The U.S. Postal
Service (USPS) served Americans well in the 20th
century. In an era where paper, print, information,
communications, advertising, and prosperity came of age, the U.S.
Postal Service developed a vast network of post offices and people
to bring them all together to the American people. Paper was the
medium - the U.S. Postal Service was the messenger.
Today, in the
21st century, letters and words have been digitized and
electronicized. Paper is no longer the medium and the U.S. Postal
Service is no longer the messenger. If the U.S. Postal Service
doesn’t act (react) soon, it will no longer be.
Just last year
the USPS seemed to be sitting pretty, despite the rise of the
Internet and email. After several years of multi-million dollar
surpluses, it appeared that the USPS had found a viable business
model that combined private-sector businesses practices with a
government protected monopoly. But extraordinary circumstances
have accelerated the eventual (expected) demise of the Postal
Service. The events of September 11th and the anthrax
attacks through the mail have dramatically reduced mail volumes,
and as a result, the move from paper to electronic has been
hastened and accelerated. Though the USPS is now regaining some of
its mail volume, postal officials are quietly conceding that an
important percentage of mail volume is lost forever. Moreover,
projections show mail volumes declining with each passing year.
What then, can
the U.S. Postal Service do?
The U.S. Postal
Service can work to insure its viability in the 21st
century by conforming and transforming to the needs and challenges
of the 21st century. The USPS won’t last long in the 21st
with a 20th century business model. In doing so, the
USPS must correct its piecemeal, ad hoc approach to introducing
new initiatives into the system. In order to be effective, new
initiatives must be integrated systemwide. (Consider the failure
to integrate the highly successful automation of mail into the
actual walking delivery of the mail.) Remember, the total solution
is systemwide. Initiate one solution, and don’t follow through
with another, and the results will be mute. In fact, solutions
require a total effort, both within the postal service, and in
some cases, outside the postal service.
The 21st Century
The USPS faces
two critical and immediate challenges that must be dealt with
quickly: (1) Confidence in and security of the mail, and the
related (2) Declining mail volumes.
AND SECURITY OF THE MAIL
"We will see
more biological attacks, period."
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate's only serving medical
attacks in the Fall of 2001 badly eroded public confidence in the
safety of the mail. As a result, many people realized that they
really didn’t need their U.S. mail after all. Many simply switched
to online billing, email, and ecards. Many advertisers simply
switched to the many other advertising mediums now available –
television, cable, radio, Internet advertising, email
several steps that should be taken to restore the confidence in
and security of the mail.
anthrax mailer(s) must be found and brought to justice. Currently,
there is no guarantee that the anthrax mailer(s) won’t unleash a
new barrage of anthrax-tainted letters through the mail system.
Despite the tragedies and disruptions caused by the last round of
anthrax letters, in many aspects, we were lucky. What if the
mailer(s) had sent a hundred letters to random addresses
throughout the United States? Chaos would have ensued and the
postal service would have been irreparably compromised.
reported that the FBI believes that the anthrax mailer is of
domestic origin – an American. That could very well be the case.
The FBI has hundreds of agents working on the case and the FBI is
privy to the latest leads and evidence. However, there is a belief
at PostalWorkersOnline and elsewhere that the anthrax mailer is
connected to the people (Islamic terrorists) that carried out the
attacks of September 11th, the attack on the U.S.S.
