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The Postal Service even delivers to … Indiana Jones?

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Remember, it's still illegal to send snakes through the mail.

Say what you will about the troubled U.S. Postal Service: It’s still the best way to get a priceless notebook to an adventuring archaeologist and out of the hands of the Nazis.

That’s what the University of Chicago discovered last week when it received a mysterious manila envelope with what appeared to be Egyptian stamps addressed to one Henry Walton Jones Jr. The only problem: there is no Henry Walton Jones Jr. on the faculty of U of Chicago. Staffers at Rosenwald Hall, where the package was delivered, shrugged and tossed it to a student to figure out where to deliver it.

The mystery deepened when the student realized Henry Jones Jr. was none other than Indiana Jones: Professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and … how does one say it … obtainer of rare antiquities. It just got better from there. The university staff opened up the package and found it contained an elaborately handmade replica journal from Professor Abner Ravenwood, detailing his hunt for the Ark of the Covenant (as seen in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark). The dusty, weathered journal also had postcards, 1930s-era replica money, and photographs of Abner’s daughter Marion Ravenwood.

He should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers!

The university was stumped. Who would handmake such an intricately detailed item, and then mail it to a fictional character at a real university? Was it a Hollywood promotional stunt? A joke gift from one professor to another that got diverted in the university’s mail system? Or, the university theorized, was it from an applicant who wanted to get noticed? The admissions office posted photos of the package on its Tumblr account Dec. 13, and geek websites around the world quickly spread the word.

But Monday, the university announced the mystery was solved. A man from Guam named Paul has a side business selling replica Indiana Jones props on eBay, and intended to send the package to a buyer in Italy. The Indy package fell out of its outer envelope — which was properly addressed to the Italian buyer — in a Postal Service processing facility in Honolulu, and ended up in the lost and found pile. A postal employee evidently thought the phony Egyptian stamps were legitimate and appeared canceled, so he or she handwrote the ZIP code for Chicago on the envelope and sent it on its way. (The Postal Service may want to beef up its employees’ counterfeit-spotting training.)

The university tracked Paul down and he confirmed Saturday that he sent the package. The next day, Paul got a letter from the Postal Service telling him they found his empty outer envelope and that its contents had apparently been lost.

Paul told the university to keep the journal, and he sent the Italian buyer another one. The university said it plans to put the journal on display in its Oriental Institute, along with information about the real-life archaeologists (including two from U of Chicago) who inspired Indy’s creation.

I’m sure they’ll have top men working on it. Top … men …

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Postal Service launching digital enterprise

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The U.S. Postal Service, an organization inextricably associated with the delivery of lots and lots of paper, is creating a new enterprise focused on the online sphere, according to a memorandum today from Postmaster General Pat Donahoe. The “digital solutions” group is intended “to better explore growth opportunities in the digital space, and to translate those opportunities into new streams of revenue, enhance the value of our current offerings, and improve customer experiences,” Donahoe told Postal Service officers in the memo obtained by Federal Times.

The venture comes as the agency is under pressure from Congress and postal employee unions to explore alternatives to service cutbacks. “We are convinced there is growth potential in this dynamic digital environment,” Donahoe said.

Heading the group will be Paul Vogel, who has been USPS president and chief marketing/sales officer. Vogel, who started with the Postal Service as a clerk and letter carrier in 1969 while working his way through college, later left for consulting work on international business and business strategies, according to his official bio. He returned to the Postal Service two years ago.

“Paul has a great track record of driving successful new initiatives within the Postal Service,” Donahoe wrote. “In addition to his excellent recent service as chief marketing/sales officer, he was instrumental in establishing our transportation partnership with FedEx, he stood up and launched our global business, and he played a vital role in early efforts to realign our operational network.”

The digital solutions group will begin “with a matrixed structure and will grow into a separate business unit over the coming year with the flexibility to explore, pursue and/or create quickly evolving digital technologies,” Donahoe continued.  “Paul will be taking us into new waters in a number of ways that should generate a lot of external interest and excitement.”

