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The Wasting Disease - A Slow Decline With A Sure End Game

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/13/2014 | 8:10 AM

Comes now the latest moves that will - this time for sure - save the foundering US Postal Service. For those who might have been napping, the USPS is not a Federal agency; the fabled Post Office of yore is no more. That little spritz of rain this morning was only Ben Franklin weeping.

But, cutting the beast free is not what one might think. The"independent" entity still falls under the management of the US Congress, which determines what it can and cannot do in the completion of its appointed rounds. And, processes, precedents, and pension plans left over from its prior existence stay, like so many abscesses and tumors, with it.

It doesn't matter what anyone says, in an age of fewer and fewer letters, the letter carriers union wields daunting influence. However many sins, both venial and mortal, employees may be guilty of, with photographic or electronic evidence, discipline and dismissal are extraordinarily difficult, and are, in rare instances of success, easily overcome in appeal.

I have been, nostalgia triumphing over good sense, hopeful that a defined role in reverse logistics processes could offer some hope. Today, apologists, dreamers, and those willing to overlook sure signs of terminal illness wax eloquently about great parcel volumes shifting away from the major commercial players (international, domestic, regional, and local) into USPS parcel handling systems. And, UPS is already using USPS resources for last mile small parcel delivery. USPS is also doing Sunday parcel deliveries. Amazingly, a new proposition would have USPS grocery delivery.

Is the future really all that bright? I think it is doomed to failure, for several reasons, one probably an incurable illness that is not and will not respond to any treatment available to us today. In short, success could be the death knell for USPS.

Here's the deal. The pension albatross won't go away, even as the service claims to have run at an operating profit if the pension burden were removed. If that is true, why are they going to the wall with add-ons to parcel business? Why not fix the pension problem? Oh, wait, Congress won't let them? What else might Congress prohibit?

One must ask, additionally, if USPS systems are up to the challenge. Are their systems user/customer friendly, providing location and status information? Or, are they inwardly focused, more directed toward cost control and squeezing more work out of a demotivated, disinterested, and hostile workforce?

The once-proud service can't handle the parcel work that it has now, certainly not to the satisfaction of individual customers or package recipients. It cannot confidently promise delivery dates. It can't "handle with care" anything it touches. If a smaller parcel won't fit in a mailbox, the solution is simple; don't take it to the door, but, instead, smash it until it does fit in the box.

Its latest triumph of bureaucracy over simple execution blossomed here in beautiful dowentown Ohio, where the USPS totally lost track of the whereabouts of a grieving widower's urn containing his recently departed spouse's ashes.  Where was the parcel?  When might it be expected to arrive?  All mysteries sufficient to challenge Sherlock Holmes, never mind  the inquiring minds of USPS managers.  Their best response was a shrug worthy of a Gallic civil servant.

And we want more of this? Remember, this is the band of geniuses that charges individual customers the premium rate to send letters, but gives staggering rate bargains to businesses that clog up the system with untold quantities of unsolicited low-to-no value catalogs and advertising flyers. The resulting carbon footprint makes Bigfoot look dainty. These visionaries are the ones who ignored the innovative solutions developed by UPS and FedEx until the creativity train had left the station, then came up with a marginally profitable and less-reliable competitive option.

And, we want them to handle food, too? These dedicated servants who will throw mail into the nearest ravine if they aren't feeling up to delivering today? Or toss a few items into the street if the ravine is too far, and they are annoyed with an intended recipient?

Like a late-night TV infomercial:  But, wait!  There's more!  These now-legendary paradigm-busting visionaries have come up with a scheme to cut costs, now that the proposed suspension of Saturday deliveries has generated more heat than the kitchen could withstand.  They want to consolidate (i.e., close) a few processing centers, imagining that perhaps a day's delay in delivery might result.  Some industry insiders think the number is more like four days.  Do these wizards think that added delay on top of already uncertain delivery is an irresistible lure to added business?  What university that we've never heard of nurtures such savants in its MBA program?

Actually, the only hope I see is for them to start over, to escape that gloom of night that has infected their world. Clean house; completely replace the workforce. Change all the rules for performance, reward, and retirement to make them consistent with the real world. Swap out the Federal legacy systems in favor of business systems. Get competitive in processes and pricing - or get out.

But, those all require the approval of Congress. The clock is ticking, but how much time before the end?  Who knows, but this would seem to make a case for euthanasia.

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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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