• on Sep 29th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 7 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service is used to delivering large amounts of mail. Last year, it delivered more than 177 billion pieces. More mail pieces are sent per person in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world. But mail volume has been declining. How will the Postal Service change if volumes continue to fall? Is the Postal Service even financially sustainable at lower volume levels? The Office of Inspector General (OIG) asked the George Mason University School of Public Policy (GMU) to find out. The results of GMU’s work appear in a paper released today on our website. GMU researchers looked at how mail volumes of 150, 125, 100, and 75 billion would affect the Postal Service’s financial position and cost structure. Their results are encouraging. They found that the Postal Service is financially sustainable at volume levels down to 100 billion pieces per year, although price increases above inflation would be needed. The cost structure of the Postal Service would also change at lower volume levels. For example, delivery would account for a much larger share of total costs. GMU researchers also looked at the effect of various cost reduction initiatives and how they would impact the price increases necessary to break even. The paper describes their results and a description of the model they used for their analysis. What do you think? What are the biggest challenges for the Postal Service at lower volume levels? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Jul 12th, 2010 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 5 comments
    The Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002 grew out of large corporate financial scandals. SOX aims to improve corporate governance and enhance the accuracy of financial reporting. While compliance is required by the Postal Act of 2006, the Postal Service believes it is a great way to make its business stronger. SOX helps target areas of improvement and strengthen financial accounting, making the Postal Service a better business. As a result, the Postal Service designed and implemented new business mail acceptance procedures and requirements in an effort to comply with SOX. The initiative includes new check-in, verification, recording, placarding, and induction procedures for processing business mail; daily certifications of SOX compliance by business mail entry units; an updated mail acceptance handbook; and enhanced customer use of the PostalOne! system. Although the Postal Service hopes to strengthen its financial integrity and reporting accountability and reinforce the public’s trust in the Postal Service, there is widespread confusion at postal facilities about SOX compliance and how it changes (or does not change) mail acceptance and verification policies. Mailers and service providers often argue that postal facilities are misinterpreting SOX compliance policies, describing problems such held-up mailings, inconsistent acceptance processes, insufficient education and training, and inconsistent approvals from postal personnel. What do you think about the Postal Service’s new business mail acceptance procedures? We’d like to hear from you. We are also currently conducting an audit evaluating whether the Postal Service is effectively implementing the requirements of SOX. Click here for more information or to provide comments on the audit. This topic is hosted by the Office of Audit Field Financial – Central team.
  • on Jul 7th, 2010 in Pricing & Rates | 13 comments
    The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) ushered in a new regulatory structure for the U.S. Postal Service. One key element was a price cap on market dominant products. (Most of the Postal Service's products are market dominant.) This means that price increases for market dominant products are capped by the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). PAEA, however, does allow the Postal Service to increase its prices beyond the CPI cap under “extraordinary and exceptional circumstances.” The Postal Service makes the exception by filing an ‘exigent’ rate case to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). Before the Postal Service can increase prices, the PRC must agree with the ‘exigent’ request and find it to be reasonable, equitable, and necessary.

    This week the Postal Service proposed an exigent rate increase, an average of 5.6 percent across all classes of mail, effective January 2011. The direct mail industry has challenged the increase, threatening legal action and warning that the Postal Service will suffer large drops in mail volume. Much of the industry’s objection has centered on whether the Postal Service’s current circumstances are really “extraordinary and exceptional.” The Postal Service has based its case on the significant decline in mail volume and revenue, caused by the economic recession. In addition, because inflation has been low, the Postal Service has a small margin under the cap to raise prices. Some might argue that a price cap based on consumer items such as food, apparel, and electronics might not be the best metric for the Postal Service, because its costs are based on fuel, salaries, and health benefits. What do you think of the exigent price increase? Is it important to the continued viability of the Postal Service or should other revenue and cost reduction opportunities be explored first? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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