How can the Postal Service solve its financial problems? What is the future role of the Postal Service at a time when digital alternatives are replacing many of the functions of hard copy mail? These are the questions facing policymakers and the postal community.
Coopetition, is a buzzword cropping up in many business publications these days. Basically, it means that competing firms look for ways to cooperate with each other, rather than compete head-to-head for business. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service, the United Parcel Service (UPS) now has a program that allows customers of participating retailers to return merchandise by dropping it in any U.S. Postal Service mailbox, or at any post office. The program features a special label that makes the service possible. After a return package is dropped off at a Postal Service location, a UPS driver picks it up and the UPS ground network transports it back to the retailer. UPS, which has its main air hub in Louisville, KY, began testing the service last year with a few retailers and is expanding it because of “positive response.” Some say this is an example of successful coopetition.
There are a number of other current partnership programs with competitors. The Postal Service acts as a “last mile” partner for both UPS and FedEx, handling thousands of deliveries. Federal Express performs similar duties for the Postal Service providing air service for Postal Service parcels domestically as well as providing international logistics for the Postal Service’s Global Express Guaranteed service. In certain conditions, coopetition can be a “win-win-win”; helping not only the two businesses, but also the consumer.
Do you think these partnerships benefit the public through greater efficiencies or hurt the competitive level? Let us know what you think!
This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC). Read More
A recent consumer study released by Epsilon Targeting shows direct mail is still important to us. As a method to advertise goods and services, direct mail plays a major role in many consumer decisions — especially among young adults.
The market research firm conducted a survey of adults in more than 4,700 U.S. and Canadian households, looking at their preferences among the traditional and new media channels for obtaining information. The survey confirmed findings from 2008, which noted that consumers are using a larger number of media, with their choices influenced by factor, such as convenience, trust, depth of content, and the “green factor.”
On September 30th, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) turned down the request by the Postal Service for an exigent price increase averaging 5.6 percent across all market-dominant products, such as First-Class Mail and Periodicals. Although current law cape increases in these products to the inflation rate, the PRC can consider rate increases beyond the cap if the Postal Service has been affected by “extraordinary or exceptional circumstances.”
In this decision, the PRC agreed with the Postal Service’s contention that the economic recession was an exceptional circumstance, but it ruled that the Postal Service did not show how the exigent rate request was due to the recession. The ruling also tied cash flow problems the Postal Service currently faces to current laws that require prefunding of retiree health benefits. An OIG study found that the Postal Service has been overcharged $75 billion in its funding of pension liabilities, an amount that could be used to fund current and future retiree health benefits.
The U.S. Postal Service is used to delivering large amounts of mail. Last year, it delivered more than 177 billion pieces. More mail pieces are sent per person in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world. But mail volume has been declining. How will the Postal Service change if volumes continue to fall? Is the Postal Service even financially sustainable at lower volume levels?
GMU researchers looked at how mail volumes of 150, 125, 100, and 75 billion would affect the Postal Service’s financial position and cost structure. Their results are encouraging. They found that the Postal Service is financially sustainable at volume levels down to 100 billion pieces per year, although price increases above inflation would be needed. The cost structure of the Postal Service would also change at lower volume levels. For example, delivery would account for a much larger share of total costs.
Last month the Economic Policy Institute, an independent Washington think tank, issued a study (Congressional Mandates Account for Most of Postal Service’s Recent Losses) analyzing the Postal Service’s operating losses over the past three years. It should be noted that while the Institute is nonpartisan, the National Association of Letter Carriers provided support for the research.
While the paper acknowledges the underlying shifts taking place in communications, it cites Congressional mandates, more specifically those requiring prefunding for retiree health benefits, as the principal driver behind the losses. In fact, the study discusses that removing the health benefits mandate would cover the Postal Service’s operational losses for 2007 and 2008 and a good portion for 2009. Furthermore, it points out that the Postal Service’s retiree benefits plan currently is funded at a significantly higher level than a sample of large private-sector employers that offer similar pensions.