Potter likes USPS' chances despite recession: NPF

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Service was the key word at the National Postal Forum's opening general session this morning. Throughout his introduction and three short panel discussions, Postmaster General John Potter remained adamant that the USPS would maintain and even improve its service levels, in spite of economic difficulties.

"This is not a time for us to panic as an industry," Potter said. "We have to stay focused on those things that are our foundations, and the most important thing is service."

He then went on to outline a broad, three-pronged approach for the postal service, which includes "keeping service high, keeping costs low, and looking ahead to build a future for the mail, modernizing as we go."

Structural changes for the USPS are imminent, as it faces a projected $12 billion loss in revenue. However, the organization also has kept its focus on growth, introducing a new priority flat rate box -— the campaign for which launches today — and gearing up for the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB), which goes into effect this year.

"We can't just hunker down and wait for the storm to pass," Potter explained. "We will not simply bounce back. We have to work and reconfigure what we are to match what we're getting as far as the demand that's out there, so we have to pick up the pace.”

Susan Plonkey, VP of sales for USPS, also outlined a reorganization of the USPS sales team that provides a more "one-stop" shopping experience for mailers, and a panel discussion further explained the USPS's summer sale initiative, which is currently being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission and should launch in July.

"We can't cut our way to success," Potter added, referencing the major job cuts that the USPS has implemented over the past two years. The organization also is looking to cut the cost of its retiree health benefits. Potter said the USPS would be going to Congress to ask for help in paying the $7 billion tab on those benefits. It's also working with unions to cut operational costs and is planning to borrow the maximum amount allowed — $3 billion -— to meet its financial needs this year.

It won't be all changes all the time for the 2009 USPS, though. Stephen Kearney, SVP of customer relations for the agency, announced during the session that the USPS has declared a moratorium on proposing new mail standards for the next 6 1/2 months. The announcement received enthusiastic applause from the packed house.

"We know you all have a lot on your plates," he told the crowd. "We need to get through this recession, and we need to implement intelligent mail," he said of plans for the upcoming months.

Potter concluded the session with these words: "We are going to stay true to who we are: a service organization. It's paramount that we continue to provide the best service with Intelligent Mail barcode and expanded measurement systems. We will continue to make investments in our future and keep looking ahead to modernize the postal service."

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