The past few years have been tumultuous for the U.S. Postal Service. Mail volume has dropped 20 percent to 171 billion pieces from its peak in 2006, and over the last four years experienced unprecedented financial losses totaling $20 billion. In 2010 alone, the Postal Service experienced its largest 1-year net loss of $8.5 billion.
Our Risk Analysis Research Center has published The Cost Structure of the Postal Service: Facts, Trends, and Policy Implications, which reviews the major components of the Postal Service’s 2010 cost structure and presents insights to the ongoing policy debate about the future of the Postal Service. Below are some of the paper’s key findings:
1. The mail business is labor intensive, and labor makes up 80 percent of Postal Service expenses. This means that in order to achieve real cost savings, the Postal Service has to cut labor costs. While ideally labor costs could be cut to match declines in volume, this is challenging because the Postal Service’s delivery network has significant fixed costs.
2. Since 1972, the total cost of benefits to the Postal Service has risen an astounding 448 percent above inflation, while the real amount spent on wages has declined by nearly 3 percent. This extraordinary increase in benefit costs is due to three factors: a general trend of higher benefit costs that has affected most U.S. companies, the gradual transfer of postal retiree benefit costs from the federal government to the Postal Service, and repeated overcharges for these retiree benefit costs.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 requires the Postal Service to comply with specific sections of the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). Among other financial reporting requirements, SOX mandates internal control compliance – making sure that financial transactions are reasonably and fairly presented in the accounting records – and places the responsibility on postal management.
A recent district-wide audit of 13 postal retail units found 80 internal control compliance issues related to stamp accountabilities, disbursements, and financial accounting and reporting. The cause for most of these issues was attributed to a lack of adequate training, the insufficient financial background of some unit managers, why they were placed in the position without receiving the necessary financial training, and an absence of oversight by the managers and supervisors responsible for implementing financial internal controls.
In 1916, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) was enacted. FECA provides medical, compensation, death, and other benefits, such as vocational rehabilitation, and nursing services to federal employees who sustain injuries, including occupational diseases, as a result of their employment. All Postal Service employees are covered by FECA.
The Department of Labor (DOL) administers FECA and makes all decisions regarding the eligibility of injured workers’ to receive workers’ compensation benefits. DOL provides direct compensation to medical providers, claimants, and beneficiaries. The Postal Service reimburses DOL for all workers’ compensation claims in addition to paying an administrative fee.
Postage Meters are printing machines or systems for home or office that print postage directly onto mailpieces, or onto an approved label, for mailing. Customers can request refunds on meter mail for a variety of reasons. For example, customers can request refunds when meter mail postage is printed for the wrong denomination, mail is damaged before it is delivered to the Postal Service, or postage is printed but not mailed.
For customers to receive a refund, they must take their unused meter mail postage along with the Postal Service Form 3533, (Application for Refund of Fees, Products and Withdrawal of Customer Accounts),to their local post office to request the refund. Once postal employees receive a refund request, they process the request manually by counting each piece of metered postage in question to verify the refund amount. The Postal Service charges a 10 percent fee (up to $350) for each refund processed. If the 10 percent fee is greater than $350, the Postal Service charges the customer a flat fee of $35 an hour to process the refund. Once the local postal employee verifies the refund amount, the post office either issues a no-fee money order (if the refund is less than $500) or forwards the supporting documentation to a disbursement center for refund payment.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) requires the Postal Service to measure service performance and report to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). The PAEA directs that external measurement systems be used for evaluating the Postal Service’s mail delivery performance unless alternate systems have been approved by the PRC. The PRC reviews this data to ensure that delivery performance does not deteriorate under the current rate setting process and to assess customer satisfaction.
The Postal Service has approval to use a hybrid measurement system for bulk presorted First-Class™ and Standard Mail® relying on Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) scans to measure arrival at postal facilities (start the clock) and a network of external reporters who record delivery times. The PRC has expressed concern about the accuracy of start-the-clock recordings, noting that Postal Service’s start-the-clock event was based on the first read on mail processing equipment rather than on the documented arrival time. Given limited data availability, the PRC also expressed concern that the IMb service delivery performance measurement is not representative of all presort First-Class and Standard mail. They also recommended the Postal Service continue to work to correct service problems.
The Postal Service implemented full-service IMb mailer certification procedures to ensure that mailings meet appropriate business rules. However, this certification process is not mandatory.Read More
The Postal Service does not receive tax dollars to sustain its operations, but relies on accurate postage payments for support. While the vast majority of the Postal Service’s customers pay the full cost of mailing, revenue loss, otherwise known as revenue leakage, can occur when individual or business customers don’t pay the appropriate postage for their mailings.