Cole, and other such attacks. See
2 for a complete
To find the
anthrax mailer and to prevent future such attacks the United
States and the U.S. Postal Service should:
increase the anthrax reward (currently at $2.5 million).
reward in other nations, notably in countries that have
supported terrorist actions against America in the past (Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq).
enforcement efforts to find the anthrax mailer(s) to the
change the immigration and tourists laws that allow foreign
nationals from terrorist states to visit and live in the United
States. The anthrax mailings and the attacks of September 11th
would have never happened if such peoples were not allowed into
the United States. Ban all individuals from nations that
sponsor terrorism from entering the United States (except for
diplomatic and medical reasons). This means, in part, ban all
individuals from Afghanistan, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Libya,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other such countries from entering
the United States. I don’t mean to sound so jingoistic, but why
let these people in? They have their own countries – and we have
military and U.S. intelligence agencies should maintain a war
stance for the foreseeable future (next 10 to 20 years). We must
realize, if we haven't already, that an entire sub-group of
Eastern peoples have declared a Holy War against America,
Israel, and Western culture in general.
in the next twenty to fifty years peoples in the above-mentioned
nations and other nations will be ever-the-more disgruntled (to
borrow a USPS term) with each passing year as populations continue
to increase in nations where natural resources continue to
decrease. There is only more trouble ahead for a capitalist United
States that is perceived by many nations to be using up a
disproportionate share of the earth’s resources. As the
inequalities between East and West increases, so does the friction
and the potential for conventional and unconventional warfare.
Ideally, long-term solutions should address core problems such as
poverty, inequality, etc. so that long-term peace can be realized.
To restore the
security of the mail the U.S. Postal Service should:
focus from sanitizing to detection. It is clear that the
wholesale irradiation of mail is impractical and very near
impossible, especially considering that the USPS handles about
530 million pieces of mail daily. So far, irradiated mail that
has been delivered in Washington D.C. has turned up burnt,
blackened, disintegrated, and with an orange residue that has
reportedly sickened some individuals. Detection, however, is
somewhat more practical. Sensors that can detect anthrax and
other dangerous substances can be incorporated into the
processing and distribution system more easily. Sensors don’t
harm the mail, plus the system runs smoothly as long as no
dangerous substances are introduced and detected.
all outlets (post offices, private mailbox centers, grocery
stores, stamp machines etc.) that sell and/or dispense postage
stamps record the transaction by videotape.
postage that can be electronically tracked to the purchaser.
Instead of printing postage stamps in advance and dispensing
them to thousands of post offices and wholesalers across the
country, the USPS could develop a system that prints postage
stamps on demand that includes electronic marks and signatures
that inscribe the place, date, and time of purchase. In
addition, the USPS could realize some cost savings from such a
system. – Postage for the 21st century, not the 20th.
international mail, notably mail from states that sponsor
increased law enforcement, the elimination of possibly dangerous
individuals from American society, sensors, monitoring of postage
transactions, and electronic postage, the confidence in and
security of the U.S. Mail can be restored.
The USPS is
between a rock and a hard place. The eventual demise of the postal
service, perpetrated by the Internet, email, and other electronic
media, has been accelerated by the events of September 11th
and the anthrax mailings. Moreover, each year brings new delivery
points for the USPS to service, while at the same time, on
average, each delivery point receives less mail. The USPS is being
stretched, and at some point, its capabilities to provide
universal service will be outstripped by the confluence of these
are three relatively simple answers to these problems that can
insure the viability of the postal service for the foreseeable
future: (1) Eliminate Saturday delivery (2) Convert current
walking (park and loop) routes to mounted deliveries, and (3)
Convert city letter carriers’ compensation to a system similar to
the one used by rural carriers.
My thoughts on
the elimination of Saturday delivery have already been thoroughly
discussed in a
prior editorial. This editorial was written before the events
of September 11th, and they were relevant then. Now,
with mail volumes dropping dramatically, this option is now not
only relevant, but essential.
that have followed public postal news have seen reports of the
Wilkes-Barre, PA. processing facility closing on Saturday due to
low mail volumes and the postmaster general publicly urging people
in Arkansas to use the U.S. mail. Privately, at USPS HQ, officials
are considering the reevaluation of the entire processing and
distribution network because of declining mail volumes. Something
has to be done – and soon! Eliminating Saturday mail deliveries is
a good start.
the elimination of Saturday mail delivery include:
wage costs, including the elimination of a substantial amount of
(2.) Reduce fuel costs. Eliminating Saturday delivery would reduce
fuel costs by 1/6th.
