Have you ever stood in a long, slow-moving line at a post office and wondered why only one employee was helping customers?
The problem is the way the traditional U.S. post office is structured, with delivery and retail operations in the same building, according to an Inspector General’s report released today. It’s high time to separate those functions in many urban and suburban areas, says the report, entitled “Retail and Delivery: Decoupling Could Improve Service and Lower Costs.”
“Unlike most retail stores in the private sector where employees are called up from the back office when lines are long to serve the customer, the focus in Postal Service shared facilities is the exact opposite. A clerk’s first priority is often back room operational support activities — even if that means a retail customer waits longer in line.”
Managers of a typical post office “primarily focus on delivery performance and cost control over providing retail service or promoting revenue generation. In fact, their performance evaluations often guide them to focus on meeting delivery cost and service goals to the exclusion of retail service or revenue generation goals. “
“There is no inherent business need to have retail co-located with delivery. If reasonably increased workforce flexibility is allowed (by allowing some retail clerks to work a half day, for example), the business need for coupling could effectively disappear. The recently approved contract with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) introduced new scheduling flexibility for career employees that might support this change.”
Twice as many U.S. postal facilities have both delivery and retail operations than have only retail operations, the report says. By contrast, private delivery companies and the best foreign postal services put delivery operations in commercial areas near major transportation hubs and retail operations close to where customers live and work.
Retail and delivery have been coupled in U.S. post offices for 150 years, the report says, but that model no longer makes sense in densely populated areas, according to the report.
“Carriers once spent more than half of their day manually sorting mail at the local carrier office before delivering it, but now devote slightly more than two hours per day to this function.”
“With carriers spending less time in the office, more mail can be delivered by each carrier and there is less need for letter carriers in each facility. With fewer carriers and the removal of local sorting equipment, there is idle floor space in facilities and less need for carrier vehicle parking.”
“The Postal Service could consolidate two nearby postal facilities into a single carrier-only facility and relocate it to a lower-cost facility with better connections to transportation links. This would produce savings by reducing both facility and transportation costs and by designing a space geared specifically toward efficient delivery operations.”