Replacing Vogel as chief marketing/sales officer will be Coca-Cola executive Nagisa Manabe. At the soft drink giant, Manabe served as vice president of new growth platforms, according to Donahoe’s memo. Before that, she was vice president of marketing for Diageo Guinness USA Inc., part of the company that makes Johnnie Walker whiskey, Smirnoff vodka, and Guinness beer. Manabe “will lead our efforts to frame a new generation of ideas to better promote and grow our organization,” Donahoe said.

 

 

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Sen. Collins’ speech on the Postal Service

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, drew plenty of attention last week for her speech on postal issues. Since news outlets couldn’t excerpt much more than a fraction of what she said, FedLine thought it might be worthwhile to post the entire address, both as prepared and as Collins actually delivered it on the Senate floor, according to materials provided by her office. The first version is on the left; the second on the right.

 

SENATOR COLLINS CALLS FOR BIPARTISAN POSTAL REFORM

 

WASHINGTON – - U.S. Senator Susan Collins today, from the Senate floor, outlined the importance of the bipartisan postal reform bill she has cosponsored with Senators Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Scott Brown (R-MA).

The text of Senator Collins’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President:

The Majority Leader has indicated that the Senate may soon turn to legislation to reform an American institution, the United States Postal Service.

Our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of having a Postal Service.  Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to establish Post Offices.

The Postal Service is also required by law to provide, as nearly as practicable, the “entire population of the United States” with “adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates.”  This is called the universal mandate and ensures that the Postal Service cannot leave rural states or small towns behind.

The Postal Service, which has delivered mail to generation after generation of Americans, will not be able to make payroll sometime this fall, according to the Postmaster General himself.

In the past two years alone, the Postal Service has lost $13.6 billion, and first-class mail volume has dropped 26 percent since 2006.

No one wants the mail to stop later this year.    That means that we must pass a bill.

The U.S. Postal Service is the linchpin of a mailing industry that employs more than 8.5 million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity every year.   Virtually everyone — from big retailers to small businesses to online shops — relies on the Postal Service to deliver packages, advertise services and send out bills. The jobs of American in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, and paper manufacturing all are linked to a healthy Postal Service.

Nearly 38,000 Mainers work in jobs related to the mailing industry, including thousands at our pulp and paper mills like the one in Bucksport, Maine, which provides paper for Time magazine.

The crisis facing the Postal Service is dire, but not hopeless. With the right tools and action from Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Postal leadership, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.

My colleagues, Senators Lieberman, Carper, Brown, and I have crafted legislation to update the Postal Service’s business model and give it the tools it needs to survive and succeed.  We have introduced a bipartisan bill that will help the Postal Service reduce operating costs, modernize its business model, and innovate to generate new revenue.

However, the Postmaster General and I fundamentally disagree on how to save the U.S. Postal Service.  He continues to make decisions that will severely degrade service and drive away customers.

It is clear we have two very different visions on how best to help the Postal Service.  While each of us wants to ensure the Postal Service is set on a sustainable path, I fear Mr. Donahoe’s approach would shrink the Postal Service to a level that will ultimately hasten its insolvency.

The current plan by the Postal Service to slow first-class mail, close facilities, and ignore Congress flies in the face of the good faith we extended during the many months we have worked on the reform bill.

We worked hand in hand over a number of months with the Postmaster General to craft a bill that would save the Postal Service money in a way that prioritized the lifeblood of the mail – mailers and the service around which business mailers have built their business models and around which individual customers have developed their mailing habits.

Despite these negotiations, the Postmaster General has pushed ahead with plans to abandon current mail service standards in favor of reduced access, slower delivery times, and higher prices, which will force many customers to pursue delivery alternatives.  If those adjustments involve shifting to non-postal options in even a minority of cases – say 10 or 20 percent, the Postal Service would face an irreversible catastrophe.  Once customers turn to other communication options and leave the mail system, they won’t be coming back, and the Postal Service will be sucked into a death spiral.

