• on Apr 5th, 2010 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 42 comments
    According to a New York Times article, nearly 10 percent of Americans do not have bank accounts. These and other underbanked people may be taken advantage of by lenders, check cashing facilities, and pawnbrokers through excessive interest rates and fees. Fortunately, in this country, there are many options for consumers to choose, including prepaid debit cards. What if the Postal Service explored partnering with prepaid debit card providers to sell prepaid debit cards at post offices, just as they are now sold at other retail outlets? While the Postal Service explored similar products in the past, the current economic climate calls for a reexamination of the product. The Postal Service’s current experience conducting financial transactions in the form of money orders and Dinero Seguro would aid in the introduction of prepaid debit card services. Offering the cards could create a new revenue stream for the Postal Service and earn interest on the cards’ float, the money residing in cardholder accounts. That money may be invested prior to its use by account holders. The Postal Service might also benefit from increased sales of other products due to an increase in store traffic. The Postal Service has two core market advantages that would aid it in successfully offering prepaid debit cards. First, with the second-largest retail network in the country, the Postal Service could sell prepaid debit cards in areas with limited private sector retailers. Second, customers may be more likely to come to a Post Office to purchase prepaid debit card transactions because of their trust in the Postal Service brand. Legal and regulatory constraints, however, currently prohibit the Postal Service from offering prepaid debit cards. Under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, the Postal Service cannot offer new nonpostal products. Private sector interests may also work to prevent the Postal Service from competing against them by offering this product. Finally consider that given the robust variety of financial institutions already in this country, the Postal Service should evaluate whether offering prepaid banking card services would provide valuable options to customers while making a profit for itself. What do you think? Why did you answer yes or no to the poll question? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Mar 29th, 2010 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 15 comments

    By Jim O’Brien

     

    Back in 1990, Halstein Stralberg coined the term “automation refugees” to describe Postal Service mail processing employees who were assigned to manual operations when automation eliminated the work they had been doing. Since the Postal Service couldn’t lay off these employees, they had to be given something to do, and manual processing seemed to have an inexhaustible capacity to absorb employees by the simple expedient of reducing its productivity. The result was a sharp decline in mail processing productivity and a sharp increase in mail processing costs for Periodicals class. Periodicals class cost coverage has declined steadily since that time. Along with other efforts to get to the bottom of this issue, the Postal Service and Periodicals mailers formed a Joint Mail Processing Task Force in 1998. Halstein Stralberg and I were participants in this effort. We were puzzled by the fact that the flat sorting machines always seemed to be down during our seventeen Postal facility visits, in spite of the fact that they were supposed to run seventeen hours per day and that we visited facilities at all hours of the day and night. We were able to see the “bullpens” where mail processing employees manually tossed bundles of periodicals into rolling containers. Although the machines were down, the bullpens and other manual operations were always up and running. Fast forward to 2010. More Periodicals mail is manually processed than ever, and manual productivity continues to decline. Periodicals Class now only covers 75% of its costs. How can this dismal pattern of declining productivity and rising costs continue more than two decades after it was first identified, especially when the Postal Service has invested millions of dollars in flats automation equipment? How can the Postal Service continue to imply that Periodicals mailers are responsible for the cost coverage problem when mailers have substantially and consistently increased Periodicals worksharing? Yes, the recession did result in fewer advertising pages and lower revenue from Periodicals class mail, but the twenty-year-old elephant in the room continues to be the unanswered question of automation refugees and their impact on cost coverage. This issue would make an excellent subject for the OIG to investigate. The Postal Service should NOT be permitted to continue using Periodicals class mail processing as a dumping ground for its excess labor and the associated costs. What can be done to address the “automation refugees” issue? If Periodicals class mail is carrying a disproportional share of automation refugees, are there other areas where these employees can be used more effectively? Mr. O’Brien is the Vice President, Distribution & Postal Affairs for Time Incorporated. He is the Chairman of the Mailers Council, former Chairman of the Association for Postal Commerce (Postcom), former Chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) Postal Committee, and a member of the MPA Government Affairs and Postal Committees. Mr. O’Brien has been involved with the printing, publishing, and distribution of magazines for more than 35 years. Prior to joining Time Incorporated in 1978, he held positions with R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, United Parcel Service, and U.S. News & World Report. He is also the former CEO of Publishers Express, an alternative delivery that competed with the Postal Service in the delivery of magazines and catalogs. DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post are solely those of Mr. O’Brien and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Postal Service or the Office of Inspector General. The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General cannot guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness, or reliability of any statement, data, finding, or opinion presented by this guest blogger.

  • on Mar 22nd, 2010 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 16 comments
    As the Postal Service examines its business model and contemplates changes meant to increase its efficiency, Congress’s role in postal operations has captured public attention. A prime example is the Postal Service’s recent efforts to trim its retail operations. As a cost cutting initiative, on July 2, 2009, the Postal Service filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission a list of Post Office stations and branches it was considering closing. After the filing, many entities questioned the Postal Service’s authority to close these facilities. An article published on the U.S. News & World Report website states, “Call your local congressman if you don’t want your local Post Office retail station or branch to be closed.” In addition, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) announced on its website “the APWU continues to lead community-based drives to keep retail units open.” Clearly, identifying the exact number and location of closings supercharges emotions. Add very real issues like social customs and potential job losses and relocations to the mix, and there are even more negative feelings associated with Post Office closures. It is not clear yet the number of retail stations and branches that will be closed, but what started out as list of 3,200 candidates has now declined to fewer than 170. In the action plan the Postmaster General announced in March, he cited a number of issues that will require legislative approval, including the retail network. The question is whether Congress, given constituent and political pressure, can provide the Postal Service the level of autonomy necessary to address this issue. How do you think Congressional oversight affects Postal Service operations? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Office of Audit Network Optimization team.

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