• on Mar 16th, 2009 in Labor | 15 comments
    The federal government has two main retirement systems. Most employees hired since 1983 fall under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, known as FERS. Unlike their counterparts under the old system called CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System), FERS employees do not receive any service credit for their unused sick leave upon retirement. As a result, there are concerns that some FERS employees may try to use up as much of their sick leave balance as they can prior to retirement — a practice often called the “FERS Flu.” Because FERS employees are expected to comprise almost the entire federal and Postal Service workforce by 2014, a widespread outbreak of the FERS Flu could have serious consequences. This past December, approximately 1,400 readers of FedSmith.com participated in an on-line survey regarding their attitudes about sick leave usage in the Federal Government. One survey response should raise concerns. Readers were asked, “Is it ethical for a federal employee to use sick leave without having an authorized medical reason for using the leave?” Fully one-third of respondents stated that this was fully ethical, while an additional 11 percent were unsure. Another on-line poll of federal employees was even more troubling. Of the more than 1,100 FERS respondents, more than 75 percent said they planned to use as much sick leave as possible during their last year before retirement. A Congressional Research Service analysis of payroll data on nearly 500,000 employees showed that FERS employees eligible to retire used nearly 35 percent more sick leave than comparable CSRS employees.
    FERS Flu...Is it catching? woman reclining in a hammock

    While the FERS Flu is a problem throughout the federal government, it could be particularly acute for the Postal Service for two reasons. First, much of what the Postal Service does is very time-sensitive. For example, if a letter carrier takes a day of sick leave, someone must perform the work in place of the absent carrier. Often, the Postal Service must replace that work at the higher overtime rate. Second, because Postal Service managers have set aggressive goals to minimize sick leave usage, many FERS Postal Service employees have accumulated very large sick leave balances, and will therefore, have large amounts of sick leave available to use. Legislation that would give service credit to FERS employees for their unused sick leave has been proposed in the current Congress. This legislation passed the House of Representatives during the 110th Congress, but was not taken up by the Senate. What do you think about the risk of FERS Flu for the Postal Service?

  • on Mar 9th, 2009 in Products & Services | 16 comments
    The Office of Inspector General (OIG) independently audits the efficiency and effectiveness of Postal Service programs such as the online shipping solution Click-N-Ship®. However, OIG employees are also customers of the Postal Service, with their own experiences. Tara, a member of the OIG’s Communication team, tried Click-N-Ship® over the holidays and volunteered to write about her experience.
     
    I knew Click-N-Ship® existed through promotions and obviously being an employee of the USPS OIG. And even though I pride myself on being very tech-savvy, I was hesitant to use it. To me there was just something comforting about making the time consuming trip to the post office to pay a real person to take and ship my package. Then I thought to myself, “I shop online, why not give this a shot?” Now I am a raving fan.
     

    With a simple digital kitchen scale, my computer, and credit card, I shipped approximately 50 packages out during the holidays from the comfort of my own home. Most were letter-sized, so I first placed an online order for the free Priority Mail envelopes the Postal Service provides online. They were delivered to my door within a few days. It was fairly easy to set up the account, enter addresses, print the shipping labels, and complete transactions. For no additional charge, I scheduled a carrier pick-up and confirmed delivery of my packages online. In fact, the carrier even left a notification that he picked up my packages.

    The only problem I encountered was not being able to ship anything for a day or so during the Postal Service’s technical glitch in the system in mid-December. Though mildly inconvenient, it wasn’t that big of deal to wait until the next day when the system was fixed. So now whenever someone tells me they are going to the Post Office to ship something, I tell them to give Click-N-Ship® a try.

    Have you ever used Click-N-Ship® and what was your experience? Was your experience similar to Tara’s? If not, what happened? What ideas do you have for the Postal Service to promote or improve this service?

  • on Mar 2nd, 2009 in Pricing & Rates | 5 comments

    Have you ever wondered why the Postal Service offers free rates for the blind, balloting materials for overseas voters, and items sent by some consular officials? Or why it offers reduced rates to qualified nonprofit organizations, election officials, local newspapers, and publishers of educational material? It is because Congress mandates that the Postal Service provide free or reduced rates to these mailers and then appropriates money to reimburse the Postal Service for the revenue “forgone.”

    Initially, Congress reimbursed the Postal Service for all types of reduced rate mail. Over the years, as rates increased and the number and size of nonprofit organizations grew, the revenue forgone appropriation more than doubled from $441 million in fiscal year (FY) 1972 to $970 million in FY 1985. The increase spurred a debate about who should bear the cost of reduced rates: taxpayers or other mailers. To address these concerns as well as other matters, the Congress passed the Revenue Forgone Reform Act of 1993. Under the Act, the annual appropriation for free postage for the blind, overseas absentee balloting materials, and consular officials continued; however, new appropriations for reduced rate mail stopped. The Act required nonprofit mailers to cover more institutional or overhead cost and shifted the rest of these costs to other mailers.

    Currently, nonprofit mailers that use Standard Mail pay approximately 60 percent of commercial Standard Mail regular rates. The remaining share is absorbed within rates charged to other mailers. Congress continues to reimburse the Postal Service for revenue forgone for free mail, but the amount appropriated is usually less than the Postal Service requests. For example, although the Postal Service requested $124 million in FY 2008 to cover the costs of revenue forgone, free mail and adjustments from previous years, it received only about $89 million.

    What do you think are some of the pros and cons of offering free or reduced rates to certain organizations? Tell us what you think.

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