• on Nov 17th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 20 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 Nov 10th, 2014 in Labor | 1 comment

    On Veterans Day, we reflect on the service that more than 21 million men and women have given to our country. About 1.3 million of them served during multiple wars, dating as far back as World War II.

    Many veterans now work in a wide range of fields, from manufacturing and retail to transportation and the entertainment industry, as laborers, managers, and executives, according to U.S. Census data. The largest contingent of veterans, about 14 percent, works in public service or administration, which isn’t really surprising given its close relationship to military service.

    Not many people may realize, however, that one particular public service – the U.S. Postal Service – has historically been one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans. In 2012, the Postal Service employed about 130,000 former service members – almost a full quarter of its workforce. After all, men and women who were, for example, logisticians, operations managers, human resource workers, or mechanics in the military have skill sets that the Postal Service values and needs.

    In the past few years, as mail volume has declined, the Postal Service has trimmed the number of employees to 489,727 in 2013 from a high of 707,485 in 2004. Because veterans and minorities constitute large segments of the Postal Service work force, these cuts have had the greatest impact on them, according to a CNN report. Still, veterans continue to be not only a sizeable but also important part of the Postal Service.

    Please join us in saying to our nation’s veterans, “Thanks for your service.”  

  • on Nov 3rd, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 10 comments

    For the major express companies, preparation for the next holiday season started right after the last one ended. If you’re one of the many Americans whose packages arrived after Santa did last year, you are undoubtedly glad to hear this. In 2013, an unexpected surge in online orders, combined with winter storms and sparse airplane capacity, resulted in FedEx and UPS missing deliveries for Christmas.

    While online retailers certainly share some of the blame – they promised more than was reasonable – UPS and FedEx are investing heavily this year to avoid a repeat of last year. For the first time, UPS will operate a full domestic air and ground network on the day after Thanksgiving (not just its air network). It’s also adding 95,000 seasonal workers and 6,000 package delivery cars, plus increasing its available aircraft. FedEx recently announced a sharp increase in its number of seasonal workers.

    Retailers are also making some changes, including in-store pick-up options and better “distributive fulfillment” efforts, which lets them ship from their brick-and-mortar stores rather than distribution centers. These offerings reduce the distances packages travel.

    The U.S. Postal Service came out of last year’s holiday season smelling sweet. A Business Week article called the Postal Service’s performance stellar, noting that it made adjustments throughout December – including adding deliveries on three Sundays in the month – to accommodate package surges. Of course, the Postal Service doesn’t operate its own fleet of airplanes like UPS and FedEx. So it’s not necessarily the carrier of choice for overnight deliveries.

    Still, many pundits believe the Postal Service could win some new customers this holiday season due to its strong performance last year. The Postmaster General recently told USA Today the Postal Service expects an 8 percent increase in packages over last year. Further, the Postal Service’s recent lowering of commercial Priority Mail prices may have already convinced some companies to switch. However, unpredictable weather close to Christmas and increased volume could pose challenges similar to last year. Would a less-than-stellar holiday performance from the Postal Service hurt its potential in the coveted commercial package market? How can the Postal Service prepare for these potential challenges? Will the changes retailers are making help? 

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