A Welcome to the 74th Postmaster General and CEO Megan Brennan

Happy President’s Day, and a warm welcome to the new USPS Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Megan Brennan. In a recent letter to USPS employees, upon her term of service beginning February 1, Brennan shared these statements, which I thought would be noteworthy enough to share here.

Happy President’s Day, and a warm welcome to the new USPS Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Megan Brennan.

In a recent letter to USPS employees, upon her term of service beginning February 1, Brennan shared these statements, which I thought noteworthy to share here:

  • We will invest in the future of the Postal Service. Investing in our future means creating the best opportunities for long-term growth and profitability.
  • We will speed the pace of innovation. The coming years will see greater focus on innovation, with pilot projects designed to test new delivery offerings, new tools to better meet the digital and mobile expectations of our customers, and new offerings designed for America’s small businesses.
  • We will develop strategies to better engage and empower employees.
  • We will also build the most efficient and productive network to support our growth products.
  • We have made tremendous progress streamlining our operation footprint in recent years—allowing us to keep our products and services affordable.

Updates to the USPS five-year business plan and strategic initiatives are certain to follow.

From a USPS customer perspective, it’s hard to argue about any one of these objectives, and it’s tempting to say she has put emphases exactly where they need to be: innovation, investment, productivity, affordability, engagement and infrastructure.

While Postal Service customers are not called out directly here in this excerpt—all of these goals speak to keeping the Postal Service attractive, accessible and responsive to marketplace needs and realities. The PMG also stated in her letter, “Your commitment to our public service mission and to delivering for our customers defines who we are as an organization and is the bedrock of all of our successes.”

There are certainly challenges ahead: Marketing organizations are well aware of the difficulty of working with a quasi-independent governmental entity that does not have total control over its finances, and taps the business sector unpredictably as a result. The whole rationale of past postal reforms was to instill predictability, manageability, cost controls and some semblance of logic. We can say with certainty that that most recent postal reform law fell short, and created huge liabilities in funding that clearly were not sustainable, nor grounded in logic, which brought on USPS default and financial uncertainty. And I’m not talking about the crown jewel in that law, from mailers’ perspective: the CPI-indexed annual rate cap. But rather Congressional mandates for pre-funding certain civil service and retiree benefits, and we’re still awaiting the collective political will to fix these mandates.

Thankfully, the PMG is inheriting a growing US economy which helps USPS financials, but the fix-its still need to happen on The Hill. Let’s make sure some of this needed emphasis and impetus can find its way into the Postal Service’s working more closely with the business community, engaging USPS employees too, for these legislative changes to happen very soon.

I’d love to hear some positive developments here by the time the PMG addresses the National Postal Forum in May.

Look Who’s Arguing for Higher Postage

It was a busy past week for postal reform followers, as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Oversight Committee convened a hearing on a bipartisan measure to implement various Postal reforms. Perhaps the most contentious part of the Senate’s current bipartisan proposal was the centerpiece of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act: The annual rate cap on postage increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Well, it was a busy past week for postal reform followers, as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Oversight Committee convened a hearing on a bipartisan measure to implement various reforms that would enable billions in necessary U.S. Postal Service (USPS) savings. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee already passed a postal reform measure earlier this year—without one vote of support from Democrats. Whatever bipartisan effort the Senate can put forward matters greatly, since votes of majority Democrats are needed in the Senate (and eventually the House) for passage, and also to garner White House support.

Perhaps the most contentious part of the Senate’s current bipartisan proposal, based on comments filed and testimonies given, was not five-day delivery or relief from funding mandates of pre-retirement of health benefits (though both of these have their own list of supporters and detractors), but rather the centerpiece of the now-in-effect 2006 postal reform law (Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act): The annual rate cap on postage increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Marketing mailers—USPS customers—insist that such a cap remaining in place.

It is this measure of fiscal discipline that acts as the single most important indicator to mailers that the Postal Service will operate within its means, and mailers will have predictable increases in postage that can be budgeted for with a high degree of certainty.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the specter that advertising mailers most fear—and one that channels ad dollars most formidably to other media. The 2007 rate hike (the last rate hike ahead of the 2006 law’s implementation) clearly showed what exorbitant and unexpected increases can do, such as the case of catalogers in that year.

