• on Dec 31st, 2012 in OIG | 4 comments
    The Postal Service faced its own fiscal cliff in 2012 while the larger mailing industry continued to press for reform and innovation. But don’t count mail out just yet. A strong election season reminded many Americans that mail still matters, even in the digital age. And in Europe, one postal operator didn’t let 500 years of history stand in the way of reinventing itself. Looking over the headlines, the staff at the Office of Inspector General has pulled together the list below of the top 10 postal stories for 2012. After you read them, vote for your top story of the year, or let us know if we missed one. 10. Pitfalls of Sponsorship – The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency strips cycling legend Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles after accusing him of illegal doping while on the U.S. Postal Service team. 9. Sound as a Pound – Royal Mail positions itself for privatization after ending price controls, shifting its pension liability to the government, and earning a profit. 8. Regulatory Fireworks – The Postal Regulatory Commission approves a controversial and newspaper industry-opposed negotiated service agreement with Valassis and remands a portion of the Postal Service’s annual price increase, saying it ignored previous Commission orders. 7. A Vote for Election Mail – Direct mail still matters in politics. Election mail postage surged over $400 million as parties and politicians used mail to target their messages in contentious national and local elections. 6. Default This Year; Reform Next Year – The Postal Service defaults on two prefunding payments totaling $11.1 billion to the Retiree Health Benefits Fund. Lawmakers ready for a postal reform bill in the new Congress. 5. Terminator 2012: Rise of the Tablets, (Further) Decline of Print – Coincidence or not? Venerable publications, such as Newsweek and the Times Picayune newspaper, abandon or reduce their print editions, while the number of tablet owners doubled in the past year and reached 19 percent of adults. 4. Shrink to Fit – The Postal Service’s 5-year business plan calls for cutting costs by $20 billion through workforce reduction, consolidation of facilities, and elimination of Saturday delivery. In initial action, the Postal Service compromised and reduced hours at rural post offices rather than closing them and pushed back its plan to eliminate overnight delivery of First-Class Mail. 3. Postcards from the Edge – The Postal Service reaches its statutory borrowing limit of $15 billion for the first time ever and warned that it could run out of cash by October 2013, barring any significant action. 2. Brand Damage – Steady stream of bad news keeps the Postal Service in the news and threatens to hurt its brand, which could prove especially harmful as it reinvents its business model for the digital age. 1. Parcels are the New Letters – Same-day delivery trials by eBay and the Postal Service, the growth in parcel lockers, and the efforts of traditional brick-and-mortar powerhouse Wal-Mart to increase its online presence indicate a very bright future for packages.
  • on Dec 3rd, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 21 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research. A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month. The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters. The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world. Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets. “A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says. How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.
  • on Nov 12th, 2012 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 5 comments
    The historic election of 2012 is over. Whether your candidate won or lost, you can feel confident that the American electoral process, a model for the free world, worked as the Founding Fathers intended – even if they never could have imagined spending billions of dollars on an election. However, many citizens complained about the long lines at polling places and the unreasonable wait times. The wait times seemed to range from 30 minutes to several hours. In some cases, voters abandoned the polls altogether after a lengthy wait. States have decades of experience administering elections, so it is particularly vexing that voting is so time consuming. Why should it take longer to vote than it does to conduct other routine government business? In many states, motor vehicles can be renewed securely in several ways, at the citizen’s convenience. The citizen can renew in person at an office of the motor vehicle administration, mail a renewal form, or submit a renewal application online. What can be done to make voting quick, easy, convenient and yet still secure? Since 1998, citizens of the State of Oregon have securely cast their ballots exclusively by mail. Although postal voting has increased the amount of time necessary to tally votes, Oregon has reduced the cost of conducting elections and seen consistently higher turnout than the U.S. average. Ballots can either be mailed (earning the U.S. Postal Service some additional revenue) or dropped off free-of-charge at a ballot collection center. All 50 states already have a postal voting infrastructure in place through the offering of absentee paper ballots. In 2011 Washington State followed Oregon’s example of total postal voting and 27 other states allow anyone to vote by mail (without excuse). However there are still 22 states where postal voting is not an option without a valid and documented reason. In some localities, citizens can visit their local courthouse or other locations for early voting or to submit their absentee ballot in person, weeks before Election Day. Many citizens take advantage of these opportunities, even if the voting locale is less convenient than their polling place. The Post Office, as the heart of many local communities and a trusted government entity, might make an ideal place for early voting or in-person absentee voting. Do you agree? Do you think voting by mail would work in your community? Would you use the Post Office to cast your ballot if that were an option? Tell us what you think.

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