• on May 21st, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 3 comments

    Lean Six Sigma is a method used in many large organizations to look for improvements in business efficiency and effectiveness. It relies on a team-based approach to focus on the customer, on removing waste, and on improving processes. The Postal Service and the Office of Inspector General are among the many companies and organizations that use Lean Six Sigma as a continuous improvement tool to try to get at the root of the problem rather than just solve the problems as they arise. Management uses the insights gained from the Lean Six Sigma approach to reduce variations in processes and systems.

    Lean Six Sigma has loyal adherents in many industries, but some critics have argued that it is primarily effective only in product manufacturing. Others suggest that soliciting ongoing input from your employees is one of the most effective ways to improve processes and encourages their ownership in the process. Finally, some critics note that Lean Six Sigma only promotes incremental improvements, not radical breakthroughs.

    The OIG has found Lean Six Sigma to be useful in automating processes, shortening process cycle time, reducing paper usage, and improving high-volume and high-usage databases. Eliminating waste and strengthening processes results in cost savings and improved efficiencies. The Postal Service has employed Lean Six Sigma and other continuous improvement efforts in several of its processes, including relocation, payables, receivables, and some claims processing. The Postmaster General recently stressed the importance of these tools to the Postal Service’s plan to accomplish the business changes necessary to compete in today’s marketplace. He touted the Value Stream Map (VSM) as a Lean Six Sigma tool that is being used effectively to look at all components of an end-to-end process.

    We would like to hear your thoughts on Lean Six Sigma. If you have had it applied to your job, or to processes you use, did it drive down costs and improve service? Did it improve the overall customer experience? Are processes significantly better because of Lean Six Sigma? Or have you found there are better ways to improve processes and increase efficiency without using a Six Sigma approach? Are there better ways to achieve significant breakthroughs?

  • on May 14th, 2013 | 0 comments

    Money orders are a safe and convenient way for customers to make payments or forward cash. This modest and longstanding postal product has quite a notable history. The government established the United States Money Order System in 1864 to allow Union soldiers to send money home to relatives and to reduce the risks associated with sending cash through the mail.

    In today’s era of digital communications and mobile banking, the money order might seem like a passé postal product. However, it remains a popular and vital offering. Money order sales average about $22.4 billion a year, with the Postal Service earning about $135 million a year in revenue from fees. Customers can buy money orders at a local Post Office facility, branch, station, and from rural carriers using cash, U.S. Treasury checks, Traveler’s check, American Express gift checks, and pin-based debit cards.

    The Postal Service does not accept payment by check or credit card for money orders, even though it accepts credit cards for other retail transactions throughout its retail network. Money orders are one of the few postal retail products not available online but require an in-person purchase. These and other safeguards were put in place to guard against unauthorized use of money orders and to protect the integrity of the system. Our recent audit report, Controls to Detect Money Order Fraud , found that some of the Postal Service’s current controls fall short in detecting fraud in a timely manner. The report highlighted that safeguards remain important in curbing the opportunities for misuse of money orders. It might be time to find the right balance between providing the public the access it expects in today’s digital world and preserving the safeguards needed to lower fraud and preserve security.

  • on May 14th, 2013 | 1 comment

    For more than 20 years, the National Association of Letter Carriers has led its annual national food drive, Stamp Out Hunger, to collect non-perishable food to alleviate hunger for the 50 million Americans affected. This Saturday, May 11, letter carriers will pick up canned goods and other non-perishable food left by customers in marked bags.

    This enormously successful food drive is a joint effort of letter carriers, their co-workers, friends, family, and community partners. This year’s partners include, the U.S. Postal Service, AARP, and two well-known names in the mailing community, Valpak and Valassis/Red Plum. The food drive always takes place on the second Saturday of May and regularly draws a strong response from customers. Last year, letter carriers collected more than 70 million pounds of non-perishable food donations, the country’s largest one-day food drive event.

    With its local presence and national reach, the Postal Service touches every American nearly every day. Americans often view their letter carriers as their direct contact with and connection to the Postal Service. This national food drive event is one of the efforts that ties the Postal Service more closely to the communities it serves. A strong community presence is one intangible of the Postal Service and one of the often-overlooked benefits it provides to society.

    A few years ago, the Postal Regulatory Commission considered the social benefit of the Postal Service and issued reports that attempted to highlight or quantify how the Postal Service and its vast infrastructure benefited the American population. The Urban Institute, which conducted a few of the studies, noted: “As an independent agency of the executive branch, the Postal Service opens access to information for preserving democracy, fostering commerce, and promoting the general welfare. It’s a public good and a great equalizer insofar as it serves rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, unhealthy and hale.”

    The annual letter carrier food drive seems a shining example of the broader benefits the postal infrastructure brings to society. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think these larger societal benefits would suffer with a significantly smaller postal system? Or should we no longer expect the Postal Service – under pressure to operate like a business – to provide such services? Do you have any other ideas that could benefit the nation through the use of the Postal Service’s delivery network? Share your thoughts below.