Now we have postal unions (predictably), USPS management and the PMG (less predictably), the USPS Inspector General, and even a Senate Republican (now that’s a surprise) arguing for an emergency rate hike (a “last resort” allowed under the current 2006 law, if and when exigency is proven) or, as the Senate bipartisan bill would allow, the removal of the CPI cap altogether as the USPS looks to $20 billion in overall relief (much of which it has achieved already in its own cost-cutting to date) to balance the books.

Well, I have my own feelings about the negative effects of exigency—which I shared recently in a post. (I’m not an economist here, just a student of history.)

Yet, to do away with the CPI price cap stricture? That would make disappear the crowning achievement of the 2006 law that USPS customers fought so hard for. Getting rid of the cap means exigency, in practice, could be a permanent fixture in postage increases—and mailer flight to digital and other channels will be the “giant sucking sound” as uncertainty reigns again (my apologies to Ross Perot). As we know from the past: USPS management goodwill, Postal Regulatory Commission oversight, and mailers’ testimonies of warning in rate case hearings are not enough to stop punishing and unpredictable rate hikes. A law that keeps cost increases in postage within CPI, however, largely has halted such malaise.

The losses that the Postal Service is experiencing today have to do with Congressional mandates, not nimble efforts of USPS management and workforce to right-size the Postal Service and its infrastructure to USPS mail volume trends.

Mailers: Stay tuned—and be prepared to mobilize.

Postal Delivery: Which Will It Be—5 Days or 6 Days?

I just had a great exchange with my letter carrier while at my mailbox today. Of course, I brought up the likelihood of five-day delivery come August, to which she gave a candid response, “Well, we’ve been losing money.” That’s why it’s easy to be indignant when some members of Congress, perhaps predictably, jumped onto the current appropriations bill with mandates for six-day delivery. Yet, one has to ask, where are the means for real relief from some of the costliest demands of the 2006 postal reform law?

I just had a great exchange with my letter carrier (as I sometimes do) while at my mailbox today, and I wonder how many times a day my carrier is interrupted in her work, as I interrupted her, to politely chit-chat. Of course, I brought up the likelihood of five-day delivery come August, to which she gave a candid response, “Well, we’ve been losing money.”

Most Americans—and maybe even some carriers—don’t know the full story—or any story—about how the United States Postal Service endures pre-funding retirement benefit mandates from Congress, as well as other cost-drivers that have nothing to do with the digital age, electronic bill payments and multichannel communication trends. Nor do they know that both The White House and Congress spend these mandated monies on their own programs, even as the federal deficit spirals.

That’s why it’s easy to be indignant when some members of Congress, perhaps predictably, jumped onto the current appropriations bill (a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond March 27) with mandates for six-day delivery. Yet, one has to ask, where are the means for real relief from some of the costliest demands of the 2006 postal reform law? Making the Postal Service stick with Saturday delivery isn’t the action we need Congress to take.

Is it really enough, or correct, to just counter USPS management efforts to cut costs and right-size the network? Why not delve deeper into the ills that Congress and the Administration—both parties involved here—have heaped onto the Postal Service’s bottom line? Why not revisit real postal reform? How many more years must the Postal Service get squeezed, and default on payments, before Congress and the Obama (or next) Administration take seriously its cause, its future, its sustainability?

Late last month, National Public Radio discussed, in a piece regarding postal services around the globe, how these services are coping with lower demand of an increasingly electronic society: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=172932914

It’s funny how much of “Socialist” Europe already has privatized its posts (not that citizens or businesses are the better for it). On the other hand, it’s very serious to say our quasi-public U.S. Postal Service still runs the most efficient ship of all, universal delivery at a fair price, despite its tethers to political whims …

… and despite my “stealing” of expensive carrier street time! five-day or six-day delivery is a concern for many mailers—but it’s really not the most important postal operations issue that needs to be addressed.

5-Day Delivery: Cost Cutting or Congressional Gambit?