(3.) Reduce other operational (support) costs.
(4.) Free personnel (notably T6s and PTFs) to handle new delivery
(5.) Rightsize delivery with mail volume.
(6.) Allow letter carriers to enjoy a traditional 5-day workweek –
with weekends off – which could allow more time spent with members
of their families who have traditional M-F workweek schedules.
The idea of the elimination of Saturday mail delivery is a very
contentious point. Some see six day mail delivery as an
inalienable right while others claim its elimination would
dramatically hurt the economy. I, however, don’t see it that way.
Last Saturday in the mail I received NOTHING, and it didn’t hurt
me a bit. My household didn’t crumble, nor did the local economy.
Though no connection, I called my elderly mother on Saturday. She
was doing fine. No need for the postman to go by and check up on
her. She usually stays in the back of the house anyway. As for the
effect on business - according to published reports - about 57% of
businesses are closed anyway. Those that are open are mainly
service and retail outlets whose mail is acted upon at the
corporate office – that is closed on SATURDAY. UPS and FedEx don’t
make regular deliveries on Saturday and the economy doesn’t seem
to care. Moreover, what is the effect of the economy on holidays
where the postal service and FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS are closed,
but much of the rest of the economy now works? There isn’t one.
However, despite the non-effects that the elimination of Saturday
delivery would have, there are several things that the USPS could
and should do to continue providing an adequate service to the
services open on Saturday
distribute (deliver) mail to P.O. boxes and Caller Service (for
those businesses that have to have their mail on Saturdays).
deliver Express Mail and run collections.
cases, collect mail and packages from companies that operate on
Saturdays and that have a significant number of packages to be
special cases (areas), where a substantial number of businesses
are open on Saturdays and where mail volume warrants, deliveries
could still be made on Saturday. (Blanket, inflexible decrees
have always hurt the USPS and its ability to provide service to
DELIVERIES TO CURBSIDE OR CENTRALIZED DELIVERY
once commented in an episode of Seinfeld about the lunacy of an
army of postal workers, dressed in polyester, walking door to door
passing out Pottery Barn catalogs. He has a viable point. In an
age where messages can be electronically transmitted with ease
through readily available mediums at 186,282 miles per second,
what sense does it make to walk door to door in the 21st
century? Maybe that was O.K. for the 20th century, but
not in this one.
In order to
stay competitive, viable, and alive, the USPS should (as soon as
possible) convert all walking (park and loop) routes to mounted
routes, wherein, deliveries are made via postal vehicle to a
curbside box or centralized (NDCBU) type delivery box. Another
contentious issue, but wait – it makes sense.
and loop) routes are generally located in major cities and the
cores of smaller cities and towns. Currently, as has been the case
for the last several years, all new deliveries are required to be
made at curbside or centralized delivery boxes. As such, many of
America’s suburbs have one system of delivery (mounted), while
inner cities have another (walking).
USPS is testing the new Segway Human Transporter for use as an
alternative from having carriers walk door to door delivering
mail. The Segway HT is a high tech scooter-like platform that
propels an individual at speeds up to 17 miles per hour. The cost
- $8,000 apiece. Add to that sum training, oversight, maintenance,
and other costs and you have another black hole of postal money
down the drain. The USPS can’t see the forest for the trees. It
already has a vast fleet of postal vehicles that can travel
mailbox to mailbox.
delivery, I can already hear the critics crying. What about the
elderly who would have to walk out to their curb or perhaps a
couple of houses down to collect their mail? A brief overview,
however, will show that such concerns are unwarranted.
delivery is on average 50% more efficient than walking door to
door. Mounted deliveries have made it possible for fast-growing
cities such as Las Vegas to provide service to the multitude of
new houses and subdivisions sprouting up in outlying areas. (50%
more efficient is 50% more cost effective!)