What do I mean when I say businesses will adjust their business model?  Companies large and small that rely on the mail tell me that if service continues to deteriorate, they will conduct more business online and encourage their customers to switch to online services for bill-paying and other transactions.

Other businesses, such as small newspapers or pharmacy suppliers, have told me that they would seek non-postal delivery options, such as for local delivery and transport services.  Again, let’s assume only a small fraction of businesses change their operations by shifting to these online or non-postal options – it could still spell the end for the U.S. mail system.   For every five percent drop in First Class Mail volume, the Postal Service loses $1.6 billion in revenue.

That’s why the downsizing of the labor force and excess capacity that the Postmaster General states is so critical to saving the Postal Service must be carried out in a way that preserves service and does not inflict avoidable harm on these dedicated workers.  Too many have assumed that this simply can’t be done.

But the fact is, there are many options to cut costs and expand revenue while preserving service such as:  reducing the size of processing plants without closing them, moving tiny post offices into local grocery stores, reforming an expensive and unfair workers’ compensation program, allowing the Postal Service to ship wine and beer, refunding an overpayment into the federal retirement system, developing a new health plan that would greatly decrease the need to pre-fund future retirees benefits, and using buyouts to encourage employees to retire.

The Postmaster General is instead proceeding with a disastrously flawed plan, as evidenced by the recent announcement of draconian processing plant closures.  This coupled with the still-pending closures of almost 4,000 mostly rural post offices and the Postmaster General’s push to eliminate of overnight and Saturday delivery tell me that the current Postal Service leadership is gravely underestimating the consequences of lesser service on revenue from customers who depend on the service as it is provided today.

It also suggests the Postmaster General is prepared to have rural America bear the brunt of service reductions in violation of the universal service mandate.

The Postal Regulatory Commission concluded just that in its analysis on the impact of the proposal to end Saturday delivery.

The Postal Service will not be saved by a bare-bones approach that will require massive adjustments by its customers.   Perhaps that might have made sense in a time when customers had no other options, such as would have been the case decades ago.  But today, the massive shift to online publications and commerce provides most businesses alternatives to using the mail.  And a good portion of them will explore and settle on those alternatives if the Postal Service makes it harder for them to serve their customers.

Then there are the customers who simply can’t adjust their business model and could be forced out of business, taking the jobs they support with them.

Instead, the approach taken by our postal reform bill, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would be to reduce excess capacity in the Postal Service while preserving service for customers.  While our bill would not ban the closure of all postal facilities, it would establish service standards and allow for meaningful public comment procedures that would ensure that delivery delays and impact on customers were mitigated.  The result would be that most facilities would remain open so as to preserve overnight delivery, Saturday delivery, and easy access to bulk processing for commercial mailers.  Our bill would still reduce the workforce and processing capacity at those facilities to match the volume coming in.

For example, rather than closing a plant that has excess capacity, our plan would allow a plant to downsize its labor and volume capacity.  This could mean running one shift instead of two, or half a shift instead of a whole shift, using one sorting machine instead of two, using half the space and renting out the rest, and so forth.  That way the plant still could process mail in the region providing the same service it receives today, while saving money.

Under the Postmaster General’s plan, however, the plant would close, and its volume would be processed much further away, often hundreds of miles away.  That megaplant further away would add shifts and capacity to handle the new volume, but because of the distance, overnight delivery would no longer be possible or guaranteed, and Saturday delivery would end.

The loss in revenue due to dramatically reduced service under the Postal Service’s plan would not take place under our plan – and the negative ripple effects on customers, jobs, and the broader economy would be avoided.

With our bill set to come to the floor imminently, the Postmaster General has, nonetheless, moved forward with preparations for sweeping closures and service reductions.  That means that even if our bill were to pass, get through conference, be sent to the President’s desk, and start to be implemented over the coming months, the Postal Service’s ill-conceived actions would have already done damage to its customer base.

Customers have to plan now for what they see coming.  With all these closures announcements, customers are already making contingency plans.  In this way, the Postal Service has already triggered the hemorrhaging of customers that our bill could prevent if it were to become law.