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the 5-Day Delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the five-day delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here.

We all know that it is Congress and the White House—as a whole, not any lawmaker in particular—that largely caused the Postal Service’s recent default and current fiscal mess. Their inability or unwillingness to stop the mandating of 75-year pre-funding of USPS retiree benefits, and the subsequent raiding of those funds for the federal government’s own spending sprees elsewhere, deserves much of the blame.

Cost-cutting and diminishing services to U.S. citizens have been forced on the Postal Service, because a “fiscal cliff” already has arrived at L’Enfant Plaza.

Yes, there are other macroeconomic issues in play at the Postal Service—the digital migration of First-Class Mail, electronic payments and the Great Recession’s most recent effects and after-effects, for example. All the same, forcing such draconian budget mandates on the Postal Service is a serious miscalculation that was (unfortunately) included in the 2006 postal reform law. No other federal agency is held to the same pre-funding benchmark, and even fewer responsibly financed and accountable private pension schemes (there are still a few around) ever look to seven decades to the future.

This needed fixing five years ago, when the economy started to teeter and such rosy views of postal finances quickly began to sour. Here we are in 2013, and we’re still waiting for Congress to act.

The White House hasn’t been helpful either.

Now we’re faced with five-day delivery come August—and we’re left wondering if it can be stopped, reversed, prevented or mitigated, even if Congress and the White House were able and wished to intervene.

Will the reported $2 billion in said-savings really transpire—and make a difference? Has anyone considered the economic trade-offs? We all know many weekend advertisers that relish a spot in the mailbox on Saturdays—and this generates a lot of commerce. Can it all be simply pushed to a Friday?

The reality is that the Postal Service, as much as it seeks to manage itself as a business, remains a quasi-public institution, a part of our Constitution, and subject to both cycles of Congressional meddling and Congressional relief, the latter now being in short supply.

It’s quite amazing that the Postal Service is as efficient and as affordable as any postal service in the world, public or private—delivering communications to our homes six days a week. Still, it must deal with political representation that well may be intended, but which only seems to punt from crisis to crisis—or worse, after each crisis has rendered its most devastating effects.

Here we are in a downward cycle … again. This time our daily mail—and direct mail advertising along with it—is being expedited, by Congress, to the dilemma faced by dying daily newspapers in stagnant metropolitan markets—going, going, gone, at least on Saturdays.

Except this is our Postal Service, belonging to the citizens of the United States on paper. Is this squeeze on hardcopy communication inevitable—and our only choice? Or will some in Congress and the Obama Administration wake up to the fact that the Postal Service is a secret weapon for many brands (and political candidates), as well as a service to its citizens, and, therefore, do all their Constitutional best to ensure a viable future here?

By the way, I LOVE this recent piece in Esquire—required reading for our lawmakers: http://www.esquire.com/print-this/post-office-business-trouble-0213?page=all.

USPS ‘Green Teams’ Net $58 Million – If Only Government Postal Policymakers Were So Innovative

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer. Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary: Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.
—USPS Press Release (February 24, 2012)

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer.

Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary:


Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The U.S. Postal Service saved more than $34 million and generated $24 million in 2011 by reducing energy, water, consumables, petroleum fuel use and solid waste to landfills, conservation efforts encouraged by the Go Green Forever stamps. The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.

“Across the country, postal employees are participating in more than 400 lean green teams. Motivated by our sustainability call to action, ‘leaner, greener, faster, smarter,’ they are producing significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation,” said Thomas G. Day, Chief Sustainability Officer.

Lean green teams are another way the Postal Service fosters a culture of conservation, and builds on the agency’s long history of environmental and socially responsible leadership. The teams help identify and implement low- and no-cost sustainable practices to help the Postal Service meet the following goals by 2015:

— Reduce facility energy use by 30 percent,

— Reduce water use by 10 percent,

— Reduce petroleum fuel use by 20 percent, and

— Reduce solid waste by 50 percent.

According to Day, the Postal Service plans to deploy lean green teams nationwide in 2012 to help achieve these goals.

