• on Nov 17th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 35 comments

    Most people probably don’t know what a universal service obligation is, much less that the Postal Service is bound by one. But a USO, as it’s commonly called, is essential to ensuring that everyone receives the mail service they need. And the Postal Service’s USO is long overdue for updating and clarification, as you can see in our new white paper, Guiding Principles for a New Universal Service Obligation.

    In general, a USO is a collection of requirements that ensure everyone in the country receives a minimum level of mail service at a reasonable price. The Postal Service’s USO includes a requirement to provide mail services to everyone, regardless of where they live, and for at least one mail product, at a uniform price. Other features of the USO are understood to include frequency of delivery, a range of product offerings, access to mail services, and quality of service. For instance, delivering your mail 6 days a week is part of the USO.

    But frequency of delivery is the only obligation that is clearly articulated in the Postal Service’s current USO. In fact, the USO is based on a hodgepodge of various legal requirements and regulations that, in most cases, provide only broad guidance. For example, while public access to postal services is another important component of the USO, there’s nothing about how many access points, such as collection boxes or post offices, must exist.

    The big question: What exact services do policy makers and the American public (both senders and receivers of the mail) now need the Postal Service to provide? Our paper provides six guidelines the Postal Service and its many stakeholders can use to frame the discussion about the USO and try to answer that basic question. For instance, we say a new USO should be clearly defined while also being flexible enough to adapt to future changes.

    Do you agree the USO should be updated to reflect the changing nature of communications? How have your mail needs changed in the last decade? Do we still need 6-day-a-week delivery? How do you think the American public would benefit from a more clearly defined USO that included, for example, a minimum requirement for the number of access points? 

  • on Oct 20th, 2014 in OIG | 15 comments

    As we celebrate our sixth year of blogging, you might think we’ve covered it all. Surely we’ve hit on every postal topic and angle there is, right? Well apparently not. We have a backlog of issues we want to share and people keep giving us excellent insights and feedback.

    Over the years we’ve noticed that, every once in a while, one of our blogs really strikes a chord with our stakeholders. This past year, we had a few of those moments. The first was our blog on the Harry Potter stamp (Will Harry Potter Cast a Spell on Young Stamp Collectors?). We knew the stamp’s release was controversial. But 226 comments? And more than 57,000 views? Stakeholders care a lot about postage stamps, and social media let them express their sentiments. Other blogs that generated heavy commentary were Network Consolidation Reboot (with a record-setting poll response of over 3,700) and The Road to a New Delivery Fleet, with many of the comments coming from current or retired postal workers. This reinforced one of our earliest blogging insights: Postal workers are passionate about the Postal Service, and they have a lot of good ideas to share.

    However, comments alone don’t measure a blog’s impact. Readership is another good indicator of whether a blog topic resonates with stakeholders. We were surprised to discover that sometimes the blogs with the fewest comments actually got the most views. Our blog asking about the role of a chief innovation officer (The Innovation Unit Dilemma) topped more than 23,000 reads, as did our blogs on the Postal Service’s deal with Amazon to deliver on Sundays (No More Day of Rest for Postal Package Delivery) and on same-day delivery (If You Build It, They Will Come. Maybe)

    Finally, we are finding that the blog isn’t the only place where the action is. Facebook and Twitter continue to see a lot of activity. For example, our blog on the Social Security Administration’s return to paper statements lit up on Facebook even though it generated only a handful of blog comments.

    We mention all of this not to toot our own horn, but to remind stakeholders that this blog serves as an important tool to engage with you on issues that affect the Postal Service. Your input matters to us and informs our work. As we toast our 6-year anniversary, we hope you will continue to share your insights, ideas, issues, and concerns.

    What topics would you like to see covered in a blog? 

  • on Oct 5th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 3 comments

    Pretty soon, Americans will have no reason to leave their homes. We can order everything online and have it delivered to our doors – even groceries. That’s good news for package delivery companies, if not for Americans’ Vitamin D intake.

    Attention has centered lately on grocery delivery, with the U.S. Postal Service unveiling its plans to get in the game. The Postal Service recently asked the Postal Regulatory Commission to let it expand its test with Amazon into a broader 2-year test available to other retailers. Under the test, retailers would drop off their grocery orders in color-schemed tote bags at local post offices between 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Postal officials would map out the day’s deliveries and then city carrier assistants would load the trucks and deliver the totes between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., leaving them at front doors. The carriers would use iPhones to scan for tracking purposes.

    Given Americans’ love affair with food, grocery delivery seems like a safe bet. But it’s a fragmented market and some players already have a foothold in certain cities. Peapod, Instacart, and Fresh Direct are fairly well-established in some locations and work with many of the big name grocery stores. Walmart with its Walmart to Go and Safeway are testing delivery of groceries from their own stores in select cities.

    Still the Postal Service, with its local presence and national reach, brings expertise as a delivery company to the table. Its ability to “dynamically route” the deliveries each day based on supply also helps. That is, it can adjust deliveries and routes as needed to achieve the greatest route density, which is critical to success. Further, this service would allow the Postal Service to use delivery vehicles when they normally sit idle, although extra wear and tear on its aging fleet could prove problematic.

    If the Postal Service gets the pricing right, it could entice some retailers to give the service a try. But pricing is a big question: Can the Postal Service price it right? The market test should help answer some other questions: Will bags of groceries left unattended in the early morning hours be susceptible to theft? Has the Postal Service waited too long to enter the market? Or does its delivery expertise and presence in every community give the Postal Service a competitive advantage? 

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