But on top of the damage already incurred, what this reckless move demonstrates is an attitude that is dead-set on its service-degrading, customer-be-ignored approach.  That attitude seems so stubbornly entrenched that I worry that even if our bill becomes law, the current Postal Service leadership would not enact it properly in good faith.  Without an attitude of “service first,” I am concerned that all the important processes and considerations we place in the bill could just become box-checking exercises for a Postal Service that is looking to just maintain the appearance of compliance rather than embarking on a new path.

This approach by the Postal Service is all the more inexcusable given its reputation for fuzzy math.  By cutting service and raising prices, and not calculating the resulting disastrous revenue losses, we have to ask ourselves if the savings estimates under the Postal Service plan are pure fantasy.

This is nothing new – the Postal Service’s assumptions about projected losses and savings from service cuts have proven unreliable in the past.  For instance, the magnitude of the savings the Postal Service estimates from eliminating Saturday delivery has been challenged by the Postal Regulatory Commission, in part because of the Postal Service’s significant underestimation of likely lost revenue.

Furthermore, we are relying on the Postal Service’s data and projections about savings and revenue, without giving the Postal Service’s regulatory body, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the opportunity to provide its Advisory Opinion.   That opinion, likely due this summer, will provide valuable feedback from stakeholders and independent economic analysts.

I hope my concerns can be addressed. But for now, is it futile to move ahead on postal reform legislation?  If the Postmaster General chases away his customer base with price hikes and service cuts before we can enact legislation to stop him, are we just wasting time trying to pass a bill that can no longer save the Postal Service?  And if the Postal Service managers are so stubbornly attached to their flawed plan now, who’s to say they’ll faithfully execute the bill once it becomes law?

So, Mr. President, I find myself in a quandary, one created by the Postmaster General himself as he shifts from plan to plan, from negotiation to negotiation.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for those of us who want to save the historic Postal Service so it can continue to be a vital American institution for generations to come.

SENATOR COLLINS CALLS FOR BIPARTISAN POSTAL REFORM

 

WASHINGTON – - U.S. Senator Susan Collins today outlined the importance of the bipartisan postal reform bill she has cosponsored with Senators Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Scott Brown (R-MA).

The text of Senator Collins’ remarks as delivered from the Senate floor is below.

Mr. President:

The Majority Leader has indicated that the Senate may soon turn to legislation to reform an American institution, the United States Postal Service.

The Postal Service is almost as old as our nation. Our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of having a Postal Service.  Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to establish Post Offices.

The Postal Service is also required by law to provide, as nearly as practicable, the “entire population of the United States” with “adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates.”  This is called the universal mandate and ensures that the Postal Service cannot leave rural states or small towns behind.

Yet, the Postal Service, which has delivered mail to generation after generation of Americans, will not be able to make payroll sometime this fall, according to the Postmaster General.

In the past two years alone, the Postal Service has lost $13.6 billion, and first-class mail volume has dropped 26 percent since 2006. The trend is not encouraging.

Since no one wants the mail to stop being delivered later this year. That means that we must pass a bill – and soon.

The economic impact of the U.S. Postal Service is enormous.  It is the linchpin of a mailing industry that employs more than 8.7 million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity every year.   Virtually everyone — from big retailers to small businesses to online shops — relies on the Postal Service to deliver packages, advertise services and send out bills. The jobs of Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, and paper manufacturing all are linked to a healthy Postal Service.

Nearly 38,000 Mainers work in jobs related to the mailing industry, including thousands at our pulp and paper mills like the one in Bucksport, Maine, which provides paper for Time magazine.

The crisis facing the Postal Service is dire, but it is not hopeless. With the right tools and action from Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Postal leadership, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.

My colleagues, Senators Lieberman, Carper, Brown, and I have crafted legislation to update the Postal Service’s business model and give it the tools it needs to survive and succeed.  We have introduced a bipartisan bill that will help the Postal Service reduce operating costs, modernize its business model, and innovate to generate new revenue.

