• 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).

  • on Jul 5th, 2010 in Labor | 37 comments
    One area identified in the Postal Service’s action for the future is to increase workforce flexibility. A larger, part-time work force would give postal management the flexibility to increase or decrease employees depending on mail volume. Although this change is not as drastic as closing postal facilities or switching to 5-day delivery, it raises questions about what a part-time postal workforce would look like. The Postal Service has fewer part-time employees than any other international postal operation. Currently only 13 percent of its workforce is part-time. Meanwhile, Deutsche Post employs a 40 percent part-time staff, while the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail employs 22 percent. Local competitors also have a higher percentage of part-time employees. For example, UPS employs a 53 percent part-time workforce and FedEx remains around 40 percent. Generally speaking, the Postal Service is behind the average American private sector firm, which employs a 30 percent part-time labor workforce.

    Is there a downside to employing a larger part-time workforce? Critics argue that part-time employees are less loyal to their employers, and as a result, they increase ”quasi-fixed” costs associated with recruiting, training, and oversight. However, recent findings call these assertions into question. A study in the Annual Review of Sociology found that part-time employees are just as likely as full-time employees to view their jobs as a “central life activity” and to be “equally committed to their organizations.” Moreover, the study also mentioned that employees’ demand for part-time jobs has increased since the 1980s, as the American workforce has increasingly desired job flexibility. Increasing the number of part-time postal employees would make the Postal Service more flexible in the face of declining mail volumes, seasonal fluctuations, and market volatility. For more information visit Newsweek story on part time workers. UPS info blog. A look at FedEx labor unrest. What do you think about the Postal Service’s idea to increase its part-time workforce? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

  • on Jun 28th, 2010 in Products & Services | 50 comments
    For decades, the Postal Service offered vending machine service to supplement its retail operations. Vending machines meet the needs of customers who want to purchase stamps without waiting in line. While the lack of stamp vending machines has resulted in customer frustration and a surprising number of newspaper articles, the problems are particularly acute in economically depressed and more urban areas. Although Automated Postal Centers (APCs) provide many services including the sale of stamps and directly applied postage for First-Class letters, APCs require credit cards, which people in economically depressed areas often do not have. In addition, some customers find APCs to be intimidating to use. Finally, APCs sell only booklets of stamps or individual stamps in denominations of $1 or more, yet many disadvantaged customers may want to buy just one First-Class Mail stamp.

    So with an apparent need for simple vending machines, what should the Postal Service do? In the past, the Postal Service had problems with the legacy machines it owned. They were costly and difficult to maintain and operate. The answer may be to contract this activity out. Commercial vending machines, like those selling soda and chips, are generally not owned and operated by the organizations on whose property they are located. While Postal Service unions and management associations may have concerns, private operators might be very interested in acquiring stamp vending machine contracts for a percentage of gross sales (or similar) while taking sole responsibility for vending machine maintenance and support. In addition to the convenience vending machines would offer, they might also help window clerks operate more efficiently. Diverting low-value stamp sales from windows would increase revenue per labor hour and allow the Postal Service window clerks to focus on more important functions. With shorter lines and happier customers, the work environment of a window clerk would likely improve. This idea could be a win-win for all concerned. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

Pages