By Jim O’Brien
As the Postal Service examines its business model and contemplates changes meant to increase its efficiency, Congress’s role in postal operations has captured public attention. A prime example is the Postal Service’s recent efforts to trim its retail operations. As a cost cutting initiative, on July 2, 2009, the Postal Service filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission a list of Post Office stations and branches it was considering closing. After the filing, many entities questioned the Postal Service’s authority to close these facilities. An article published on the U.S.
March 18 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in postal history — the postal strike of 1970. The night before, postal workers in New York voted 1,555 to 1,055 to go out on strike in protest of a House committee vote to limit their wage increase that year to 5.4 percent on the heels of a 41 percent increase in Congress’s own pay. The wildcat strike and picketing were effective in shutting down postal operations in New York and quickly spread to about 30 other cities. Within days about 152,000 workers in 671 locations were on strike.
On March 2, Postmaster General John E. Potter presented a 10-year “action plan” to meet the challenges faced by the Postal Service as it encounters declining mail volumes combined with increasing overhead costs. The plan comes as a product of a yearlong study by the Postal Service and a number of leading consultants to identify and analyze over 50 different actions that could help counter the changing marketplace. The Postmaster General warned that if the Postal Service continues to operate as it is, it will run a cumulative debt of $238 billion over the next 10 years.
The Postal Service uses forklifts to move mail in its mail processing facilities. To improve efficiency and cut the costs associated with using this equipment, the U.S. Postal Service purchased a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-based tracking system called the Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System (PIVMS). [poll id="80"] Features of the system that help productivity include weight sensing, real-time location of vehicles, two-way messaging, driver authentication and maintenance scheduling.
We all know the Postal Service is going through rough times right now. Sometimes, when a situation is difficult, it’s useful to look to the past for perspective. Forty years ago today, there was no Postal Service (and no Office of Inspector General). The Post Office Department was 5 months away from an unprecedented strike, and 15 percent of the Postal Service’s FY 1969 revenues came from appropriations. Mail volume was 82 billion pieces. There were 739,002 employees and 43,220 post offices (including stations and branches).
News about disappearing collection boxes is everywhere these days. Even BBC News ran a story on the decline of the blue collection box in the United States.
The Postal Service argues that picking up mail from collection boxes is expensive. Removing underused boxes is a cost savings move and a reasonable response to the economic crisis. The Postal Service is removing boxes with less than 25 stamped mail pieces per day.
In these challenging times, reducing the cost of delivery operations — one of the Postal Service’s largest expenses — could save millions. One option the Postal Service is considering is to discontinue Saturday city and rural delivery and collection services.
The Postal Service has a long and proud history in public service. It has always been viewed as part of the federal government, yet has also been told to “act like a business” and to be self-sufficient. These distinctions can lead to interesting real-world implications, such as the degree to which retail associates should “upsell” or otherwise assist customers as they transact postal business. On one extreme, some claim that retail associates should do everything to find the lowest price for the customer.
Should the Postal Service be allowed to freely award employees for a job well done? The Postal Service operates as a businesslike entity, but it is also part of the government. Appearances count — particularly in tough economic times. The Postal Service has an interest in recruiting and retaining talented employees to remain competitive, but what is appropriate? Competitors of the Postal Service are free to award employees with pricey gifts, tickets to major events, conferences held at resorts and other perks.