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April 18, 2012

USPS: Gloom of Night

Norman M. Covert

The U. S. Postal Service (USPS) has fallen on hard times, if you see what the rest of us see. It is getting so it cannot live up to its accepted credo and we are stuck in that “gloom of night....”


I cannot remember a time when mail was so delayed in transit that it is received weeks after the expected date.


My tunic is being gored here and it is time to straighten out the mess.


I understand the 546,000 career USPS employees processed 167.9 billion pieces of mail last year and grossed $66 billion. I’m excited.


The U. S. Mail, not to be confused with USPS, was the brainchild of entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin; a brilliant suggestion that added grease to the skids of post-Colonial interstate commerce. The esteemed Mr. Franklin would be all over this crisis. His level of angst would roar from his digs, whether in Paris, London or Philadelphia – but that’s another story!


We understand USPS is facing a $21 billion deficit through FY 2016. Postmaster General Patrick Donohue has a five-year plan to cut 155,000 workers through attrition; to deliver first-class mail five days each week instead of six; and close at least 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 post offices.


If the foregoing isn’t trouble, I don’t know what is? When your mortgage holder doesn’t receive the monthly payment on time, it’s your problem! Consumers are seeking and finding ways around this with on-line banking, bane of Postmaster General Donohue.


USPS may be classified in government parlance as a Government Owned/Contractor operated (GOCO) entity. It receives no actual government funds, being forced to survive on the price of stamps (including First Day of Issue and other commemoratives) and what it can get for parcel post, post box rentals, mailing supplies and logo bearing trinkets. Postal rates, however, are the purview of The Congress.


USPS employees, strictly speaking, are not "government" hires. These mail carriers, mail haulers, counter clerks and support staff do share in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan. They have their own retirement system, which apparently is eating profits, threatening to drive USPS into receivership.


Mr. Donohue wants to spread out the $5.5 billion retirement contribution over a period of years. It cannot meet the next payment. He also reports that USPS contributes a whopping $13.2 billion in annual health care costs. He said savings would be passed to employees and retirees, who would see $650 million in reduced contributions. He will have lots of unhappy rank and file employees.


I have no quarrel, only the kindest words, for the “Femailman” and her backups delivering my missives each day. They are diligent, but may only deliver what is put in their daily distribution box, now coming from Baltimore’s overwhelmed facility.


In addition to closing the Frederick Mail Handling Facility on Tilco Drive in December, USPS is in the process of closing several other mail handling facilities and post offices in Maryland. This doesn’t bode well for my mail traffic.


Smart businesses now are trying to tap into the Internet as a means of getting around USPS costs to reach potential customers. However, Internet transmissions to your home computer which are tagged as SPAM take the same route as those ad flyers you carry straight to the recycling bin, electronic never-never land.


A further challenge is dealing with older clientele, some of whom are unable to open attachments on emails and have no idea what a .pdf file may be. Of course, you know a .pdf is a compressed, “printed” copy of a document, a useful tool for sending newsletters and large documents.


The community has been up in arms since USPS diverted Frederick mail to the chutes in Baltimore. Whistle blowers let us know the mail was piled up there in trailers on the street, cluttering the facility’s corridors and aisles, while our mail was delayed by days and even weeks. USPS says it has fixed the problem – I don’t think so.


We had hoped to be able to spin a better message for USPS last week. The printer did a rush job on my non-profit organization’s newsletter, enabling it to be delivered Thursday to the Bulk Mail Acceptance Unit (BMAU) on East Patrick Street, Frederick. The trays were processed efficiently by affable clerks, who added five more zip codes to our “local processing” because of the change to Baltimore. Good News! This increased our total for the least expensive per-item category.


Non-profit bulk mail is less expensive than First Class, despite the $179 application fee, $179 annual fee, plus per unit cost as low as $.11 per copy. Thursday’s mailing cost an additional $67.


Here is the impact of Baltimore sorting our mail: the “control copy” has historically been delivered next morning. It has been six days so far without receipt of that “control.” I don’t fault the carrier who has some discretion delivering bulk mail. The goal is that such mail be delivered within 48 hours of the time it reaches the local delivery bin.


No sense complaining to the “Femailman,” who never delays delivery.  Shacklefratz! I will have to cut USPS a break as every good citizen should and get the summer edition in the mail tomorrow.


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