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Restructuring the Postal Service for the 21st Century
By T.L. Righter, February 18th, 2002

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.

Challenges For 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.


"We will see more biological attacks, period."
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate's only serving medical doctor.

The anthrax 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 solicitations, etc.

There are several steps that should be taken to restore the confidence in and security of the mail.

First, the 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.

It’s been 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 article 1, 2 for a complete explanation.

To find the anthrax mailer and to prevent future such attacks the United States and the U.S. Postal Service should:

  1. Continue to increase the anthrax reward (currently at $2.5 million).

  2. Publicize the reward in other nations, notably in countries that have supported terrorist actions against America in the past (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq).

  3. Refocus law enforcement efforts to find the anthrax mailer(s) to the above-mentioned countries.

  4. Review and 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 ours!

  5. The U.S. 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.

Consider that 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:

  1. Shift the 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.

  2. Require that all outlets (post offices, private mailbox centers, grocery stores, stamp machines etc.) that sell and/or dispense postage stamps record the transaction by videotape.

  3. Develop 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.

  4. Irradiate international mail, notably mail from states that sponsor terrorism.

Together with 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 trends.

However, there 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.

Recently, those 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.

Advantages of the elimination of Saturday mail delivery include:

(1). Reduce wage costs, including the elimination of a substantial amount of overtime pay.
(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 points.
(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 American people:

  1. Keep window services open on Saturday

  2. Continue to distribute (deliver) mail to P.O. boxes and Caller Service (for those businesses that have to have their mail on Saturdays).

  3. Continue to deliver Express Mail and run collections.

  4. In certain cases, collect mail and packages from companies that operate on Saturdays and that have a significant number of packages to be picked up.

  5. In some 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 its customers.)


Jerry Seinfeld 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.

Walking (park 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).

Currently, the 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.

Like Saturday 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.

  1. Mounted 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!)

  2. Mounted 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.

  3. Walking door 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.

  4. For the 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.)

  5. 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.


According to 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 their routes.

City carriers 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 profit.

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 letter carriers.

Contrast this 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 Postal Service.


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