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Kremlin on the Potomac: Postal Service Communications

Readers old enough to remember the Soviet Union also remember how skilled it was at saying nothing – about anything – no matter what.  If something happened, regardless of whether it was visible to the outside world, it simply wasn’t acknowledged.  A natural disaster?  Never happened.  The disappearance of an important figure?  He’s fine.  A bomber crash into a village?  No bomber, nothing happened.

If outsiders posed a question about any event, the basic answer, if there was one, was denial, deflection, or obfuscation.  The Soviets never admitted to anything going wrong, to any internal failures, or to any event or condition that might break the illusion they so ardently projected or that might provide an outsider a peek into what’s really going on.

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The Right Audiences Need to Get the Message

Over the past few months, and especially over the recent holiday season, there were many occasions on which a postal customer – a representative of a commercial mailer, a mailer’s client, or just a retail customer – delivered a message of dissatisfaction about service (to put it nicely) to a frontline postal employee.

Whether a retail window clerk, a city or rural carrier, an employee at the local BMEU or DMU, a customer service rep, or a call-taker at the Business Service Network, that person neither had anything to do with the reasons for the customer’s dissatisfaction and likely had little to go on to offer an explanation or information about the reported service problem.

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When a Monopoly Is No Longer What It Was Meant to Be


Once upon a time, there was a company that was given an exclusive charter to build and operate a railroad between two cities that were quite far apart.  That charter required certain levels of service to the cities and to each town along the route and, in exchange, afforded the company the exclusive right to carry certain types of freight and passengers.  To be sure the fares the company charged weren’t excessive, an independent panel was established to review the company’s income and costs.

For decades, the railroad thrived, with more passengers and freight every year.  Even though it was the only railroad allowed to operate the route, the company’s customers still were satisfied with its fares and service.

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The Post-Election Postal Service, Part 2

Part two of two in a commentary, originally published in the most recent issue of Mailers Hub News. Click here for part one

 

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The Post-Election Postal Service

As of this writing, it seems fairly clear who will be the president as of next January.  That person will materially impact the Postal Service by his support or opposition on a variety of issues relevant to it – such as eliminating (or not) the prefunding mandate, advancing (or resisting) postal reform legislation, and appointing additional members to the Board of Governors.  Regardless, the Postal Service can do little to avoid always being at the mercy of him or other politicians and what they may choose (or fail) to do.

Despite this fact of life, the agency isn’t without opportunities to improve its circumstances on its own and, in the wake of the election, and after the anxiety over possible delays in delivering mailed ballots has subsided, the USPS might want to reflect on what went well or not and what it should consider doing differently in the future.

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Still Paying the Price for Poor Communication

A commentary in the August 3 issue of Mailers Hub News opined on the Postal Service’s failure to offer meaningful communication during times when the popular media is regularly publicizing rumors, leaked documents, and union allegations about what’s going on in the agency.  In concluding that commentary, we urged the USPS to provide accurate and timely information before other parties told their story first.  Similar messages for better communication by the Postal Service came from others in the mailing industry before and since that commentary was published.

From all appearances, the urging has had little effect, and the consequences of the Postal Service’s silence continue.

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Who Do You Trust?

There was a TV quiz show in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the grammatically incorrect title Who Do You Trust?  (The show became the springboard for Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, who later spent the next three decades together as fixtures on late-night TV.)  The premise was simple: three couples would appear on the program, and Carson would ask the male a question and he’d have to decide whether to answer it himself or ask the female contestant.  (Attitudes toward gender roles were different back then.)

Though that format may not be applicable in today’s postal world, the title question is very relevant.

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Paying the Price for Poor Communication

The current level of negative publicity about the Postal Service – notably for slow or infrequent delivery, the impact of reported changes in mail processing and delivery procedures, and the potential consequences of these changes on election mail – might not have to be what it is if the USPS simply were more communicative.

Institutional Reticence

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If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride

The 400-year-old Scottish proverb used for the title simply translates into how easily things could be attained if nothing more than wishing for them were needed to make them real.

That adage was brought to mind when reading the documents discussed in the preceding articles of the July 20 issue of Mailers Hub News.  Assuming they’re legitimate, they first reveal a determination to act to reduce costs, the need for which cannot be disputed. However, at the same time, they also reflect not only an attitude that whatever is needed or desired will be made real by simply commanding it, but – of greater concern – a misunderstanding of the people to whom the order is being given.

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High Costs and High Overtime: USPS Reports Challenge Insight

In its May financial data (see the article on page 8), the Postal Service reported mail processing costs that were 8% over plan and workhours that exceeded plan by 8.5%.  The agency commonly attributes this situation to the workload associated with higher parcel volume.  However, while it’s reasonable that more work hours are needed to handle surging parcel volume, there’s been no indication whether the USPS is concurrently capturing workhour savings because of greatly decreased letter and flat mail volume.

