Postal Service looks to reinvent itself

Wednesday - 7/20/2011, 10:41am EDT

David Yacobucci, deputy director, Risk Analysis Research Center, USPS IG

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

From the long-ago days of the Pony Express to mail delivery by jet - the U.S. Postal Service knows a thing or two about sweeping transformations.

And the spirit of reinvention is once again visiting the USPS.

The Postal Service's Risk Analysis Research Center, part of the agency's inspector general's office, recently released an exhaustive report, "A Strategy for a Future Mail Processing & Transportation Network." The report provides a high-level look at what the Postal Service - and its network of largely unseen processing and distribution centers - could look like in 2020.

But for such a large undertaking, the researchers basically had to start from the ground up, David Yacobucci, the deputy director of the research center, told Federal News Radio.

The Postal Service's network of more than 260 distribution centers - about 5 for every state - has adapted over the last century or so, mostly to keep up with the growing volume of mail.

"Unfortunately, mail volumes are under siege due to economic conditions as well as the Internet and electronic substitutions," Yacobucci said. "So we really had to start over from scratch in terms of what should the Postal Service look like in the year 2020 based on that future demand."

The report, which used simulation modeling to predict mail volume in 2020, recommended reducing the number of major distribution centers to 135, about three for every state.

But don't call this needless downsizing.

"Obviously, when you go from five major plants in any state - or any person's backyard - down to three, people are going to ask questions," he said. "And that's why a strategy is necessary to say 'You know, we're not just singling out anybody (or) any single plant.' This is really to right-size the Postal Service network for economies."

Because the strategy is only focused on the transportation backbone of the Postal Service, it wouldn't necessarily impact the 36,000 local post offices nationwide, Yacobucci said.

Closing the distribution centers will reduce the overall Postal Service workforce, though. However, as Yacobucci pointed out, the Postal Service is already shrinking, dipping from 700,000 employees to 580,000 this year. And in the next 10 years, half of the USPS workforce will be eligible to retire.

One of the major shifts is one of philosophy. Rather than focusing on speed, the Postal Service should work on consistency, the report recommended. "This is a real, significant shift," Yacobucci acknowledged. "but with that, it might allow for more efficiencies in the postal network and yet still meet that customer demand."

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