The United States Post Office has been operating since Ben Franklin founded it in the late 18th century. It was one of the first Federal agencies and the secondary responsibility of the government, after defending the nation.
[wikichart align=”right” ticker=”NYSE:FDX” showannotations=”true” livequote=”true” startdate=”24-12-2010″ enddate=”24-06-2011″ width=”300″ height=”245″]For over 200 years it operated as a monopoly, without competition or peer in the world as the most efficient postal service. However, with the rise of companies like UPS and FedEx, the USPS found itself facing not only competition, but declining revenues and increasing costs. The advent of e-mail, chat, instant messaging, tele-conferencing, video conferencing, advanced telephone technologies and the PDA have all contributed to the dramatic reduction in the volume of regular (commonly called snail) mail that the post office handles.
The technological revolution is like every other revolution. There will be victims and heroes. The Post Office has slowly become a victim, while companies like Google and Microsoft have been the heroes, making communication between people faster, easier and more effective.
Still, even in this revolution, the Post Office endures and indeed it must continue to operate as an obligation and duty of government, even though for a very long time it has been only quasi-governmental. There are ways to save it from potential bankruptcy, despite its multi-billion dollar annual losses.
One would be to scale back the number of post offices, consolidating many located in close proximity, and re-zoning zipcodes. For example, when the US Census is taken and Congress redistricted based on population shifts, so too should be zipcodes to ensure that the zipcode reflects a number of occupied deliverable addresses. Less zipcodes means less post offices. Staggering delivery days could help too, with some sections of a postal zone receiving delivery on Saturday and skipping Wednesdays, and others only receiving delivery Monday through Friday.
Congress could legislate that the USPS have jurisdiction over e-mail, and impose a fee, like a stamp, on all commercial e-mails that are unsolicited by their recipients. This proposal, long outstanding, would reduce the volume of spam, help to enforce the Cann-Spam Act and generate a few billion annually for the USPS.
Critics will say this would create a government policing of our e-mail communications and invasion of our privacy. Potentially, that may have merit, but if private direct communication between two individuals, even business people, is left untaxed and unmonitored, there should be no harm. Only commercial e-mailers would be taxed, even if they operate outside the United States. Failure to pay would result in denial of access to US networks. Those same critics would also complain that freedom of communication would result. Actually, only the freedom to spam, and send out unsolicited commercial communications.
Prior to e-mail, many companies did direct mail using the USPS and this proposal is merely an electronic extension of that concept, where direct mailers had to obtain bulk mailing permits and mail on a fee basis. Is it unreasonable that commercial bulk e-mailers should pay the same type of fees to the USPS?
Another consideration would be to have the USPS provide more electronic services, complementing and coordinating under law, with all electronic communications. For example, expanding on the sale of stamps, one could buy a stamp for a penny and ensure delivery of your email with confirmation via the USPS mail servers. Or, all private mailservers could route through USPS for a nominal fee, allowing USPS to filter out all unpaid emails, reducing junk mail to zero.
The USPS could offer coupons, delivered by mail to everyone, offering small discounts to use its services. It could also send out mailings to every business customer offering special discounted programs to compete even more with its commercial rivals.
Congress could approve USPS becoming the central broadband carrier, enabling it to earn revenues electronically, with minimal labor.
USPS could do a marketing campaign to remind Americans of its loyalty to them for over 200 years and calling upon them to return the loyalty and mail a letter, send a card or a package.
It could provide postal discount loyalty programs through greeting card companies. For every 50 cards you send, you get 5 stamps free, or something like that.
USPS could rebrand, and become more competitive in the marketplace. Private companies do this, but they don’t use government based contracting to achieve positive results. They also test branding. The last time USPS rebranded, it did a low-bid contract that resulted in typically government-styled logo and designs.
Reorganize, including major shifts in personnel costs and management. They should consider bringing in some management consultants, M&A specialists and organizational experts who are not government employees. Take a private sector approach to rebuilding the organization from a purely competitive perspective.
Consider increasing the scheduled pick up and delivery. Without adding new labor costs, it is possible to pick up mail more often and deliver it more frequently. The technology exists to facilitate this. Capital investment by Congress could ensure profit versus a $7 Billion loss.
It is time USPS and more important, Congress, become more aware of their need to compete in an open marketplace. The alternative would be a return to the monopoly, with the nationalization of FedEx, UPS an all other delivery services.