• 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.
  • on Sep 10th, 2012 in Products & Services | 0 comments
    More than 1.4 million Americans serve in the military, with about 200,000 of those troops serving overseas. Members of the armed forces can feel isolated while deployed, often in dangerous conditions. The military discovered long ago that mail boosts the morale of troops serving in other parts of the world, so it has made military mail a high priority. Military mail provides members of the armed forces with a vital link to their communities. As the “Mail Call” exhibit on military mail at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum notes: Mail call is the moment when the frontline and home front connect. The U.S. military mail service requires the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Postal Service and the armed forces. The current system has essentially been in place since World War II. The Postal Service is responsible for transportation of mail from U.S. postal facilities to overseas military facilities, between domestic postal facilities and air or surface carriers, while the Department of Defense manages and pays for transportation abroad and the operation of overseas military post offices. The military mail system is an extension of the domestic postal system, meaning senders of mail to Army/Air Force Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs) pay domestic postage rates. Over the years, the government has granted free mail services for soldiers serving in active combat sites. With the same goal of boosting morale, the U.S. Department of State, under Congress’ authorization, began establishing diplomatic post offices (DPOs) in the early 2000s. Initially, DPOs were set up for diplomats serving in hardship posts, but the State Department has since expanded the DPOs beyond such posts. Like APOs and FPOs, the Postal Service is responsible for the domestic portion of the service. The anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks reminds us of the importance of the armed forces and the diplomatic corps to the country’s well-being and standing in the world. The long and rich history of the military mail service is a unique, collaborative effort among parts of the government, working together to serve their public mission. For the Postal Service, military mail is an exemplary depiction of binding the nation together. To the troops and diplomats who serve overseas, it is more simply “mail call” – it is their connection to home.

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