Mail Industry Task Force Outlines Initiatives

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Improving undeliverable-as-addressed mail and developing an "intelligent mail system" were among more than 40 initiatives proposed by the Mailing Industry Task Force to bolster U.S. Postal Service performance while reducing costs.

The task force released the initiatives at the Spring National Postal Forum in San Diego.

"I am very pleased with the progress we've made to date," Pitney Bowes chairman/CEO Michael J. Critelli said. "Our goal is to revitalize the mail channel into a medium that's easier to use, more flexible, data-enhanced and relevant to today's customer needs." Critelli is co-chairman of the task force.

The task force was formed in March 2001 to assess the role of mail in business and consumer communication, evaluate competition affecting the future of the mail and identify growth opportunities. It consists of executives from all segments of the mailing industry.

The initiatives resulted from work begun at last fall's Denver postal forum, when the task force presented an initial report with eight areas of recommended activity. Highlights of initiatives proposed last week include:

· Publication of a Federal Register notice May 1 that will propose rules such as increasing the frequency from 180 to 90 days for addresses to be required to be Move Update-qualified by USPS, and extending the USPS Move Update requirement concept for bulk mailings to Periodicals, Standard Mail and Package Services.

· A strategy for an intelligent mail system based on existing USPS infrastructure. The goal is to track every mail piece through the system.

The task force said it will work closely with the USPS to refine and implement each initiative. By the fall forum this September in Boston the task force plans to announce completed initiatives and progress on others.

The more than 2,500 forum attendees also heard postmaster general John E. Potter discuss the USPS transformation plan, which was submitted to Congress this month. The plan offers recommendations for fundamental long-term legislative reform while addressing more immediate steps the USPS can take to reduce costs and foster growth, such as closing unprofitable post offices and creating pricing flexibility.

"It's about you and the 9 million other people who work in the nation's $900 billion mailing industry," he said. "It's about connecting people -- preserving a national universal mail service that connects 280 million people, 125 million households and 10 million businesses."

The plan proposes three main options for remaking the USPS: a commercial government operation, a government agency and a privatized corporation. The postal service recommends the commercial government option.

Potter told attendees that immediate action can be taken to reduce costs, including lifting the self-imposed moratorium on closing post offices. In addition, the postal service will work with the Postal Rate Commission to convene a mailing industry summit that would work to create pricing flexibility, outsource administrative work and streamline internal purchasing procedures. Plans also call for the postal service to evaluate its network of retail facilities and mail processing plants to improve performance while reducing cost.

Though short-term operational and performance strategies could save $5 billion for the USPS through 2006, Potter said long-term reform was essential.

"We need the help of our policymakers to legislate postal reforms," he said. "If they cannot reach consensus on a business model for the postal service, then we will have allowed a valuable national asset to erode and ultimately fail and be wasted."

Potter is to address the transformation plan at a hearing called by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on May 3. In addition, insiders said that the House Government Reform Committee is nearing an agreement on postal reform and may introduce a bill next month.


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