|EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2513 - April 04, 2011 - ISSN 1539-5065 1 of 4|
Having trouble with the U.S. Postal Service? The feds want to hear about it.
Online sellers who have been frustrated by problems with the post office have a little-known ally in the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent regulatory agency that oversees the United States Postal Service, authority that extends to mediating complaints about service.
"I think the Postal Regulatory Commission is a resource for mailers that they're not aware of," said PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway, describing the agency as an "advocate for mailers and the mailer community in relation to the Postal Service."
Part of the reason the PRC remains unheralded as a complaint department for the Postal Service is because its authority in that area is relatively new. The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act significantly strengthened the PRC's mandate as an independent regulator, empowering the agency to implement both a formal and informal complaint process.
But the formal track, which could result in the PRC directing the Postal Service to take action to remedy a grievance, has gone largely unused. In fact, Goldway said that since the inception of the program, the PRC has only fielded two formal complaints. In part, the lackluster response has owed to the substantial resources a complainant would have to devote to navigate the bureaucracy and see the case through. But Goldway also said that many mailers have stayed on the sidelines for fear of alienating the Postal Service and provoking a response that could jeopardize their delivery arrangement.
Her message to them is simple: strength in numbers.
"I keep encouraging mailers," Goldway told AuctionBytes in an interview. "The more it's used the less likely the Postal Service can have reprisals on one person or another."
Of the two formal complaints that have been introduced since 2006, one centered on Capital One's objection that the Postal Service was offering a favorable service agreement to Bank of America, which had negotiated the deal to secure discounted first-class delivery. That complaint was ultimately withdrawn, though Goldway said that the parties are believed to have ultimately reached a private settlement.
The other complaint, which Goldway says is nearing resolution, was brought by Gamefly, a mail-order video-game-rental service that objected to the preferential treatment it alleged the Postal Service was offering competitors Netflix and Blockbuster.
While both cases required substantial bureaucratic wrangling on the part of the complainants, Goldway said they have forged a path that should help simplify the process in the future.
"I think this will benefit the whole mailing community ultimately because we've established some precedent about what information is private, what information is public," she explained.
But for individual online sellers having trouble with the post office, the formal complaint process might not be the best place to start. Goldway urged online sellers, small businesses and individual citizens who feel aggrieved to get in touch with her office.
"I think that they would write a letter of appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission and the chairman's office and explain the situation and we would put someone on the case," she said. "To the extent to which the commission is aware of a pattern of problems, that makes it easier for us to open an investigation."
At a minimum, Goldway said the PRC would lean on the Postal Service to address a complainant's issue. Even if the outcome is unfavorable, the individual or business would at least have the satisfaction of resolution in the form of a human response.
But the PRC, which issues an annual compliance evaluation of the Postal Service, has other tools at its disposal that could help online sellers resolve service and delivery issues. The commission could, for instance, appoint a public representative to advocate on behalf of a business or consumer. Or, theoretically, the PRC itself could represent an aggrieved party, though Goldway acknowledged that the mechanism for such a process is still being worked out, adding quickly that the complaint process will mature as more businesses and individuals come forward.
"It is young and evolving, in part because we haven't been asked," she said.
More information about the PRC's complaint process can be found here.
An online form to submit an informal complaint can be found here.
About the Author
About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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