USPS needs more outside ideas – but seeks less input from regulators

Congress was told today that the United States Postal Service needs an influx of staff from outside the organization – and more opportunity for external ideas to feed in. That was the view today from David Williams, the USPS Inspector General, testifying today before the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service.

Williams said federal organizations like the struggling Postal Service could benefit from the introduction of new people, despite perceptions that it would take time to get external recruits up to speed on the issues.

“There’s a very difficult learning curve, particularly in the Postal Service and IRS, for newcomers,” he said. “But the Postal Service is depending too much on the idea that if it is not invented here, it cannot be a good thing.

“They need to open up to new people and innovations,” Williams told Alabama Congressman Jo Bonner.
However, the IG did praise the USPS for being very receptive to the recommendations of his office, stating that the organization had taken on board studies and plans better than other federal organizations he had worked with.

“It’s probably because of the crisis,” he suggested. “They want to cut costs, they want to look for new opportunities.”

Innovation

In today’s Congressional hearing, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, from Missouri, said she believed the USPS could learn more from the private sector, for example from an distribution specialist like Walmart.

“There are some lessons that could be learned, it makes sense – even just on saving money,” she said. “There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here, there’s no reason not to steal ideas from the private sector – I’m not talking about intellectual property, but ideas.”

The Inspector General said the USPS needed a “vigorous dialogue”, particularly on innovating in its product range and pursuit of new revenues, with some “wonderful ideas” currently around, for example in integrating physical mail services with digital postal mail platforms.

“Hybrid mail is clean, fast, it’s the future,” he said, but warned that there was a need to keep the “middle man” from getting in the way of opportunities in the digital postal mail field.

Representative Serrano, from New York, said he believed pursuing new ideas to grow revenues would be preferable to job-cutting measures like moving to five-day deliveries.

“This is not the time to be cutting jobs,” he said. “Let’s look at some really hard decisions and not go for the easy option like five-day deliveries.”

Regulator role

But while the US Postal Service needs a greater influx of new ideas according to the Inspector General, a wish list circulated by USPS management this week has actually called for the cutting back on the role of the federal regulators, the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The wish list is a discussion paper issued ahead of meetings with stakeholders next week.

Discussion points within the paper seek to speed up the process of implementing service changes, as part of the process of influencing Congress, including Senators Tom Carper and Susan Collins, who are currently shaping legislative proposals.

The USPS wish list hopes to see consultation times cut considerably when submitting both competitive and market dominant proposals for review, to a 30-day period – and in some cases the Commission’s role taken out completely.

The Commission itself may not have helped its cause by delaying some of its advice, particularly on the USPS proposal for a move from a six- to a five-day delivery week, which was requested last March but has not yet appeared.

Even for contentious issues like post office closures and price increases, the USPS wants to eliminate the jurisdiction of the Commission, dispense with the appeals process, and hand more responsibility to its Board of Governors.

This potentially could see an Ombudsman appointed to consider the views of stakeholders, but the Board would have power to appoint or remove the Ombudsman as it sees fit. Under the USPS wish list, the Commission’s role would be relegated to checking that the USPS had followed correct procedures when changes are made.

USPS spokesman Gerald McKiernan said this afternoon that there had been concern for some time about overlapping responsibilities between the USPS Board of Governors and the  Postal Regulatory Commission.

He explained that the discussion paper was “an attempt to bring clarity to the roles of the Board of Governors and the separate Postal Regulatory Commission”, adding that there would be several meetings with a variety stakeholders next week to discuss the matter.

Commenting on the USPS wish list, mailers that have spoken to Post&Parcel did not express favour with some of the key ideas contained, particularly on changes to price increase procedures.

But, their feeling was that Senators Carper or Collins would be unlikely to take up many of the proposals.

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