences between the Postal Service and the rest of the federal government. In particular, postal salary growth was lower than the assumptions made in the liability estimates. The surplus grew as actual postal experience replaced the initial assumptions used for the entire FERS population. Hay Group recommends using Postal Service-specific assumptions to provide a more accurate estimate of the liability. When Postal Service-specific assumptions are used to measure the Postal Service’s liability, the surplus increases from $11.4 billion to $24 billion. Given the Postal Service’s current financial health, the existence of the FERS surplus raises some questions. What should be done about the postal FERS surplus? Right now, there is no mechanism to return a FERS surplus once it occurs. Also, what about the contribution rate? The Postal Service currently pays the same FERS contribution rate as other federal agencies, 11.9 percent of payroll for most employees. This contribution rate has increased twice in the past 3 years despite the existence of a surplus for the Postal Service. Should the Postal Service’s contributions be adjusted to reflect its specific characteristics? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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