• on Jul 3rd, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 14 comments

    “If you are generally well-equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse, you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Ali S. Khan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Hurricanes, floods, wild fires, snowstorms, tornadoes, zombie apocalypse – you name it, the U.S. Postal Service is prepared to deliver. Part of the Postal Service’s extensive operational planning includes contingency plans to make sure mail gets delivered safely after every type of weather event, power outage, and undead uprising. Ok, maybe the Postal Service isn’t preparing for a zombie apocalypse, but its emergency preparedness plans could seemingly handle even that type of catastrophe.

    The Postal Service’s immediate priority after a storm or major weather event is the safety of its employees. Once safety issues are addressed, the prompt delivery of mail and packages to affected areas becomes the focus. The resumption of mail delivery to a disaster-affected area is often a welcome event in recovery. Citizens are frequently without power and phone service, which severely limits communications. Mail delivery allows for the exchange of information, including relief checks and government services, and can even provide a small feeling of a “return to normalcy” for citizens. Sometimes after a storm, a letter carrier is the first direct contact a citizen has with another person. Postal employees are often dealing with disasters in their own homes, yet show up faithfully for work.

    Halfway into 2013 and the year is shaping up to be an historic weather one. Winter storm Nemo, May tornadoes in Oklahoma, wild fires in Arizona, late spring snowstorms from Arkansas to Minnesota, flooding in many parts of the country, and record-breaking heat in the West all took place in just the first 6 months of this year. And hurricane season has only just started. This puts added pressure on the Postal Service to have sufficient controls in place to ensure employee safety and mitigate interruptions to service. Adding to the contingency challenge is the fact that postal facilities are often damaged in these weather events, forcing rerouting of mail and relocation of retail services. For example, the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive power outages and infrastructure disruptions up and down the east coast, resulted in numerous postal facilities being damaged.

    Share with us your experiences with the Postal Service during major weather events. Could the Postal Service improve its preparation and response efforts in dealing with extreme weather to minimize disruptions? 

  • on Jun 28th, 2013 | 21 comments

    Postal customers often choose to stand in line at the counter of their local Post Office, even as an open self-service kiosk sits nearby. In some cases, customers might prefer to interact with a window clerk, perhaps to make sure they purchase the right service or because they want to buy a specialty service not available from the automated kiosk.

    But some customers might be unaware that they can get many of the same services at a kiosk that they get from the window. For example, they can buy postage; weigh and send packages; use the ZIP Code lookup feature; and obtain fairly large quantities of First-Class Mail stamps (up to 100 self-adhesive packets). With about 2,500 kiosks in 2,300 retail locations and many of them accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, kiosks are convenient and fairly simple to use.

    Consumers have grown so accustomed to using self-service kiosks, including automated teller machines and airline ticketing kiosks, that many people barely remember a time before them. In grocery stores across the country, customers are now choosing to scan and bag their own groceries at self-service checkouts, even though it saves them no money to do it themselves. Yet, consumer backlash against completely automated customer service is growing, especially in some industries such as banking. For example, TD Bank now promotes itself as a bank with “humanity,” using the catch phrase “bank human again.” It seems customers want choice: automation when it’s convenient and human interaction when it is needed.

    Does the Postal Service have the right balance of automated options and the human touch? Should it consider expanding the use of self-service kiosks to retail locations that will be operating at reduced hours (less than 8 hours per day)? What could the Postal Service do to increase public awareness and use of self-service kiosks units? Or do you think the public prefers working directly with a person at the window?

  • on Jun 24th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service is in the middle of a difficult transition to position itself as a 21st century communications provider. The Postal Service sees new opportunities, but its current cash shortage makes it difficult to invest in modernizing aging facilities and vehicles, or developing new products to serve changing communications and delivery needs. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an increasingly popular way for governments to achieve policy goals and develop infrastructure, while shifting short-term financial burdens away from taxpayers and strained government coffers. 

    Unlike a traditional procurement, in a PPP the private sector partner usually shares in the risks and benefits of the project. For example, a company could build and manage a toll road under a contract with a government transportation agency, and recoup its investment by collecting tolls. In the postal sector, a common PPP is for entrepreneurs to manage post offices. The Postal Service has entered into similar partnerships through its contract postal unit program and agreements with several retailers. Some foreign postal operators have gone further by having all or almost all of their post offices run by private partners. If the post office ends up earning less revenue than projected, the postal operator avoids being stuck with a money-losing facility.

    The Postal Service Office of Inspector (OIG) recently released a white paper entitled Public Private Partnerships: Best Practices and Opportunities for the Postal Service. The white paper recommends that the Postal Service consider opportunities for new PPPs to generate cash, reduce costs, make spending flexible so it varies along with volume, and leverage private sector expertise in developing new products for the digital age.

    This white paper reviews lessons learned from PPPs in the international postal sector and from nonpostal U.S. government agencies. Despite PPP’s potential benefits, government agencies should perform careful analysis before entering into one, as they usually involve higher long-term project finance costs in exchange for increased flexibility and risk-sharing. Over the years, government agencies have developed a set of best practices to ensure that a PPP is a good deal for the public. One common lesson is that there are significant benefits to creating a central office to facilitate PPPs, coordinate with private entities, and to collect and share best practices throughout an agency.

    Do you think these types of partnerships would benefit the Postal Service? From your experience and observations, which partnerships have been helpful to the Postal Service and its customers? What specific opportunities exist for additional partnerships between the Postal Service and the private sector? Are there any downsides to such partnerships? 

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