Postal Achievements Awards for 2000

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While watching the "McLaughlin Group" give out various achievement awards for 2000 one Sunday morning, I decided on the need for similar awards for postal achievements.


Here are my selections for award categories and recipients.


The first, and probably the most important, award is for the Individual Who Has Done the Most to Further the Cause of Postal Reform. The recipient is George Fleischli.


Who, you ask, is George Fleischli, and why should he win this award? Fleischli was the arbitrator who decided the recent labor contract between the U.S. Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers. You will recall that current postal law requires that postal management and the labor unions negotiate a contract. If they are unable to agree on contract terms, they jointly appoint a third-party arbitrator.


That arbitrator, after hearing testimony from both sides, issues a binding agreement. The majority of recent labor agreements have been settled through an arbitrator because the parties have been unable to reach agreement on their own. In those cases it was generally thought that the arbitrator's decision was favorable to the postal service. Therefore, the postal service probably didn't fear arbitration again.


However, in this decision, Fleischli accepted the union argument that the carriers' job was more difficult than previously rated and upgraded the letter carriers job to a higher wage band. This decision will add hundreds of millions of dollars to annual postal expenses.


Fleischli's decision was a shock to postal management and the Board of Governors. They've finally realized that the labor-management contract resolution system is broken and that the only way to change it is through postal reform legislation.


The Comeback Player of the Year award goes to Richard Strasser, the postal service's chief financial officer.


As some may recall, when Tony Frank was postmaster general, Strasser was assistant PMG for planning. He later was put in charge of marketing. Under Marvin Runyon's reign, Strasser was demoted, sent to the Washington-area hinterlands and given a mid-level operations assignment. Through hard work, diligence and fortunate circumstances he has re-emerged as CFO. Initial indications are that he's giving the postal service and the Board of Governors exactly the kind of straightforward financial advice they need to hear.


As a balance to the award to Strasser, we give the Biggest Fall award to Richard Porras, the postal service's previous CFO. As a result of ill-considered reimbursements for "moving" expenses, Porras was forced to retire from the postal service.


The Congressional Award for the congressman who has been most dedicated to postal health and reform goes to Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, former chairman of the House postal subcommittee.


McHugh spent untold hours trying to understand the postal service's situation and likely future. With that knowledge he crafted a bill, H.R. 22, the Postal Reorganization Act, that he thought would provide the flexibility that would permit the postal service to survive in this new hi-tech environment.


Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, the bill never made it out of committee. It has now become apparent that the service's plight is more dire than previously thought and legislation that provides more substantial change is necessary.


We'll soon see whether another congressman steps forward to grab McHugh's dedication mantle and promotes that substantive change agenda.


The Most Diligent Fact Finder award goes to retiring Postal Rate Commission chairman Ed Gleiman.


During the 2000-01 rate case proceeding, Gleiman issued several notice-of-information requests of the USPS to provide information on flats, or catalog-shaped, processing. As a result of several of these NOIs we've learned that despite millions spent on flat automation, the processing is less productive than it was five years ago. And this is not a trivial issue, as flats account for about 25 percent of all mail. Bringing this deficiency to light has forced the postal service to concentrate on this area.


The Best Postal Rate Case Economist award goes to Larry Buc and his staff at Project Performance Corp.


For the second consecutive postal rate case, Buc convinced the PRC that the postal service had overstated its need for additional revenue. In R2000-01, the PRC reduced the service's request by about $800 million. Much of that reduction was because of the work of Buc and his team. The rates that took effect Jan. 7 would have been significantly higher without that reduction.


The Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio award goes to single-piece First-Class mail.


Single-piece First-Class mail is the postal service's largest revenue source, accounting for one-third of all USPS revenue. It's scary to note that this revenue source declined 2.8 percent in the first quarter - September to November - of fiscal year 2001. If it had just stayed at the FY 2000 level, the postal service would have received $144 million in additional revenue. Come back, Joe, the postal service needs you - we need you.


On the other hand, the Most Valuable Player award goes to Standard A Mail.


In the first quarter, its revenues grew 5 percent. This was despite the problems faced by dot-coms and the general slowdown in the economy, particularly retail. Perhaps the advertising community fully understands the cost benefits of direct mail marketing.


For those of you who have won awards, congratulations. For everyone else, keep on trying and recall the old Brooklyn Dodgers refrain, "Wait till next year."


• Cary H. Baer is a direct marketing consultant and chairman of the Association for Postal Commerce (Postcom), New York. His e-mail address is CaryHB@aol.com.
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