• 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 Feb 10th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 31 comments

    Hold everything, folks. That’s the recent message from the U.S. Postal Service on phase two of its network consolidation plan and associated changes to service standards. The Postal Service has delayed the second phase, which was set to take effect this month.

    The Postal Service launched its consolidation plan – the Mail Processing Network Rationalization Initiative – in 2011 as part of a larger $20 billion cost-reduction strategy that seeks to realign the size of the postal network and workforce with reduced mail volumes. In phase one, the Postal Service targeted 178 consolidations. It also adjusted service standards for certain types of mail. For example, the Postal Service significantly reduced the overnight delivery area for First-Class Mail and cut in half the geographic reach of 2-day delivery.

    Phase two planned to eliminate overnight delivery of First-Class Mail and consolidate another 89 facilities. Current processing operations were designed primarily around providing overnight delivery of First Class Mail, the product line that is in steepest decline. So at some times in the day, mail processing machines sit idle. Without the constraint of overnight standards, the Postal Service would have a more flexible operating schedule, allowing for higher efficiency and lower costs.     

    Customers have mixed feelings about network consolidation. On one hand, mailers support reducing costs and eliminating excess capacity. It makes no sense to pay for unused capacity. They also understand the need for the Postal Service to have greater operational flexibility. On the other hand, a reduction in service standards acts as something of a de facto price increase: Customers are paying the same for reduced service.

    Further, some mailers are suspicious that these kinds of efforts, such as the latest proposal to add a day of service to some drop-shipped Standard Mail and Periodicals, are merely shifting postal costs onto their backs. They support approaches that reduce total combined costs. Other stakeholders, such as the American Postal Workers Union, have raised outright objections to changes in service standards.

    We want your thoughts:

    •  Should the Postal Service continue with phase two as originally outlined or does it need to make adjustments?
    •  Are changes to service standards a reasonable trade-off for lowering overall postal costs?
    •  Can the Postal Service afford premium service standards in a time of declining volume and revenue?
    • How do the changes to service standards affect you or your business?
    • Have you seen an increase in mail delays or service problems due to network consolidation?