However, the Postmaster General and I fundamentally disagree on how to save the U.S. Postal Service.  He continues to make decisions that will severely degrade service and drive away customers and that undermine the opportunity for our legislation to succeed.

It is clear we have two very different visions on how best to help the Postal Service.  While each of us wants to ensure the Postal Service is set on a sustainable path, I fear Postmaster General Donahoe’s approach would shrink the Postal Service to a level that will ultimately hasten its insolvency.

The current plan by the Postal Service to slow first-class mail, close facilities, and ignore Congress flies in the face of the good faith we extended during the many months we have worked on the reform bill.

We worked hand in hand over a number of months with the Postmaster General to craft a bill that would save the Postal Service money in a way that prioritized the lifeblood of the mail – mailers and the service around which business mailers have built their business models and around which individual customers have developed their mailing habits.

Despite these negotiations, the Postmaster General has pushed ahead with plans to abandon current mail service standards in favor of reduced access, slower delivery times, and higher prices, which will force many customers to pursue delivery alternatives.  If those adjustments involve shifting to non-postal options in even a minority of cases – say 10 or 20 percent, the Postal Service would face an irreversible catastrophe.  Once customers turn to other communication options and leave the mail system, they won’t be coming back, and the Postal Service will be sucked into a death spiral.

What do I mean when I say businesses will adjust their business model?  Companies large and small that rely on the mail tell me that if service continues to deteriorate, they will conduct more business online and encourage their customers to switch to online services for bill-paying and other transactions.

Other businesses, such as small newspapers or pharmacy suppliers, have told me that they would seek non-postal delivery options, such as for local delivery and transport services.  Again, let’s assume only a small fraction of businesses change their operations by shifting to these online or non-postal options – it could still spell the end for the U.S. mail system.   For every five percent drop in First Class Mail volume, the Postal Service loses $1.6 billion in revenue.

That’s why the downsizing of the labor force and excess capacity that the Postmaster General states is so critical to saving the Postal Service must be carried out in a way that preserves service and does not inflict avoidable harm on these dedicated workers.

The fact is, there are many options to cut costs and expand revenue while preserving service such as: reducing the size of processing plants without closing them; moving tiny post offices into local grocery stores; reforming an expensive and unfair workers’ compensation program; allowing the Postal Service to ship wine and beer; refunding an overpayment into the federal retirement system; developing a new health plan that would greatly decrease the need to pre-fund future retirees benefits; and using buyouts to encourage employees to retire.

The Postmaster General is instead proceeding with a disastrously flawed plan, as evidenced by the recent announcement of draconian processing plant closures.  This coupled with the still-pending closures of almost 4,000 mostly rural post offices and the Postmaster General’s push to eliminate of overnight and Saturday delivery tell me that the current Postal Service leadership is gravely underestimating the consequences of lesser service on revenue from customers who depend on the service as it is provided today.

It also suggests the Postmaster General is prepared to have rural America bear the brunt of service reductions in violation of the universal service mandate. The Postal Regulatory Commission concluded just that in its analysis on the impact of the proposal to end Saturday delivery.

The Postal Service will not be saved by a bare-bones approach that will require massive adjustments by its customers.   Perhaps that might have made sense in a time when customers had no other options, such as would have been the case decades ago.  But today, the massive shift to online publications and commerce provides many with alternatives to using the mail.  And a good portion of them will explore and settle on those alternatives if the Postal Service makes it harder for them to serve their customers.

Then there are the customers who simply can’t adjust their business model and could be forced out of business, taking the jobs they support with them.

Instead, the approach taken by our postal reform bill, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would be to reduce excess capacity in the Postal Service while preserving service for customers.  While our bill would not ban the closure of all postal facilities, it would establish service standards and allow for meaningful public comment procedures that would ensure that delivery delays and impact on customers are considered.  The result would be that most facilities would remain open so as to preserve overnight delivery, Saturday delivery, and easy access to bulk processing for commercial mailers.  Our bill would still reduce the workforce and processing capacity at those facilities to match the volume coming in.

