• on Jun 16th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 6 comments

    Earn more or spend less. Those are the two basic ways to achieve financial fitness, whether you’re talking about the household budget or a multi-billion-dollar corporate balance sheet.

    And that’s what it comes down to for the U.S. Postal Service as it seeks to bring revenue in line with expenses (it lost $5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013). So far, the Postal Service has been looking at cost cutting ideas like moving to 5-day mail delivery to changing employee benefits to consolidating networks.

    It’s also been trying to grow revenue, most notably in the package delivery business. But are there some unexplored opportunities to generate income, particularly by taking advantage of one of the Postal Service’s greatest assets – its last mile delivery network?

    We asked that question in a previous blog entry and explored it in more detail in a recent audit report, Delivery Operations – Additional Carrier Services. We came up with nearly two dozen ideas – everything from monitoring services for the elderly and collection of air quality details on delivery vehicles to traffic reporting services and dry cleaning delivery. While these ideas should be explored, most would involve significant financial investments, additional training, and changes to core hours or labor agreements. Also, the 2006 postal law prohibits the Postal Service from offering any new services that aren’t postal in nature.

    But the Postal Service could move relatively quickly to add one new, albeit modest, moneymaker: advertising on postal vehicles. The agency has dipped its toe into similar waters by co-branding with Sony Pictures to promote Priority Mail and “The Amazing Spider Man-2” on mail trucks. But it could also sell space on its vehicles to promote products unrelated to mail.

    On the other hand, even with all those delivery vans, the Postal Service estimates revenue opportunities would be limited to only about $30 million in FY 2015. That’s because advertising would likely be profitable only in densely populated areas and the Postal Service would carefully select advertisers that don’t compromise its trusted brand.

    Should the Postal Service look at every opportunity to raise revenue by leveraging its last mile delivery force or should carriers stick to delivering the mail? What about advertising? Would the postal brand be tarnished if delivery vehicles promoted nonpostal products or is this a worthwhile opportunity to raise much-needed revenue? 

  • on May 26th, 2014 in Labor | 6 comments

    Offering workplace benefits such as health and retirement programs and paid vacations is a well established way to attract and retain talented workers. But the structure of these offerings has been changing in the public and private sectors over the past 20 to 30 years for several reasons, including rising pension debts; a more mobile workforce; and a move towards simplified administration of benefits.

    Employers have been looking to shed excessive pension expenses and give workers more control over their own retirement programs. Increasingly, private, local, and state employers are moving away from defined benefits plans that generally pay a guaranteed sum based on wages and years of service. They are increasingly favoring defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k) plan, a pretax fund built on employee and employer contributions. Meanwhile, retirement benefits plans for federal workers, including postal employees, have generally remained unchanged since the Federal Employees Retirement System was enacted in 1987.

    Similarly, the U.S. Postal Service’s leave benefits have stayed primarily the same for decades. Days off are organized into categories – annual, personal, sick, military (if applicable), and federal holiday – and the rate of leave accrual depends on the category. When taking leave, a postal employee has to indicate which category the leave falls into. But many companies are moving toward fewer categories, such as just vacation days and sick days. This simplified approach cuts down on administrative costs.

    As the Postal Service looks for ways to tighten its belt, it is considering changes in benefits, such as a new retirement program for future workers. But it is in a bit of a Catch-22. It is required to offer compensation and benefits that are comparable to those in the private sector, but it cannot change its benefits programs unilaterally, due to legal requirements and union agreements.

    At the request of the Postal Service, we issued two white papers that benchmarked its benefit programs against those of several comparable organizations. Specifically, we looked at retirement benefits and leave policies. We found many similarities in benefit offerings, but key differences, too. For example, retirement expenses make up a larger portion of total benefits for the Postal Service than for the other organizations we studied. Also, postal employees can carry over 55 or more days of annual leave each leave year and an unlimited number of sick days. But the other organizations had far more restrictive leave carryover.

    Share your thoughts or experiences on leave programs that consolidate all days off into one comprehensive plan. Might such a program for postal employees offer flexible benefits while reducing costs? Or does the current system work well? What changes, if any, are needed to the Postal Service’s retirement plans? 

  • on Mar 24th, 2014 in Labor | 7 comments

    When long-term, experienced workers leave companies, they take their know-how with them. It’s called “brain drain” and it happens at organizations of all sizes and kinds, most notably companies with a large number of baby boomers getting ready to retire and industries that are restructuring. The newspaper industry comes to mind, as does manufacturing, as does the U.S. Postal Service.

    Since 2004, the Postal Service has reduced the number of career employees by more than 200,000, primarily through attrition, early retirement incentives, and some contractual changes. This is part of its ongoing effort to right-size its workforce to better match the number of employees with a declining workload. Many of those who left were seasoned workers who took with them a wealth of experience and knowledge essential to running a vast and complex organization.

    Given that nearly 31 percent of current employees are eligible to retire now, and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe plans to shrink the workforce by 10,000 positions in fiscal year 2015, it’s likely this brain drain will continue for a number of years. Is the Postal Service adequately prepared for this loss of institutional knowledge? What more could it do to ensure it has a comprehensive approach to collect, maintain and disseminate this information?

    Our recent audit, Postal Service Knowledge Management Process, looked at the subject and determined the Postal Service could do more. Notably, by mimicking the best practices of eight large organizations we reviewed, including the General Services Administration and Walmart, the Postal Service would be able to ensure important knowledge and expertise stay within the organization. These practices include conducting exit interviews aimed at gleaning key information; designating a knowledge management officer; developing knowledge maps that offer visual representations of the organization’s pockets of expertise; and conducting mentor-based training.

    Are you concerned about the flight of human capital from the Postal Service? Do you think it should do more to preserve the knowledge of its most experienced workers? What are your ideas for the Postal Service to retain and share valuable knowledge and expertise?