Postal Commission Talks Technology

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Representatives from Pitney Bowes, Lockheed Martin, the Envelope Manufacturers Association and the USPS gave testimony to the Presidential Commission on the U.S. Postal Service this week involving electronic diversion of First-Class letter mail, automation and other technologies used by the postal service, and opportunities that may result from technological innovations.


The commission's third public meeting took place at LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, TX.


According to the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, the commission was updated by USPS vice president for engineering Tom Day and chief technology officer Bob Otto on the postal service's success in automating letter-sized mail. As of the end of last year, 94 percent of all letter-sized mail was automated.


The challenge is to duplicate that success with non-letter-sized flats and parcels. Though flats-processing efficiency has doubled since fiscal year 2000, the real gains for the USPS likely will come through improved materials handling -- better packaging and redesigning containers like tubs, trays and pallets -- and automated sorting technology that will reduce the time spent in "casing" the mail before a carrier straps on the leather bag and begins a route.


Judith Marks of Lockheed Martin and Heribert Stumpf of Siemens gave an industry perspective on USPS use of technology, the alliance said. Marks suggested that the commission consider changes to postal rate setting to allow for more negotiated rates and phased, indexed rate increases. Marks and Stumpf also spoke of standardizing postal facilities, standardizing mail shape and size and upgrading equipment in ways that would not disrupt service levels during the transition.


Reportedly, the commission raised the issue of standardizing the size of mail pieces as a way to reduce costs of capital equipment and processing operations. This topic originally was raised in the question-and-answer session with Day, and also arose in the Q-and-A following presentations by Lockheed Martin and Siemens. Day reportedly said that if mail were standardized, mail volumes would fall.


Deputy postmaster general John Nolan and Nick Barranca, vice president for product development, underscored the importance of First-Class mail to USPS finances and the threat of mail diversion from the national mail delivery network from electronic sources such as e-mail, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers said.


Nolan and Barranca suggested that more flexibility in setting prices and introducing products is vital to future competitive possibilities for the USPS.


Mike Monahan, president, global mailing solutions, Pitney Bowes, testified that an intelligent mail system could attach data-rich, machine-readable information to each mail piece, including information about the mailer, the recipient, the postal product used or content contained within the envelope. He spoke on a panel titled, "Making the Mail Process More Intelligent, Maximizing the Value of Mail," with Maynard H. Benjamin, president of the Envelope Manufacturers Association.


"In order to maintain a vital and viable postal system ... it is important to focus on intelligent mail, which increases the value of the mail, reduces postal system costs and improves mail security," Monahan said.


The presidential commission announced that its fourth public meeting will be April 4 at The Westin Hotel Los Angeles Airport. There, it will examine the role of the private sector in the mail delivery system through outsourcing, work sharing and retail partnerships. The commission also will examine USPS competition with the private sector.


The commission is to submit its report to the president by July 31.


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