For example, rather than closing a plant that has excess capacity, our plan would allow a plant to downsize its labor and volume capacity.  This could mean running one shift instead of two, or half a shift instead of a whole shift, using one sorting machine instead of two, using half the space and renting out the rest, and so forth.  That way the plant still could process mail in the region providing the same service it receives today, while saving money.

Under the Postmaster General’s plan, however, the plant would close, and its volume would be processed much further away, often hundreds of miles away.  That megaplant further away would add shifts and capacity to handle the new volume, but because of the distance, overnight delivery would no longer be possible.

The loss in revenue due to dramatically reduced service under the Postal Service’s plan would not take place under our plan – and the negative ripple effects on customers, jobs, and the broader economy would be avoided.

With our bill set to come to the floor imminently, the Postmaster General has, nonetheless, moved forward with preparations for sweeping closures and service reductions.  That means that even if our bill were to pass, get through conference, be sent to the President’s desk, and start to be implemented over the coming months, the Postal Service’s ill-conceived actions would have already done damage to its customer base.

Customers have to plan now for what they see coming.  With all these closures announcements, customers are already making contingency plans.  In this way, the Postal Service may have already triggered the hemorrhaging of customers that our bill could prevent if it were to become law.

But on top of the damage already incurred, what this reckless move demonstrates is an attitude that is dead-set on its service-degrading, customer-be-ignored approach.  That attitude seems so stubbornly entrenched that I worry that even if our bill becomes law, the current Postal Service leadership would not enact it properly.  Without an attitude of “service first,” I am concerned that all the important processes and considerations we place in the bill could just become box-checking exercises for a Postal Service that is looking to just maintain the appearance of compliance rather than embarking on a new path.

This approach by the Postal Service is all the more inexcusable given its reputation for fuzzy math.  This is nothing new – the Postal Service’s assumptions about projected losses and savings from service cuts have proven unreliable in the past.  For instance, the magnitude of the savings the Postal Service estimates from eliminating Saturday delivery has been challenged by the Postal Regulatory Commission, in part because of the Postal Service’s significant underestimation of likely lost revenue.

Furthermore, we are relying on the Postal Service’s data and projections about savings and revenue, without giving the Postal Service’s regulatory body, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the opportunity to provide its Advisory Opinion.   That opinion, likely due this summer, will provide valuable feedback from stakeholders and independent economic analysts.

I hope my concerns can be addressed. But for now, is it futile to move ahead on postal reform legislation?  If the Postmaster General chases away his customer base with price hikes and service cuts before we can enact legislation will our bill be effective in saving the Postal Service?

So, Mr. President, I find myself in a quandary, one created by the Postmaster General himself as he shifts from plan to plan, from negotiation to negotiation.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for those of us who want to save the historic Postal Service so it can continue to be a vital American institution for generations to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love is eternal… as long as the postal service stays in business

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In the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver,  two mailboxes are in love. It’s thanks to the work on an anonymous artist, but we can’t say for sure since the mailboxes are not saying much.

As you’ll see in the video, the post office keeps painting over the boxes, as it’s considered graffiti, but the artist continues to repaint them afterwards.

Neither rain, sleet nor snow will keep them apart.

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Postal workers to rally for Saturday delivery

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Members of of the U.S. Postal Service’s largest union will take a break Tuesday from their national convention in Detroit to rally in support of continued six-day-a week mail service.

In a news release, the American Postal Workers Union said that more than 3,000 members will gather at a downtown park where President William Burrus and others will deliver “a spirited denunciation” of USPS plans to end most Saturday delivery. The Rev. Jesse Jackson will also speak, according to a union spokesman.

That plan, which is supposed to take effect Oct. 1 if Congress doesn’t block it, is what the Postal Service calls one of its best cost-cutting options as mail use slides.

But in the release, Burrus said it “would lead to the demise of the world’s most efficient, affordable and trusted postal system” and  called on lawmakers to eliminate the 2006 requirement for the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health care benefits to the tune of more than $5 billion per year.

