• on Apr 19th, 2010 in Delivery & Collection | 152 comments
    Public policy debates about solving the Postal Service’s financial crisis have largely focused on reducing costs by cutting service such as Saturday delivery, transitioning from brick and mortar post offices to alternative retail sales channels, or limiting other functions performed by the Postal Service. There has been less talk about the costs of meeting delivery service standards, which were reviewed following the passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. Can the Postal Service relax some of its requirements to save money in transportation or processing costs? Right now, its goals are to deliver First-Class Mail in 1 to 3 days and Standard Mail in 3 to 10 days. A slight adjustment of these standards in particular areas might make it possible to save a great deal of costs. Instead of developing the goal first and trying to reach those levels, no matter how costly it is, maybe the Postal Service should closely analyze its infrastructure and develop goals that allow for reaching the greatest efficiencies. For example, if the service standards for bulk mail from Chicago to Los Angeles were given an additional day the Postal Service could avoid the expense of trucks and instead utilize economical rail transportation. A First-Class Mail package that currently travels by air could be carried by truck if given another day. By relaxing service standards, the Postal Service can move further towards a hub and spoke network, which could result in substantial savings. Currently, plants may have lots of half-empty, smaller trucks fanning out to a multiplicity of plants only once or twice a day. Under this new strategy, many trucks would go to a mail consolidation facility, which consolidates the mail and ships it on larger, fuller trucks to the destination facilities throughout the day. This design has the additional benefits of network stability and is capable of scaling up or down with changing mail volume. The bottom line is that the Postal Service and its stakeholders need to decide what service standards are worth the cost. The Postal Service should have an honest and informed discussion about the cost savings that it can pass on to the public by relaxing some of the present delivery service standards. Do you think the Postal Service should adjust its delivery standards to cut its costs? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Mar 22nd, 2010 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 16 comments
    As the Postal Service examines its business model and contemplates changes meant to increase its efficiency, Congress’s role in postal operations has captured public attention. A prime example is the Postal Service’s recent efforts to trim its retail operations. As a cost cutting initiative, on July 2, 2009, the Postal Service filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission a list of Post Office stations and branches it was considering closing. After the filing, many entities questioned the Postal Service’s authority to close these facilities. An article published on the U.S. News & World Report website states, “Call your local congressman if you don’t want your local Post Office retail station or branch to be closed.” In addition, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) announced on its website “the APWU continues to lead community-based drives to keep retail units open.” Clearly, identifying the exact number and location of closings supercharges emotions. Add very real issues like social customs and potential job losses and relocations to the mix, and there are even more negative feelings associated with Post Office closures. It is not clear yet the number of retail stations and branches that will be closed, but what started out as list of 3,200 candidates has now declined to fewer than 170. In the action plan the Postmaster General announced in March, he cited a number of issues that will require legislative approval, including the retail network. The question is whether Congress, given constituent and political pressure, can provide the Postal Service the level of autonomy necessary to address this issue. How do you think Congressional oversight affects Postal Service operations? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Office of Audit Network Optimization team.
  • on Mar 15th, 2010 in Labor | 21 comments
    March 18 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in postal history — the postal strike of 1970. The night before, postal workers in New York voted 1,555 to 1,055 to go out on strike in protest of a House committee vote to limit their wage increase that year to 5.4 percent on the heels of a 41 percent increase in Congress’s own pay. The wildcat strike and picketing were effective in shutting down postal operations in New York and quickly spread to about 30 other cities. Within days about 152,000 workers in 671 locations were on strike. It was illegal for federal workers to strike, or even to advocate a strike, but union officials said they had no control over the action. The strike shut down New York’s financial industry, kept 9,000 youths from receiving draft notices, delayed the mailing of census forms and tax refunds, and generally disrupted the country’s communications. Injunctions and heavy fines were levied on union leaders; but the membership paid no attention. President Nixon called out 24,000 military personnel to distribute the mail, but they were ineffective. While the president asserted there would be no negotiations until the workers returned to work, Secretary of Labor William Usery did engage in negotiations that brought the strike to an end after 2 weeks. By all accounts, the strike was extremely successful for the unions, and it set the course of postal affairs for decades to come. No postal worker was ever disciplined for the walkout. Negotiators agreed to a 6 percent wage increase retroactive to 1969, and an additional 8 percent contingent on enactment of the Postal Reorganization Act. The bill had been languishing in Congress, but by April 16, 1970, agreement was reached. It not only provided the 8 percent pay raise, but also allowed postal workers to reach the top of the pay scale in only 8 years — in contrast to the 21 years previously in effect. After the first contract, pay for the newest worker had surpassed what a 21-year veteran had made 3 years earlier. Although the agreement directed the large increase towards high-cost areas like New York, where the strike began, it was effective across the nation, even in low-cost areas where compensation had been ample. The practice of uniform wages continues today at the Postal Service; even though the federal pay system introduced locality pay in 1990. The binding arbitration feature of the Act could also be traced to the strike. According to a union history, binding arbitration was included in the bill “in lieu of the right to strike,” though of course no federal employee has ever had such a right. This feature of the law has meant that the Postal Service has never been able to exert control over its labor costs. Unions also insisted that the Postal Service would not be called a government corporation, to guard against any implication that workers would lose the security of their federal jobs. The strike also set in motion lasting changes in the postal labor movement. Union heads that had tried to control the strike, and were willing to compromise with government leadership, lost credibility. A city carrier, Vincent Sombrotto, was in the forefront of rank and file members in New York insisting on the strike. After the strike, he led a movement to open up union elections and eventually headed the National Association of Letter Carriers for 24 years. Coincidentally with the formation of the Postal Service, five distinct unions of postal clerks, mail processors, maintenance, and motor vehicle workers merged into a new American Postal Workers Union, which provided a more unified voice for labor in political and collective bargaining negotiations. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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