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Postal Commission Members Already Know Everything They Need To Know
The commission members are likely to hear from a number of postal "experts," but it's what they already know as postal customers that will help them the most.

By T.L. Righter, 19 January 2003
Dear Presidential Postal Commission Member:

Congratulations, you have been selected to fix the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). What an envious job you have. It's a job that many Americans would like to have, from the many little old ladies who have their own opinions about the Post Office, to the small business owners, direct mailers, postal employees, postal competitors, and the many other Americans who rely on the  U.S. Mail.

During your tenure as a commission member, you will likely hear from a number of "so called" experts on how they think the Postal Service should be shaped in the 21st century. For example, you'll likely hear from direct mailers who believe that negotiated rates are essential to American business, and newspaper associations that believe such rates are "unfair and anti-American". However, as a postal customer yourself, you already pretty much know everything you need to know about how to fix Postal Service.

First of all, you should already know that the U.S. Postal Service is doing an exceedingly fantastic job of providing mail services to the nation. You know that the price of a First Class stamp is only 37 cents, among the lowest, if not the lowest, of any industrialized nation. You know that mail is delivered to every address in the nation six days a week, and that this service is overwhelmingly secure, reliable, and efficient. You know that few of the letters you receive in the mail actually have 37 cents postage, and that many were mailed at about half the First Class rate, and some were mailed at the ridiculously low rate of 7.2 cents a piece. You know, that despite these low rates and universal service, the Postal Service still manages to pay its workers reasonable salaries and about 85% of their health care costs, and still manages to make a profit each year (based on a recalculation of CSRS retirement fund payments). You know that the publicly maligned Postal Service could in fact teach private business a thing or two about logistics, human resources, technology implementation, and persistent production. And you also know that the Postal Service, which has tens of thousands of postal facilities, 700,000+ postal employees, and complex governmental and regulatory guidelines, is headed by a CEO making only about $161,000 annually, about what the owner of an eight-store Subway franchisee would make in a year.

But what you also know is that many mail deliveries are not as important or critical as they used to be. You know that U.S. Mail is now only one of many communications mediums in this electronic world, where messages travel at speeds up to 186,282 miles per second. You know that deliveries are getting later and later in the day. You know that there is not piece of mail that you receive on a Saturday that couldn't have been delivered on Friday or Monday. You see Casual employees in street clothes delivering mail. You don't see collection boxes anymore. You wait in longer and longer lines to mail packages at the local post office, and probably roll your eyes after about the fourth of six Mystery Shopper questions. You know that automation is increasing productivity exponentially with each new automation initiative, but yearly profits remain relatively thin year to year. You discern that the money savings from automation is being regurgitated into costly tech programs and the high-tech salaries of people that run them. (These programs can calculate and analyze mail operations a thousand different ways, but they don't transport, sort or deliver the mail!) You've learned about confrontational labor/management relations and see thousands upon thousands of grievances - many of which are frivolous, some that are real, but all that are costly in both human and dollar terms.

By knowing these things then, you already know what needs to be done. (As a postal customer, you already know what needs to be done.) You know that eliminating Saturday delivery would reconcile U.S. Mail deliveries with the business world, where almost 60% of all businesses are closed on the weekends. You know that the USPS could still sort mail to P.O. Boxes on Saturdays, sell stamps on Saturdays, and still deliver to and pick up from certain key postal customers/businesses on Saturdays where it would be practical and logical to do so. You know that in this electronic age that letter carriers don't need to be walking door to door anymore. You know that they need to be driving from box to box, a move that would make the USPS more efficient, reduce injuries to carriers, and make automated mail compatible with the actual delivery of mail. You probably also want a regular full-time carrier delivering your mail, not a Casual employee who has little stake in his employment, or your mail, because he or she only has a three-month contract with the USPS to deliver mail.

You already know that negotiated rates are problematic and probably unfair. You know that American business can be (and has been) successful with the already great low rates they receive. You also know, however, that the rate-making process between the Postal Rate Commission and the USPS needs to be streamlined and to be made less confrontational.

Speaking of confrontation, you also know that basic incentives and controls that drive destructive behavior in the Postal Service needs to be remedied. You know that letter carriers who are paid by the minute, for example, need positive motivations to complete their jobs, not restrictive and excessive controls. You know that bonuses that are supposed to drive managers to achieve greater results, actually in many cases unintentionally drive managers to develop costly workarounds to achieve targeted goals. You know that bonuses aren't the answer, but you know that some postal executive salaries need to be raised so that they can remain competitive with private-sector salaries. (Perhaps postal executive salaries could be based on Federal executive salary tables?)

But as a Presidential Postal Commission member, who was appointed by President Bush, you know you can't lower rank-and-file salaries because President Bush has already promised that he would leave no workers behind. (He especially wouldn't want to leave his own federal workers behind!). As such, you should know to be leery of "contracting out" proposals. You know that "contracting out's" only purpose is to pay people less.

You will have probably heard from direct mailers and postal executives that rank-and-file postal workers are paid too much and that their health benefits are a threat to low and stable rates. But wait! You already know that the USPS is a financially viable institution that has found a way to pay its workers decent middle-class salaries with health and other benefits, and still has managed to make a profit by selling some postage at 37 cents, and a lot of other postage at cheaper rates. You know that there would be an outcry and a backlash against the Postal Commission and President Bush if postal pay were reduced so that mailers could get postage at 6.2 cents a letter instead of 7.2 cents! You know that this proposal alone would probably cost Bush the next election.

I know that there are a lot of other postal issues on the table, but I know that as a postal customer and as a Presidential Postal Commission member you will do the right thing in each case. You know that I know that you know.


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