The Postal Service is also asking for relief, so on that point, at least,  labor and management can agree.

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Another postal facility cited for safety violations

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Speaking of the Postal Service, the potential fines continue to pile up after it was  singled out last month by federal safety regulators for systemic violations at its 350 processing and distribution centers around the country. The latest citation follows an inspection at one such center in Portsmouth, N.H. that found five alleged “willful violations” and levied $350,000 in penalties.

“These citations and the sizable fines proposed here reflect the Postal Service’s ongoing knowledge of and failure to address conditions that exposed its workers to the severe and potentially deadly hazards of electric shock, arc fires and arc blasts,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration chief David Michaels said in a Friday news release.

Once it receives the citations, the Postal Service has 15 business days to comply, meet with the OSHA area director or contest the fines before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, according to the release. A willful violation is defined as one “committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.”

Early last month, OSHA filed an unprecedented “enterprise-wide” complaint seeking to force the Postal Service to deal with electrical violations at the processing and distribution centers. At the time, a Postal Service spokesman said officials would review the concerns and “make necessary adjustments to continue to ensure a safe working environment for our employees.”

This year, the Postal Service has been hit with almost $4.3 million in possible fines for alleged safety violations at its facilities, according to a list on the American Postal Workers Union’s web site. Also last week, OSHA announced that it was citing a Dayton, Ohio processing center for seven violations and $225,000 in fines.

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Bernstock update: Postal sole-source contracting rules tightened

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The scandal involving former U.S. Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock has yielded what appear to be some big changes to the rules governing sole-source contracts. Postal Service spokeswoman Joanne Veto just sent me some amended contracting rules that were published this week in response to the Office of Inspector General’s investigation:

• First, most postal executives will no longer be able to approve their own department’s sole-source contracts worth more than $1 million. From now on, seven-figure deals awarded noncompetitively must be approved by Vice President for Supply Management Susan Brownell.

Under the old rules, all noncompetitive contracts worth more than $250,000 had to be approved by the vice president of the organization requesting the contract. This allowed Bernstock to steer contracts to former business associates and friends, and then approve the deals with little outside oversight.

However, this will not change the rules for noncompetitive contracts between $250,000 and $1 million. Three of the contracts Bernstock steered to former business associates fell squarely in that area.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Read the postal OIG report on Robert Bernstock

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Former Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock

Former Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock

The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General today released its report on former marketing executive Robert Bernstock in response to a Federal Times Freedom of Information Act request. Our story on his alleged staffing and contracting abuses just went online here, but you can download the entire report by clicking here.

Our original stories that broke the news on four sole-source contracts he steered to associates he called “friends” can be found here and here. Bernstock announced his resignation May 12 and he officially left the agency June 4.

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A little something to brighten your Tax Day

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From The Onion

From The Onion: "While the USPS has seen an increase in stamp sales, workers are spending more and more time peeling them off windows, walls, and countertops."

Nobody likes paying taxes, of course, but here are two things that might take a little sting out of today. The Onion has the scoop on the U.S. Postal Service’s latest can’t-miss scheme for boosting its dwindling revenue: Late-night post offices to draw in the nightclub crowd.

“We’re busier than ever, though to be honest, a lot of these people’s packages never even make it to the processing center,” Loftus continued. “The address will be illegible, or the envelope soaked in beer or hot sauce. You’d be surprised how many people try to mail themselves hot sauce at 2:30 in the morning.”

And enjoy this clip from the Simpsons episode The Trouble with Trillions. No matter how hectic your last-minute tax filing was, it couldn’t have been worse than this: 

Sadly, it cuts off right before one of my all-time favorite Homer Simpson lines: “Would you look at those morons. I paid my taxes over a year ago!”

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The L’Enfant Plaza Code

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In another outstanding piece of investigative journalism, the Daily Show’s Jason Jones uncovers the vast conspiracy linking the U.S. Postal Service, the Catholic Church, and Reservoir Dogs star Harvey Keitel. Read between the lines, people.

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