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Why Can't a Woman Fill Runyon's Shoes at USPS?

Imagine a female postmaster general. Why shouldn't the 71st postmaster general break with tradition? The search committee should include gender on an equal plane of consideration with the other major issues.

State and federal governments and private industry have generated outstanding female chief executives. That women have successfully taken the helm in the public and private sectors should not come as a surprise. They have been in leadership positions for eons, not just of late. For example, the 1970s (not so ancient history for some of us) produced a number of prominent female executives whose legacies serve as notable benchmarks for this generation to aspire to:

State: Ella Grasso, governor of Connecticut from 1975 to 1980, became the first woman ever to become a U.S. governor on her own and not the wife of a previous incumbent. She improved the functioning of the state's government, generated a budget surplus and improved the welfare of its residents. Her extraordinary achievements and great personal appeal made her an overwhelming favorite for re-election, but her life was cut short by cancer.

Federal: Joan Clayborne served as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981. During her tenure, she instituted unprecedented safety standards within the automobile industry, standards that will continue into the next millennium.

Private industry: Katharine Graham, former chairwoman of the Washington Post Co., assumed the presidency of the company after her husband died. Quickly absorbing the complexity of this notable company, she assumed full control and became an influential force in the national political arena, the publishing industry and with business leaders here and abroad.

Presenting briefs on these extraordinary individuals serves to illustrate the caliber-potential of female candidates. The USPS search committee has the responsibility and duty to find a leader, male or female, with the ability and vision to carry on Marvin Runyon's mandate.

The next postmaster general has the opportunity to bring unique benefit to USPS employees and postal patrons alike. Examine these considerations:

Mediator: Management and labor discord continues within the USPS. The issues are complex and the inherent bureaucracy of an 800,000-employee organization is a major part of the complexity. A dynamic and sensitive leader should have the essential wherewithal to improve conditions in the presently contentious work environment. Improvements would, in all probability, have a positive impact on productivity that, in turn, should result in price stability.

It's not an exaggeration to say that our country has been blessed with truly great conciliators in government, industry, sports and military. The postal service is in the right place at the time for momentous change in labor and management accord. The new postmaster general must make this a priority objective.

Customer service: The quality of customer service is directly linked to worker attitude. The new postmaster general could create a new, uniform standard of customer service throughout the system. Imagine the benefits to individual and business mailers:

* Individual — the elusive objective of swift, friendly counter service can become a standard for all customer facilities. Staffing at peak traffic periods, for example, would make the “long-line syndrome” but a bad memory.

* Business — the USPS offers low cost/high value delivery services for cost-conscience businesses of all sizes. Our next postmaster general should institute a program that rewards postal carriers for developing usage of underused services such as its second-day service. Such efforts will more closely align local postal carriers to the companies they serve.

Runyon has left the postal service in good stead. During his watch, it has operated more efficiently, with less management overhead, and more effectively, with three consecutive surpluses of more than $1 billion. Now the future of the postal service rests in the hands of the Board of Governors.

These nine men, appointed by the president, have quite a challenge. Whomever is selected, the new one will undoubtedly be compared to Runyon for some time. What better setting for a dynamic female leader.

Presumably the board has been actively searching as Runyon's intention to retire was well known. Natural debate on qualifications will weigh the pros and cons of internal versus external selection, government vs. private sector executive, industry aligned or otherwise, to name but a few of the issues. Hopefully, gender has elevated the issue to an equal plane of consideration.

Robert B. Swick is vice president of data services for Anchor Computer Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.

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