• 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.
  • on Aug 27th, 2012 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 18 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service owns more than 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Many of these vehicles are reaching the end of their operational lives, prompting the Postal Service to wrestle with how best to address its long-term vehicle needs. A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that the organization’s current financial situation poses a significant barrier to vehicle replacement or refurbishment. Attention has primarily been given to the Postal Service’s delivery fleet of left-hand drive trucks and minivans, which make up almost 85 percent of its entire fleet. However, the Postal Service also operates a large fleet of tractor trailers to haul mail from one processing facility to another or to stations and branches. Many of these trucks have exceeded their usage expectancy. The Postal Service has about 1,800 tractors and almost 3,900 trailers. The trailers come in various sizes to accommodate different-sized docks and to navigate various locations. Some locations, such as New York City, cannot accommodate the larger 53-foot trailers. It would cost roughly $135,000 to replace each tractor and another $45,000 to replace a standard-sized trailer. Trailer specifications are unique to the Postal Service, making “off the shelf” purchases impossible. In addition, the Postal Service needs to refurbish the tractors to meet the emissions standards in each state. These standards and the deadlines for achieving them vary by state. The cost to retrofit the existing fleet would vary depending on the standards needing to be met. With its current cash crunch, the Postal Service lacks the capital to invest immediately in upgrading its fleet. Yet an overhaul of the fleet of some kind is needed. Are there alternatives to replacing the fleet of tractor trailers? Could the Postal Service hire contractors to perform the work now done by its own fleet? Contracting out is the most common way the Postal Service acquires transportation. The Postal Service already contracts with 15,000 highway contract route (HCR) suppliers to cover more than 1.2 billion miles of mostly long-haul mail transportation. Or is contracting out not feasible given the Postal Service’s unique and varied needs for its tractor trailer fleet? Should the Postal Service lease new trailers and have Postal Service Vehicle drivers perform the work? Or, could the Postal Service consider new financing arrangements, such as taking a bank loan like a private transport company does, which would allow it to purchase trailers over time? Or does replacing the fleet all at once through a competitive bidding process provide the Postal Service with the strongest purchasing power? If so, how should the Postal Service pay for this replacement?
  • on Aug 13th, 2012 in Products & Services | 29 comments
    More than 40 million Americans change their address each year, which means the U.S. Postal Service forwards an awful lot of mail. In fiscal year 2010, it forwarded 1.2 billion pieces. Under the Postal Service’s regulations, customers who fill out a change of address form have their mail forwarded to their new address for 12 months after the move. Mail forwarding costs the Postal Service almost $300 million a year. The cost to return mail to sender is another $800 million. The cost of mail forwarding – and returning to sender and treating as waste -- is baked into the overall First Class Mail rates, so all customers effectively pay for this service whether they use it or not. Canada Post has taken a different approach to mail forwarding, charging recipients either an annual or semi-annual fee when they move. Residential customers pay $75 for 12 months of forwarding and business customers pay $235. These prices increase slightly if the person or business moves to another province. The Canada Post model extricates the costs from the overall First Class Mail rate and is structured so recipients pay for the service, but only if they use it. Some U.S. business customers have requested that the Postal Service explore new pricing and product options to reduce the costs of forwarding and returning mail to sender. Would a model similar to the Canada Post one work in the U.S. or would residential recipients, in particular, feel like they were being charged for a service they thought was free? Should the sender pay for forwarding instead of the recipients? What would happen if recipients or senders decided against paying for forwarding? Would total costs merely go up since return to sender mail costs more than twice as much as forwarding per piece? Are there other alternatives? Share your thoughts below.

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