• on Aug 16th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 8 comments
    There is no question that a country’s postal service is a valuable national asset. On one hand, it is a functional asset that supports commerce and binds the nation together. On the other, postal operations are capital assets, with distribution networks, vehicles, machinery, and labor resources that have some sort of value. While the value of binding the nation together is difficult to put into monetary terms, the value of capital assets is easier to assess. In fact, some cash-strapped governments around the world are trying to raise money by selling parts of their postal operations. The most prominent example is Greece, who announced in June that it plans to sell 39 percent of the national postal service, Hellenic Post. Greece’s troubled financial condition sent shockwaves through world markets in February. Greece plans to sell off part of Hellenic Post as a condition of the financial rescue package provided by other European Union (EU) members and the International Monetary Fund totaling €110 billion ($142 billion). The plan calls for Greece to raise at least €1 billion ($1.29 billion) per year for the next three years by selling off state-owned services including the national rail line and various utilities. Despite this partial privatization, the Greek government will still control 51 percent of Hellenic Post. Hellenic Postbank holds the remaining 10 percent. It will also remain the dominant company in the Greek postal market as EU regulators put off fully opening Greece to postal competition until 2013. This special regulation is because Hellenic Post must serve a large number of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, making its universal service obligation far more expensive than most other areas of Europe. This also makes the Greek situation unique. As the financial crisis that began in 2007 drags on into its third year, governments are trying to find ways to finance or pay off mounting deficits. One solution embraced by some, currently including Greece, UK, and Russia, is to leverage the value of national assets, particularly postal services. The question that remains is whether accepting money in the short term will harm the long-term value of national posts when it comes to promoting commerce and national unity. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Aug 9th, 2010 in Labor | 6 comments
    5,214 workers died on the job in the U.S. in 2008 "With every one of these fatalities, the lives of a worker's family members were shattered and forever changed. We can't forget that fact." -Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor
    Safety is a key component of all Postal Service operations, activities, and facilities. Nonetheless, safety issues do occur in the Postal Service as in other organizations. Recently, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors found electrical safety violations in several Postal Service Processing and Distribution Facilities (P&DCs). Electrical Safety issues at Postal P&DCs identified by OSHA include: •Electricity problems in facilities •Failure to adequately lock out machines' power sources to prevent unexpected start-ups •Inadequate training for employees exposed to electrical hazards •Failure to provide electrical protective equipment to protect employees from arc-flash hazards and electrical current •Failure to use appropriate safety signs, safety symbols or accident prevent tags to warn employees about electrical hazards As a result of the findings, OSHA has announced that it will inspect the over 300 P&DCs nationwide. But OSHA does not consider only electricity–related safety. Other areas of concern include: •Employee workplace rights •Chemical Hazard Communication •How To Prepare For Workplace Emergencies •Personal Protective Equipment •Biological agents There are also many instances of praise for the Postal Service from OSHA including: A 2009 inspection for safety levels at the El Paso Postal Distribution Center that resulted in merit recognition in the Voluntary Protection Programs for its employee health and safety achievements. Also in 2009, the Postal Service's Evergreen Detached Carrier Unit in Hillsboro, OR, received OSHA's highest safety recognition award. This topic is hosted by the OIG's Audit Engineering and Facilities team.
  • on Jul 26th, 2010 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 8 comments
    Millions of people trust the Postal Service to mail their bills and cast their vote. In our previous voting by mail blog, concerns about potential fraud were identified and whether their votes would reach their destination. Others identified the potential for the Postal Service to expand its role and expressed relief in avoiding long lines to cast their votes.
    “The answer to the nation’s voting anxiety is not a national standard that imposes new rules on an outdated system of polling places. The answer is a low-tech, low-cost, reliable, and convenient system that makes it easier to vote and easier to count votes. The answer is Vote-by-Mail.” — Bill Bradbury, Former Secretary of State, Oregon
    Various voting methods have been explored over the years to provide secure and convenient ways for citizens to cast their votes and provide municipalities with cost-cutting opportunities. One method under consideration is voting by mail. The Postal Service has repeatedly been ranked as one of the most trusted government agencies and has a significant role in today’s voting landscape. The Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act, introduced by California Representative Susan Davis, will provide all eligible voters the option to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections for any reason. Currently, states such as Oregon and Washington use voting by mail extensively and many cities, counties, and other states are getting on board. Oregon boasts over a decade of voting by mail resulting in increased voter turnout, cost savings, and only nine fraud cases out of 15 million mail ballots cast. For years, the military has used the mail to allow overseas personnel to cast their votes. The Postal Service claims there are advantages to voting by mail, such as: •Increasing voter participation. •Giving voters a longer opportunity to study the initiatives, the candidates, and the ballot. •Providing an automatic paper trail. •Eliminating confusion about where to vote. •Providing privacy and security. •Offering a variety of formats to communicate with voters. •Giving easy and cost-effective solutions for returning ballots to help increase response. •Providing technology to help registrars update and correct voter registration lists and addresses before an election. •Offering return services at no additional charge with First-Class Mail®. Supporters of mail voting claim greater and more informed voter participation, less fraud, and lower administrative costs. Opponents say there is a risk of unauthorized voter participation, loss of the secret ballot, increased chance of fraud, inappropriate pressure from interest groups, and fewer opportunities for the community to come together. What do you think about voting by mail? We want to hear your experiences and ideas. What value does vote by mail add? What concerns or risks exist? Please share your opinions. This topic is hosted by the Human Resources & Security team.

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