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May 5 2014 09:50 AM

Some of the ideas about changing the USPS coming from members of the US Congress and the White House may seem outlandish to career postal employees. But when considering ways to fortify the overall viability and functions of the postal service instead of the interests of only certain groups, some of the governmental suggestions are pretty reasonable.

I understand the concern of labor unions and USPS employees when proposed policy changes could lower the number of people necessary to do the work of the postal service. I hate to see those jobs going away too. There are already too many people in the country that can't find work. Adding to the ranks of the unemployed is bad for the nation.

However it seems that in many cases the majority of people who already work for the USPS won't be in danger of being laid off. Desired savings in labor costs can often be attained by simply not replacing employees when they resign from the postal service or retire. Attrition may not account for all the necessary labor cost reductions, but impact on current employees can be kept to a minimum.

Reducing Delivery Days
Five day delivery for letters and flats makes sense to me if the projected savings from this schedule change can be substantiated. The effectiveness of direct mail marketing compared to other methods is well-documented. I doubt that marketers will simply give up on the channel because mail isn't delivered on Saturday.

There will be adjustments to be made for the business mailer and their customers to allow for the departure of Saturday delivery. Some mailing schedules may be bumped back a day if having content in consumer's mailboxes by the weekend is important. And billers may need to educate customers about mailing their payments sooner. I could see some billers using the elimination of residential mail pickup on Saturdays as a way to encourage more participation in auto-pay arrangements, thereby reducing their cost of remittance processing. I believe transactional document mailers and marketers can make the necessary adjustments to ensure their printed documents continue to produce desired results. Commercial mailers are a group used to dealing with changes in postal rates and regulations all the time. I don't see the elimination of a delivery day as an unconquerable obstacle.

Cluster Mailboxes
The other idea that strikes me as common sense is an intelligent implementation of cluster mailboxes in those neighborhoods where the available space and traffic patterns make it feasible. My personal experience with cluster mailboxes has been positive. I actually wish I had one now instead of the curbside box in front of my house where thieves have stolen mail and checks. Though they are not theft-proof, locked cluster mailboxes for both inbound and outbound mail would probably deter crimes of opportunity afforded by standard curbside mail receptacles or unattended packages sitting on porches.

A provision to provide continued residential delivery for people with disabilities could ensure these citizens can still get their mail if making the trip to the community mailbox is a hardship. The existing service of carrier pick-up could be continued for residential customers with outgoing packages too large to fit in the cluster mailbox. Placing locked bins for recycled mail and keeping the areas well-lighted or under video surveillance would address security concerns. Budgeting for regular maintenance and a system for reporting damage, theft, or vandalism of community mail facilities should be built into the solution.
Placing community mailboxes in established urban areas or communities where there isn't room for them would be unwise. Better to continue delivery to the door in those situations where centralized postal delivery doesn't make sense.

Of course data is necessary to understand the net savings potential of cluster mailboxes. If the financial information is positive, it seems sensible to begin phasing them in.

The Alternatives Could Be Grim
Adjusting to changes in the way the US Postal system operates would take some time. But I think most American consumers and businesses could find ways to make a reformed postal service work for them - especially if the modifications are phased in over time. Failure to agree and act on strategies for postal delivery in America results in continuing down an unsustainable path. Alternatives to reasonable solutions, such as privatization, could be much more disruptive and a lot more expensive. Mail service provided only by companies such as FedEx or UPS would likely result in a degradation of universal service. Increased costs to send physical correspondence via these services could force more companies to abandon mail for customer communications. The effects would of course be felt throughout industries such as printing and mailing hardware, software, services, and materials.

The federal government is not the best organization for making business decisions. But in the case of the USPS they are going to be involved. Meeting the needs commercial mailers, postal employees, supporting industries, and citizens is going to require some compromise. If reforms proposed by the government or any of those groups are applied fairly and for the good of the mail delivery system I believe mail professionals will find a way to make them work.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide improve their production workflows and save money. For more tips visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations. Your comments are welcome. Send them to Follow Mike on Twitter @PMCmike