In this first in a series of discussions with DC insiders of note to direct marketers, Senior Editor Al Urbanski talks to Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman about the exigent rate increase looming over mailers.
Al Urbanski: Hello and thanks for listening to DC Direct. This is Senior Editor Al Urbanski of Direct Marketing News. I am in the headquarters of the United States Postal Service in Washington, DC, and the office of Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman. Ron, thanks for joining us today.
Ron Stroman: Thanks Al. It’s a delight to be here.
Urbanski: As all of you out there know, a lot is going at the Postal Service, a lot of things that affect you, and so I wanted to start out…I do want to mention that Ron is very engaged in legislative issues with the Postal Service. He spent 30 years in government service. He was a counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. He was the staff director of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is Darrell Issa’s committee now that is looking at postal reform.
So Ron, give a view to the mailers who are kind of concerned about what’s going to come down in the next few months as to what the picture is with exigency, with postal reform, what your prospects are for seeing something happen in the next year.
Stroman: Well, a couple of things, Al. First of all, I think that the prospects while difficult, I think, are good to get legislation enacted. You’ve got the leadership in the House and the Senate both focused on getting legislation accomplished by the end of the year. The chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Government Reform and Oversight Committees or authorizing committees, both have said they want to get legislation enacted this year.
The leadership of the House and the Senate has said they have to get legislation…they want to get legislation enacted this year. That’s an absolutely critical component to getting any legislation done. I think it differentiates the Postal Service from virtually every other entity right now that’s being…where legislation is being considered.
The second thing has to do with the exigency. When you looked at the statement by the Board of Governors, what they signaled is that if legislation can get enacted by the end of the year, that they would reconsider filing an exigent rate case going forward. I can tell you that this was certainly a last resort by the Board of Governors. It was something that they came to very reluctantly. They are concerned about the decrease in volume and wanted to balance that decrease with what they thought was a relatively moderate price increase. But they are certainly aware that their customers are not happy about that, but felt they had really no choice.
So I think we all want the same thing. We want legislation. We want to stabilize the finances of the Postal Service, and I think that’s what we need to be focused on right now.
Urbanski: The clock is really ticking though. The exigent increase would take place at the end of…would take effect the end of January. What…are there reasonable prospects that something could happen by then or shortly thereafter?
Stroman: Sure, yes.
Urbanski: And might the board…then might that affect what happens with the exigent increase if it does go into effect and reform comes in later?
Stroman: Yes. I do think there are reasonable chances that this could get done. You’ve got a bipartisan bill in the Senate between the democratic chairman of the committee and the republican ranking member of the committee, Chairman Carper and ranking member Coburn, Dr. Coburn. That is extraordinarily unusual, as you know, in this political environment to have that kind of consensus.
I would also say that in the House, while there is not the same level of consensus around a piece of legislation, both Chairman Issa and ranking member Cummings have both said they want legislation. They want it enacted right now.
So I think even though it’s a relatively short amount of time in this session, when you couple that…those factors with the fact that the administration has also said that they want to see postal reform done…we have been in contact with the administration on a regular basis…I think you have the ingredients to get it done, if we can kind of get all of the stakeholders aligned in a…moving in the same direction.
Urbanski: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned all the stakeholders, Ron, because you know, there are folks within the mailing community who are very involved in this issue. There are a lot of mailers out there who are concerned about this increase who are not involved. What can…what should these people be doing if they don’t want to see this increase happen? What can they … how can they appeal to their local congressman?
Stroman: Well, I would say, Al, educating your members about the importance of postal reform is probably the most important thing that I see going forward. You know, when I worked in Congress on the staff, if a member received, I would say, 20 letters or emails, that issue became an important issue to that particular member.
When you contact members, again, for purposes of educating them about the importance of postal reform, it elevates the importance of that for every single member because that’s really how in part they gauge the level of importance that a particular piece of legislation is to their constituents.
That is what I think…needs to happen, that level of education. You know, postal reform is tricky and it is complicated, and a lot of the members, I think, could use education around how important this is to an individual—to individual businesses, postal reform is to jobs in this country. So that educational component is absolutely key.
Urbanski: So there is no question that a simple email to your representative of Congress will help?
Stroman: Simple—that’s exactly right. A simple email would be…helpful.
Urbanski: That’s a great thing to know. And Ron, let’s just wrap up. Tell me, you’ve been in the government a long time. You’ve been here at the Postal Service, and you will probably be here at the Postal Service for some years to come. Where do you see it heading to…you know, we keep hearing about will the Postal Service survive. Is it going to go away? I personally don’t see it going anywhere. Where do you see it going in the next two to five years?
Stroman: Well, I think kind of a…foreshadowing of where we’re going is really our last quarter. We had one of the best quarters that we have had from a financial standpoint in a number of years, Al. And I think what you see is yes, there is going to be a decline in single piece first class mail as people mail fewer letters and start to pay bills online. But standard mail is stable. I think people see a value to business mail to their constituents, and our package business is just…you know, really, really growing right now.
So I think as we continue to take advantage of the Internet, see it as a source of real value to the Postal Service, I think that that…the revenue stream is going to continue to grow. We’re going to continue to innovate. We’re going to use…take advantage of our digital. We’re establishing somewhat of a digital platform and we’re working closely with the administration on being helpful to them in that regard.
So I see us being an extremely vibrant, valuable partner to the business community. We want to be focused on customer service. We’re going to have to compete every single day for the business of our customers. We’re committed to doing that, and we’re going to provide terrific customer service.
Urbanski: All right, Ron. Well, good luck to you in these crucial months ahead. Thanks for your input. Folks, that was Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman, and this is Al Urbanski for DC Direct.