delivery is compatible with automated mail. Walking door to door
carrying one bundle of automated (DPS) letter mail, one bundle
of (coming soon) automated flats, one bundle of carrier-cased
mail, plus circulars is not compatible at all.
to door is physically demanding. Injuries are common, as are
letter carriers doing office work because they can’t walk door
to door because of their injuries. Moreover, the physically
demanding nature of the work prompts some carriers to feign
injury with readily available doctor’s notes. Mounted delivery
would significantly reduce injuries, dog attacks, injury
compensation costs, feigned injuries, etc. and would allow most
all carriers to deliver the mail.
elderly customer who doesn’t need to venture outside the house
for their mail, accommodations can be made for the carrier to
deliver the mail to the front door. (This is the policy with
most current mounted deliveries.)
As in the
elimination of Saturday delivery proposal (above), there doesn’t
have to be a blanket decree eliminating all park and loop
deliveries. There may still be some areas in heavily congested
business districts (downtowns, main streets, etc.) where walking
is the preferred and most efficient method. In fact, there may
be that rare route where a Segway HT might work also.
In this age
where messages can travel at the speed of light, let us at least
upgrade our delivery capabilities from one hundred paces per
minute to 30 miles per hour.
CARRIER’S PAY TO A RURAL CARRIER’S PAY SYSTEM
internal USPS employee opinion surveys rural carriers are the most
contented group of employees in the postal service. At the core of
this contentment is a wage system based on incentives, not
controls. Rural carriers are basically paid a salary based on an
evaluation of their route. As such, rural carriers are basically
paid the same if they take four hours or eight hours to complete
are paid by the hour. They are also some of the most disgruntled
postal employees the USPS has. At the core of this disgruntlement
is a wage system that pays by the hour and that pits the carrier
versus management. The carrier, naturally, has little to gain by
using less time to finish his or her route. In fact, city carriers
are paid exponentially more the longer they take (after 8 hours -
time and a half, after 10 hours – double time).
The USPS has
gone to great efforts to control their city carriers. Most
recently, the USPS has developed a new decision information system
(DOIS – even the acronym sounds dumb) to help manage carrier
workhours. This "newest" system has not come without substantial
multi-million dollar costs. In addition to the software
development costs, every carrier supervisor, 204B (temporary
supervisor), and station manager/postmaster has or will be trained
in the system. Frankly, I don’t see how the USPS ever made a
There was a
simpler time when a city carrier’s hours were based on how much
mail they had, a task that could be handled by the most very basic
addition (+2 feet = 30 minutes – how hard is that). Now, carrier
supervisors are beholden to their computer as they input every
aspect of their carriers’ day. The requisite street supervision is
gone, as well as office supervision! Supervisors don’t even have
time to look up from their computer screens. All this goes to show
the great measures that the USPS undertakes to manage its city
to rural carriers. They experience few hassles with management,
are free to make decisions on how best to manage a daily workload,
require little or no supervision, and do not require a
multi-million dollar information system. I know one efficient and
motivated carrier who reports at 8:00 a.m. and is done by noon.
Plus, her paycheck is almost identical to that of city carriers’
across the workroom floor, many of whom report at 8:00 a.m. and
are done by 6:00 p.m. Attention union officials who would oppose
the conversion: The pay is about the same, but without the hassle.
Attention postal officials: Converting city carriers to a rural
pay based system will save millions in software and hardware
costs, supervisory costs, EEOC grievances, etc. It’s a proposition
that is good for city letter carriers and the USPS.
I doubt that
the exceedingly simple and commonsense system wide solutions I
have identified in this paper will come into fruition anytime
soon. Only when the USPS is teetering on financial collapse will
such proposals be given serious consideration. However, I am
holding out hope that someone, perhaps PMG Potter – perhaps
someone else, will do the daring and right thing and take charge
of the situation, as opposed to the situation taking charge of the