• on Dec 15th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 22 comments

    Is the U.S. Postal Service a business or a public service organization? Well, it’s actually both, and those overlapping – and sometimes conflicting – obligations have created major challenges for the agency over the years.

    Historically, the Post Office was deliberately used by the government to expand transportation services such as roads and passenger air service. In the modern era, the 1968 President’s commission on postal issues, known as the Kappel Commission, declared the Post Office to be a business; however, the Postal Service continues to provide infrastructure services that not all businesses would provide, such as maintaining needed rural post offices that operate at a loss.

    It was easier to manage the ongoing tension between the Postal Service’s dual mandates when postal revenues were strong enough to sustain the infrastructure and also cover all of the agency’s operating costs. But today, the Digital Age is cutting into the volume of the product that contributes more than half of the funds to support the network: First-Class Mail. And this strain has led to more tension between the Postal Service as a public service provider and as a business. Meanwhile, new technologies and global commerce are changing the nation’s infrastructure needs. The Postal Service would benefit from more clarity about what it should offer in this evolving environment.

    Our new white paper, The Postal Service’s Role as Infrastructure, gives three broad options the Postal Service and its stakeholders could consider when deciding how to adapt the Postal Service’s role for the future. These options are not mutually exclusive. But they should be evaluated together so all potential uses are recognized and accounted for as part of major changes to the size and scope of the Postal Service’s infrastructure.

    • Option 1: Adjust the postal network to the changing demand for mail and the growth in parcels. The Postal Service is making efforts to do this now.
    • Option 2: Repurpose the existing infrastructure to address innovative services and new revenue streams, such as micro-warehousing.
    • Option 3: Increase the value of the physical postal infrastructure by digitally enhancing it. For example, carriers could use mobile handheld devices to perform more services at the door or from the truck, such as selling stamps, accepting Cash-on-Delivery (COD) payments, recharging debit cards, or even processing passports.

    What do you think? What options should stakeholders and the Postal Service consider? Is the Postal Service’s role as a national infrastructure still relevant today and how has it changed? 

  • 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? 

  • on Apr 19th, 2011 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 14 comments
    Although the digital option has grown as a channel for Americans to communicate, purchase, and store personal information, there are drawbacks that leave a significant portion of the population underserved. To meet the population’s needs and “bind the nation together” in a digital world, the Postal Service must modernize its role. The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General Risk Analysis Research Center has completed Part 2 of a series on the Postal Service’s role in the digital age. Building on the first white paper which explored the facts and trends impacting communications, The Postal Service Role in the Digital Age – Part 2: Expanding the Postal Platform, presents a strategic positioning framed by three guiding principles: •Promoting solutions for the communications problems of the digital age •Using the core competencies and assets of the Postal Service •Considering the policy implications of the strategy based on the current legal and regulatory environment Using an “eMailbox” that links a physical address to an electronic mailbox for every citizen and business, the Postal Service could build a digital platform that supports communications and commerce for postal, governmental, and commercial applications. The paper provides six additional initial applications for consideration, including: •An eGovernment application that promotes the expansion of government services throughout the postal platform and uses the eMailbox to send and receive secure and official communication with federal agencies. •Tools for identity validation, privacy protection, and transaction security that allow users to verify the individuals and businesses they are communicating with, the safety of their personal information, and security of their purchases and financial transactions. •Hybrid and reverse hybrid mail that allow senders and receivers to convert digital documents to physical and physical documents to digital. •Enhancing services for the shipping and delivery of secure online purchases through flexible pick-up and delivery options, expanded payment choices, and a cost calculation that includes all charges and fees for purchases (even international) at the time of sale. •Digital concierge services that use the eMailbox to integrate an individual’s physical and digital communications in a single place. These services act as a type of secure “lock box” and help manage the “information overflow,” providing quick access to important communications and other personal documents (such as medical records and wills). •Develop a network to buy and redeem cash and digital currency at Post Office™ locations and online. To learn more about the strategy and specific areas the Postal Service should consider, click here to read the paper. Do you think the Postal Service has a role in the digital age? Would you use any of these applications? This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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