WASHINGTON – For all the dismal news that has been surrounding the U.S. Postal Service over the past few years, the agency has one distinctive feature that separates it from every other government entity: the personal touch.
The sprawling, nationwide infrastructure of the USPS has come to be seen by many as a liability at a time when the agency is bleeding red ink and mailing volumes continue to decline. But that network, and the human connections it facilitates, might be the Postal Service’s most valuable feature, according to Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, a regulatory body.
“The post’s greatest asset is that they’re the only structural agency, system, network, in most countries that goes to everybody’s home five or six days a week. Now why would you want to do cluster boxes in every community and give up that personal connection?” Goldway said in a speech here at the the PostalVision 2020 conference .
Goldway, a frequent critic of USPS management, sees many of the agency’s plans to cut costs and trim services, such as moving to a five-day weekly delivery schedule, as running counter to its efforts to expand its package business – one of the few bright spots on the balance sheet.
The cash-strapped agency has been asking Congress for authorization to move to five-day delivery for regular mail, arguing that such a move is a logical and necessary cost-cutting step in the face of sustained volume declines in First Class mail, the Postal Service’s most profitable product.
At the same time, the Postal Service has been touting plans to begin seven-day delivery for packages to keep up with the surge in ecommerce.
“I think those are contradictory strategies, and the rush to make changes and the emphasis on depersonalization is I think balancing these decisions in the wrong way,” Goldway said. “Why not figure out a way to merge the two so the mail continues to be a resource that helps grow the network and stabilize it and maintain it and in fact enhance it?”
Goldway has long been skeptical of the Postal Service’s designs on five-day delivery, arguing that if there’s any hope of reviving paper mail, it won’t be found in cutting access to the service.
“We have to realize that satisfying the current customers and making them part of the system is the only way it’s going to be maintained for future use,” she said.
Instead, she envisions the letter carrier becoming an even more integral figure within the communities they serve, potentially offering a bevy of services to their customers that would add value to the USPS network beyond simply delivering the mail.
“If I were involved in the planning of the network instead of regulating it, I would say, “What can I do with the person who knows the route and knows the system and make that person more diverse?”” Goldway said, suggesting that carriers could provide services such as issuing a passport along their route. “Those transactions can be done anywhere, not just in an office.”