• on Oct 22nd, 2012 in OIG | 2 comments
    Since the launch of “Pushing the Envelope” in October of 2008, we have been blogging on topics of interest to U.S. Postal Service stakeholders and the general public. We’ve published 212 blogs to date (this one makes 213). Since it is our birthday, we thought we’d take this time to reflect on the last year and to look to the future. First, thanks to our active readers who provide insightful commentary and food for thought. Your ideas and comments can turn into audit projects, white papers, or even the need to turn something over to our Office of Investigations. Our top five blogs this last year were: •Mail Delivery: Are These Steps Unnecessary?What’s the Score?Why Saturday?How Far Does Your 44 Cents Go?Who Should Pay for Mail Forwarding? The major interest in these blogs reflects the entire mailing community’s concern about the Postal Service’s finances and the long-term solutions for reinventing its business model. In your comments, you have not only conveyed your concerns, you have suggested new ideas and recommendations for solutions as well. We will continue to feature similar issues in the year to come in our ongoing effort to foster high-level discussion and interaction with the Postal Service stakeholder community. In March, we tried something new and hosted a 5-week guest blog series on the “Five Elements of a Postal Solution”. Guest commentators from inside and outside the postal community shared their views on the Posal Service’s mission, infrastructure, its role in the Digital Age, and federal mandates. The success of this series has prompted us to consider other novel ways to engage the public. Our older blogs also continue to generate new discussions. We’ve found our readers are interested in a wide range of postal topics, from workplace rules that seem to make little sense to the very broad category of ideas to help the Postal Service. •Brainstorm Ideas to Help the Postal ServiceThe OIG Wants to Know How You Feel About Sick LeaveSilly RulesNationwide Wage Uniformity As the Postal Service becomes leaner and more flexible and as it tries to connect with the younger generation, we will have no shortage of topics. In the year ahead, look for us to discuss important issues, including postal operations, customer service, digital solutions, workplace concerns, and the future of the postal system. We are also interested in hearing the specific topics you would like us to blog about. Some of our best ideas have come from our readers, so let us know in the comment section below. Thanks again for reading.
  • on Oct 16th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 13 comments
    There has been a surplus in the U.S. Postal Service’s Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) pension program since 1992. Most recently, the FERS surplus was projected to be $11.4 billion, accounting for most of the Postal Service’s total $13.1 billion pension surplus. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) asked Hay Group, an actuarial firm, to examine the causes of the FERS surplus, and a new OIG white paper presents the results of Hay Group’s work. Hay Group found that the main reason for the surplus was differences between the Postal Service and the rest of the federal government. In particular, postal salary growth was lower than the assumptions made in the liability estimates. The surplus grew as actual postal experience replaced the initial assumptions used for the entire FERS population. Hay Group recommends using Postal Service-specific assumptions to provide a more accurate estimate of the liability. When Postal Service-specific assumptions are used to measure the Postal Service’s liability, the surplus increases from $11.4 billion to $24 billion. Given the Postal Service’s current financial health, the existence of the FERS surplus raises some questions. What should be done about the postal FERS surplus? Right now, there is no mechanism to return a FERS surplus once it occurs. Also, what about the contribution rate? The Postal Service currently pays the same FERS contribution rate as other federal agencies, 11.9 percent of payroll for most employees. This contribution rate has increased twice in the past 3 years despite the existence of a surplus for the Postal Service. Should the Postal Service’s contributions be adjusted to reflect its specific characteristics? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
  • on Oct 8th, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 10 comments
    The digital revolution has changed communications, and with it, the operations and finances of the U.S. Postal Service. It also has brought deep changes in the way we design networks and analyze systems. Many organizations rely on mathematical modeling to test ideas before they become operational, conserving money and time. The Postal Service, facing limited capital and resources, has also adopted this practice. It is discovering how important these tools are for assessing strategies for designing the future mail network. The Office of Inspector General has explored some of the main components of the postal supply chain - retail, mail processing and transportation, and delivery – using a systems modeling approach. This approach has allowed the OIG to use objective methods to determine how the network could be redesigned to meet current needs and future demands. This research also helps us to understand some of the challenges in developing information-based decision models for the Postal Service. A primary challenge in any modeling effort is collecting the necessary information. Without this data, the model cannot fully assess the efficiency of the operations it is modeling, and develop an optimal network solution. Postal information systems can be a complex array of the hundreds of highly varied and specialized information systems that are often developed and maintained under separate contracts. Simplifying this landscape also could enable more insightful analyses to better guide decision makers. As the Postal Service considers how it can best serve the public through its products and services, modeling efforts can help it to evaluate different proposals for change. As we develop better efficiency standards with more rich data sources, we can not only better evaluate the efficiency of operations and system design, but we can better explore how operations may be changed to meet the needs of new environments.

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