“With more than 32,000 facilities, a presence in every community, and the largest civilian fleet in the nation, we know how important our efforts are to make a positive impact on the environment,” Day added. “Our lean green teams are an important part of our conservation culture, and the effort to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Postal Service buys sustainable materials and works to reduce the amount of supplies it purchases. The agency first developed a “buy green” policy more than 13 years ago, and has a goal to reduce spending on consumables 30 percent by 2020. Additionally, the Postal Service is working to increase the percentage of environmentally preferable products it buys by 50 percent by 2015. Environmentally preferable products are bio-based, contain recycled material, are eco-labeled and are energy and water efficient.

In its shipping supplies, the Postal Service uses post-consumer recycled content materials, which are diverted from the waste stream, benefiting the environment and helping customers go green.

The Postal Service has won numerous environmental honors, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WasteWise Partner of the Year award in 2010 and 2011, the EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities award in 2011 and the Climate Registry Gold award in 2011.

USPS is the first federal agency to publicly report its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and receive third-party verification of the results. For more information about the Postal Service’s sustainability initiatives and the Go Green Forever stamps, visit usps.com/green and the usps green newsroom.

USPS participates in the International Post Corporation’s Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System, the global postal industry’s program to reduce its carbon footprint 20 percent by 2020 based on an FY 2008 baseline.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

A self-supporting government enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 151 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. With 32,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government, usps.com, the Postal Service has annual revenue of more than $65 billion and delivers nearly 40 percent of the world’s mail. If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 35th in the 2011 Fortune 500. In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service was ranked number one in overall service performance, out of the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world, Oxford Strategic Consulting. Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business magazines ranked the Postal Service as a leader in workforce diversity. The Postal Service has been named the Most Trusted Government Agency for six years and the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation by the Ponemon Institute.

SOURCE U.S. Postal Service

Thank you very much Thomas Day and thank you to each member of the 400 lean green teams at USPS.

Further, the $58 million in bottom-line gains were an improvement over the $27 million in such benefits reported by USPS a year ago. That’s more than double the financial improvement.

As a blueprint for other businesses, many with “green teams” of their own, this USPS announcement offers item-by-item suggested areas of operation companies might focus on to accrue bottom-line gains: facility energy use, water use, fuel use and solid waste generation and diversion.

Perhaps too many business leaders and marketing practitioners still equate sustainability initiatives with “do-good, feel-good” activities that are nonetheless costly or associated with premiums. They best start thinking otherwise. The more quickly brands can leverage green teams for operational gain, and incorporate sustainability as the next great wave of business cost-savings and innovation, the better off their bottom lines will be.

USPS is proving to all of us that there is a “lean” in “green,” and that waste and inefficiencies are cost centers that must be managed. The environmental gains that are driven by such successful management are numerous, and very well may engender good will among employees and customers. Nothing wrong—and everything right—with that, particularly when the financial bottom line benefits are so demonstrable.

Some skeptics might still say, with billions in deficits, USPS cost-savings announcements tied to sustainability are akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I believe, however, that USPS management does have a business-like approach to fixing its finances in a digital age, has put forth a credible path to do so, and Congress and The White House need to be facilitating these decisions instead of standing in the way.

Unfortunately, Congress and The White House happen to be two U.S. institutions that are very challenged by balancing budgets.

The Congressional cry of “not in my backyard” over post office closures is part of that symptom, particularly when the USPS has proposed many retail outlet alternatives that are more convenient to citizens, and far less costly to postal ratepayers. The recent Congressional moratorium until May 15 toward consolidation of mail processing facilities is another cog in the cost-savings wheel. Meanwhile, the White House just can’t seem to let go of forcing through a 2010 “exigency” postal rate increase (in its current, proposed federal budget) that, in effect, undermines the entire rationale and integrity of indexed rate caps built into the 2006 postal reform law.

Perhaps there needs to be “lean green teams” at work inside the policymaking offices of Congress and the White House, too. Certainly, sustainability concepts—environmental, social and financial—could work to extraordinary effect inside government, just as it’s doing in forward-thinking businesses everywhere, and trying to do with great success inside the U.S. Postal Service.

Helpful Links:
USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2011

USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2010