• on Feb 10th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 30 comments

    Hold everything, folks. That’s the recent message from the U.S. Postal Service on phase two of its network consolidation plan and associated changes to service standards. The Postal Service has delayed the second phase, which was set to take effect this month.

    The Postal Service launched its consolidation plan – the Mail Processing Network Rationalization Initiative – in 2011 as part of a larger $20 billion cost-reduction strategy that seeks to realign the size of the postal network and workforce with reduced mail volumes. In phase one, the Postal Service targeted 178 consolidations. It also adjusted service standards for certain types of mail. For example, the Postal Service significantly reduced the overnight delivery area for First-Class Mail and cut in half the geographic reach of 2-day delivery.

    Phase two planned to eliminate overnight delivery of First-Class Mail and consolidate another 89 facilities. Current processing operations were designed primarily around providing overnight delivery of First Class Mail, the product line that is in steepest decline. So at some times in the day, mail processing machines sit idle. Without the constraint of overnight standards, the Postal Service would have a more flexible operating schedule, allowing for higher efficiency and lower costs.     

    Customers have mixed feelings about network consolidation. On one hand, mailers support reducing costs and eliminating excess capacity. It makes no sense to pay for unused capacity. They also understand the need for the Postal Service to have greater operational flexibility. On the other hand, a reduction in service standards acts as something of a de facto price increase: Customers are paying the same for reduced service.

    Further, some mailers are suspicious that these kinds of efforts, such as the latest proposal to add a day of service to some drop-shipped Standard Mail and Periodicals, are merely shifting postal costs onto their backs. They support approaches that reduce total combined costs. Other stakeholders, such as the American Postal Workers Union, have raised outright objections to changes in service standards.

    We want your thoughts:

    •  Should the Postal Service continue with phase two as originally outlined or does it need to make adjustments?
    •  Are changes to service standards a reasonable trade-off for lowering overall postal costs?
    •  Can the Postal Service afford premium service standards in a time of declining volume and revenue?
    • How do the changes to service standards affect you or your business?
    • Have you seen an increase in mail delays or service problems due to network consolidation?
  • on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Jan 28th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments

    With a large network of facilities and post offices, and yet mail volumes in decline, the U.S. Postal Service finds itself with a good deal of unused capacity. The dynamics over closing and consolidating facilities has raised the question of whether there are other uses for them. Further, the Postal Service could still own the facilities even after it closes or consolidates operations. Rather than sit empty, could the Postal Service use some of that capacity in non-traditional ways to generate additional revenue? One idea, if the law allowed, would be for the Postal Service to provide self-storage services at unused processing facilities. It could also provide safe-deposit boxes at under-used post offices. Self-storage allows users to rent storage space in the form of rooms, lockers or containers on a monthly or annual basis. Safety deposit boxes might be a miniaturized version of self-storage units, where the user could store especially valuable goods or papers in a secure and fire-safe box. These types of services would require little additional overhead or labor hours, although additional security personnel might be needed. Current law limits the Postal Service’s ability to offer services that are considered non-postal and in the past, some industries have resisted Postal Service’s efforts to enter into new business opportunities. However, as the Postal Service faces ongoing financial challenges and continued resistance to consolidation plans, is it time to consider new ways to use its infrastructure? Should the Postal Service be allowed to use its facilities to offer non-traditional services, like self-storage units and safety-deposit boxes? What offerings would you like to see? Do we need to rethink the infrastructure or simply allow the Postal Service to consolidate to match resources to workload?

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