• on Aug 16th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 8 comments
    There is no question that a country’s postal service is a valuable national asset. On one hand, it is a functional asset that supports commerce and binds the nation together. On the other, postal operations are capital assets, with distribution networks, vehicles, machinery, and labor resources that have some sort of value. While the value of binding the nation together is difficult to put into monetary terms, the value of capital assets is easier to assess. In fact, some cash-strapped governments around the world are trying to raise money by selling parts of their postal operations. The most prominent example is Greece, who announced in June that it plans to sell 39 percent of the national postal service, Hellenic Post. Greece’s troubled financial condition sent shockwaves through world markets in February. Greece plans to sell off part of Hellenic Post as a condition of the financial rescue package provided by other European Union (EU) members and the International Monetary Fund totaling €110 billion ($142 billion). The plan calls for Greece to raise at least €1 billion ($1.29 billion) per year for the next three years by selling off state-owned services including the national rail line and various utilities. Despite this partial privatization, the Greek government will still control 51 percent of Hellenic Post. Hellenic Postbank holds the remaining 10 percent. It will also remain the dominant company in the Greek postal market as EU regulators put off fully opening Greece to postal competition until 2013. This special regulation is because Hellenic Post must serve a large number of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, making its universal service obligation far more expensive than most other areas of Europe. This also makes the Greek situation unique. As the financial crisis that began in 2007 drags on into its third year, governments are trying to find ways to finance or pay off mounting deficits. One solution embraced by some, currently including Greece, UK, and Russia, is to leverage the value of national assets, particularly postal services. The question that remains is whether accepting money in the short term will harm the long-term value of national posts when it comes to promoting commerce and national unity. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Jun 1st, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments
    In a time when everyone is examining the dollars and cents of the postal business, people have a tendency to overlook the bigger picture: the greater role of the Postal Service in modern society. With that in mind, the Postal Regulatory Commission requested the Urban Institute to study the Postal Service. The focus was not a traditional look at the business but a study of the benefits of the Postal Service and its infrastructure to the American population. The abstract and the final report, both of which were released last week, cites “…the postal system has had a civic as well as an economic mandate that legislators and regulators interpret with changing times and circumstances in mind. An independent agency of the executive branch, the USPS opens access to information for preserving democracy, fostering commerce, and promoting the general welfare. It’s a public good and a great equalizer insofar as it serves rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, unhealthy and hale.” The report’s author, Nancy Pindus, found eight types of benefits: •Consumer benefits – Provides price competition for other delivery services and access to goods for the underserved. •Business benefits - Provides a logistical component for smaller businesses, an advertising channel serving a spectrum of businesses, and as a center of commerce in communities (through post offices). •Safety and security - Offers mail carriers’ role within the neighborhood and places the Postal Service in a position to assist in emergencies or in cases of natural disaster. •Environmental benefits – Acts as a test site in exploring environmental products and services; provides last-mile service to other delivery companies and utilizes post offices as centers for recycling efforts in many communities. •Aid in the delivery of other government services – Functions as an intermediary for government services on local, state, and Federal levels. •Information exchange – Holds a traditional role of democratically disseminating information, whether through periodicals, community groups or other channels. Post offices also serve as center for posting of community notices. •Social links – Delivers personal communications, carriers provide a regular link to the community for a number or people, post offices are a center for local contact and identity. •Civic pride – Serves as the only representative of Federal government in many areas, often tied into an area’s community identity. In your opinion, have any roles been overlooked? Should any of these roles be eliminated and if so, why? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Mar 3rd, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 21 comments
    On March 2, Postmaster General John E. Potter presented a 10-year “action plan” to meet the challenges faced by the Postal Service as it encounters declining mail volumes combined with increasing overhead costs. The plan comes as a product of a yearlong study by the Postal Service and a number of leading consultants to identify and analyze over 50 different actions that could help counter the changing marketplace. The Postmaster General warned that if the Postal Service continues to operate as it is, it will run a cumulative debt of $238 billion over the next 10 years. Even if the Postal Service institutes every conceivable control within management control – product and service actions, productivity improvements, workforce flexibility improvements and purchasing savings – it can only shrink the debt to $115 billion.

    In order for the Postal Service to continue its primary mission of affordable and reliable delivery, it will need the kind of flexibility that only legislative changes can provide. The Postmaster General outlined key areas:

    • 1.Retiree Health Benefits Prefunding – The Postal Service currently would shift from prepaying its fund to paying premiums as they are billed, as other government agencies and private companies operate. 2.Delivery Frequency – The Postal Service would consider 5-day delivery and other adjustments that would allow it to operate more efficiently. 3.Expand Access – The retail network would be examined in order to close unproductive outlets and expand the postal presence in other retail channels, including online. 4. Workforce – In order to have greater workforce flexibility, the Postal Service would need to shift workers and better utilize part-time employees in the workforce. 5.Pricing – The prices for postal products need to reflect demand and market-dominant products should be limited by a single price cap. 6.Expand Postal Products and Services – Given the evolving needs coming from technological and consumer change, the Postal Service is looking to streamline the process involved with rolling out new products and services. 7.Oversight – The current oversight model has encumbered the Postal Service with a number of agencies and commission as with authority as well as Congress. The roles and processes of oversight need to be clarified to allow for efficient operations.

    What do you think? Are the actions mentioned above enough for the Postal Service to remain viable in the future? Would you suggest further steps? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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