• on Jun 1st, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments
    In a time when everyone is examining the dollars and cents of the postal business, people have a tendency to overlook the bigger picture: the greater role of the Postal Service in modern society. With that in mind, the Postal Regulatory Commission requested the Urban Institute to study the Postal Service. The focus was not a traditional look at the business but a study of the benefits of the Postal Service and its infrastructure to the American population. The abstract and the final report, both of which were released last week, cites “…the postal system has had a civic as well as an economic mandate that legislators and regulators interpret with changing times and circumstances in mind. An independent agency of the executive branch, the USPS opens access to information for preserving democracy, fostering commerce, and promoting the general welfare. It’s a public good and a great equalizer insofar as it serves rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, unhealthy and hale.” The report’s author, Nancy Pindus, found eight types of benefits: •Consumer benefits – Provides price competition for other delivery services and access to goods for the underserved. •Business benefits - Provides a logistical component for smaller businesses, an advertising channel serving a spectrum of businesses, and as a center of commerce in communities (through post offices). •Safety and security - Offers mail carriers’ role within the neighborhood and places the Postal Service in a position to assist in emergencies or in cases of natural disaster. •Environmental benefits – Acts as a test site in exploring environmental products and services; provides last-mile service to other delivery companies and utilizes post offices as centers for recycling efforts in many communities. •Aid in the delivery of other government services – Functions as an intermediary for government services on local, state, and Federal levels. •Information exchange – Holds a traditional role of democratically disseminating information, whether through periodicals, community groups or other channels. Post offices also serve as center for posting of community notices. •Social links – Delivers personal communications, carriers provide a regular link to the community for a number or people, post offices are a center for local contact and identity. •Civic pride – Serves as the only representative of Federal government in many areas, often tied into an area’s community identity. In your opinion, have any roles been overlooked? Should any of these roles be eliminated and if so, why? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Mar 3rd, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 21 comments
    On March 2, Postmaster General John E. Potter presented a 10-year “action plan” to meet the challenges faced by the Postal Service as it encounters declining mail volumes combined with increasing overhead costs. The plan comes as a product of a yearlong study by the Postal Service and a number of leading consultants to identify and analyze over 50 different actions that could help counter the changing marketplace. The Postmaster General warned that if the Postal Service continues to operate as it is, it will run a cumulative debt of $238 billion over the next 10 years. Even if the Postal Service institutes every conceivable control within management control – product and service actions, productivity improvements, workforce flexibility improvements and purchasing savings – it can only shrink the debt to $115 billion.

    In order for the Postal Service to continue its primary mission of affordable and reliable delivery, it will need the kind of flexibility that only legislative changes can provide. The Postmaster General outlined key areas:

    • 1.Retiree Health Benefits Prefunding – The Postal Service currently would shift from prepaying its fund to paying premiums as they are billed, as other government agencies and private companies operate. 2.Delivery Frequency – The Postal Service would consider 5-day delivery and other adjustments that would allow it to operate more efficiently. 3.Expand Access – The retail network would be examined in order to close unproductive outlets and expand the postal presence in other retail channels, including online. 4. Workforce – In order to have greater workforce flexibility, the Postal Service would need to shift workers and better utilize part-time employees in the workforce. 5.Pricing – The prices for postal products need to reflect demand and market-dominant products should be limited by a single price cap. 6.Expand Postal Products and Services – Given the evolving needs coming from technological and consumer change, the Postal Service is looking to streamline the process involved with rolling out new products and services. 7.Oversight – The current oversight model has encumbered the Postal Service with a number of agencies and commission as with authority as well as Congress. The roles and processes of oversight need to be clarified to allow for efficient operations.

    What do you think? Are the actions mentioned above enough for the Postal Service to remain viable in the future? Would you suggest further steps? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

  • on Feb 8th, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 23 comments
    Courtesy of Apple

    Last August, Pushing the Envelope ran a topic on e-readers — devices designed for portable book reading. Two weeks ago, Apple unveiled the iPad. The iPad offers multiple functionality including the ability to read books, surf the Internet, and use computer applications. Unlike most e-readers, the iPad does not have virtual ink technology, which is intended to mimic paper and make reading more pleasant, but it has one key difference from other widely-used e readers — a color display.

    Newspapers and magazines have particularly expressed interest in a portable device that would electronically display their content in color. They hope to sell electronic versions of their traditional product — stories and advertisements that are easy to read anywhere. Is the iPad the answer? Will magazines and newspapers migrate to color devices like the iPad? What about catalogs? If people can easily read, view, and order items from a computer tablet on their couch, will retailers start sending digital catalogs? Or is the immediacy of receiving a physical paper catalog irreplaceable? What do you think? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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