• on Mar 22nd, 2010 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 16 comments
    As the Postal Service examines its business model and contemplates changes meant to increase its efficiency, Congress’s role in postal operations has captured public attention. A prime example is the Postal Service’s recent efforts to trim its retail operations. As a cost cutting initiative, on July 2, 2009, the Postal Service filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission a list of Post Office stations and branches it was considering closing. After the filing, many entities questioned the Postal Service’s authority to close these facilities. An article published on the U.S. News & World Report website states, “Call your local congressman if you don’t want your local Post Office retail station or branch to be closed.” In addition, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) announced on its website “the APWU continues to lead community-based drives to keep retail units open.” Clearly, identifying the exact number and location of closings supercharges emotions. Add very real issues like social customs and potential job losses and relocations to the mix, and there are even more negative feelings associated with Post Office closures. It is not clear yet the number of retail stations and branches that will be closed, but what started out as list of 3,200 candidates has now declined to fewer than 170. In the action plan the Postmaster General announced in March, he cited a number of issues that will require legislative approval, including the retail network. The question is whether Congress, given constituent and political pressure, can provide the Postal Service the level of autonomy necessary to address this issue. How do you think Congressional oversight affects Postal Service operations? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Office of Audit Network Optimization team.
  • on Mar 15th, 2010 in Labor | 21 comments
    March 18 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in postal history — the postal strike of 1970. The night before, postal workers in New York voted 1,555 to 1,055 to go out on strike in protest of a House committee vote to limit their wage increase that year to 5.4 percent on the heels of a 41 percent increase in Congress’s own pay. The wildcat strike and picketing were effective in shutting down postal operations in New York and quickly spread to about 30 other cities. Within days about 152,000 workers in 671 locations were on strike. It was illegal for federal workers to strike, or even to advocate a strike, but union officials said they had no control over the action. The strike shut down New York’s financial industry, kept 9,000 youths from receiving draft notices, delayed the mailing of census forms and tax refunds, and generally disrupted the country’s communications. Injunctions and heavy fines were levied on union leaders; but the membership paid no attention. President Nixon called out 24,000 military personnel to distribute the mail, but they were ineffective. While the president asserted there would be no negotiations until the workers returned to work, Secretary of Labor William Usery did engage in negotiations that brought the strike to an end after 2 weeks. By all accounts, the strike was extremely successful for the unions, and it set the course of postal affairs for decades to come. No postal worker was ever disciplined for the walkout. Negotiators agreed to a 6 percent wage increase retroactive to 1969, and an additional 8 percent contingent on enactment of the Postal Reorganization Act. The bill had been languishing in Congress, but by April 16, 1970, agreement was reached. It not only provided the 8 percent pay raise, but also allowed postal workers to reach the top of the pay scale in only 8 years — in contrast to the 21 years previously in effect. After the first contract, pay for the newest worker had surpassed what a 21-year veteran had made 3 years earlier. Although the agreement directed the large increase towards high-cost areas like New York, where the strike began, it was effective across the nation, even in low-cost areas where compensation had been ample. The practice of uniform wages continues today at the Postal Service; even though the federal pay system introduced locality pay in 1990. The binding arbitration feature of the Act could also be traced to the strike. According to a union history, binding arbitration was included in the bill “in lieu of the right to strike,” though of course no federal employee has ever had such a right. This feature of the law has meant that the Postal Service has never been able to exert control over its labor costs. Unions also insisted that the Postal Service would not be called a government corporation, to guard against any implication that workers would lose the security of their federal jobs. The strike also set in motion lasting changes in the postal labor movement. Union heads that had tried to control the strike, and were willing to compromise with government leadership, lost credibility. A city carrier, Vincent Sombrotto, was in the forefront of rank and file members in New York insisting on the strike. After the strike, he led a movement to open up union elections and eventually headed the National Association of Letter Carriers for 24 years. Coincidentally with the formation of the Postal Service, five distinct unions of postal clerks, mail processors, maintenance, and motor vehicle workers merged into a new American Postal Workers Union, which provided a more unified voice for labor in political and collective bargaining negotiations. 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).

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