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Packing the Postal Service in Five Easy Steps

Note: This article was initially published with an error in attribution; this article was written by Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub.

In the midst of the Great Depression, newly re-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. The measure would increase the size of the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen justices by allowing the president to appoint up to six additional justices, one for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. Roosevelt had chafed at the court’s rejection of several of his New Deal initiatives, so the plan would have let him add enough new members to the panel to ensure a majority would favor his proposals. Opponents, however, called the proposal “court-packing,” for obvious reasons.

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Flocks of Chickens

In the simplified versions of history we often use in conversation, a past disaster is reduced to its ultimate scenario and immediately preceding event: the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. In fact, as with most disasters, there’s more to the story: the Titanic was speeding in the dark in an area that its captain had been warned had icebergs, contributing to both not seeing and not being able to timely avoid the berg.

Many disasters have been analyzed forensically, providing a 20-20 view of all the contributing factors and unfortunate decisions that led up to the final scene of the drama. Seldom are we, as observers, able to watch as factors and decisions unfold in our view, moving toward a disastrous result that, despite the warning signs, seems inevitable.

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Opportunism or Reckless Indifference?

A few legal definitions:

• Reckless endangerment is “behaving indifferently to the consequences [of an action or inaction] in such a way as to create a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to another person.”

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Answering An Uncomfortable Question

In comments filed February 3 with the Postal Regulatory Commission in response to the PRC’s proposed rule (System for Regulating Market Dominant Rates and Classifications, published in the December 11, 2019, Federal Register), Mailers Hub offered a view about “non-compensatory products,” (market-dominant products whose rates do not cover costs). The passage discussing such “underwater” rates was also excerpted in the February 3, 2020, issue of Mailers Hub News:

“Most non-compensatory classes and products did not become ‘underwater’ in a year or two or even ten; Periodicals, as a class, for example, hasn’t covered its costs since the PAEA was passed.

“… Aside from the resistance of ratepayers in those classes or for those products to accelerated rate increases to bring them to full cost coverage, the PAEA itself thwarted such efforts; the CPI cap is a two-edged sword that keeps rate increases to no more than CPI but also prevents larger rate increases to correct ‘underwater’ classes and products. …

That cost coverage for non-compensatory classes and products needs to be brought to 100% is not debatable, but neither is the need for caution in how that’s to be done. … Though the price sensitivity of most non-compensatory mail will be challenged by an additional 2% per year rate increase above the CPI cap, requiring that seems the least than can be done.



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Pandora's Postal Box

Persons bored by legal matters may dismiss the PRC’s inquiry into the regulations implementing the Private Express Statutes as just more pointless inside-the-Beltway bureaucratic paper shuffling. Such an opinion, however, would seriously misunderstand the nature of the discussion being started.

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Translating Predictions of Postal Privatization - Part II

The following is the second in a two-part commentary, excerpted from the Jan. 6 edition of Mailers Hub News, in response to the Fortune Magazine article on Dec. 27, USPS Could Privatize As Early As Next Year

Any decision to sell-off or otherwise privatize the USPS would not be something arising from the Postmaster General, so campaigning that he or she should protect the ramparts of L’Enfant Plaza against the huns of privatization is somewhat misguided.

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Translating Predictions of Postal Privatization - Part I

The following is the first in a two-part commentary, excerpted from the Jan. 6 edition of Mailers Hub News

An article titled USPS Could Privatize As Early As Next Year, published in the December 27 issue of Fortune, resurrected the notion that steps to privatize the Postal Service are on the horizon, allegedly because of White House influence.

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Other Peoples' Money - Part II

The following is the second in a two-part commentary, excerpted from the Dec. 9 edition of Mailers Hub News

Changes step 3

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Other Peoples' Money - Part I

The following is the first in a two-part commentary, excerpted from the Dec. 9 edition of Mailers Hub News

The old joke is that a guy’s favorite beer is OP beer – other peoples’. A less funny corollary is that a politician’s favorite funding source is OP money. More correctly, in this case, the “other people” is not the general public (taxpayers) but a subset who, though still taxpayers, are also associated with a particular agency, purpose, or use.

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One Company’s Story: A Case Study in a Business’ Evolution

This article first appeared in the November 11, 2019 edition of Mailers Hub News

In an industry where longevity is a rare quality, the life cycle and evolution of an enterprise in the commercial mailing business can be an interesting case study in adaptation and survival. An example is Whittier Mailing Service.

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