Monday, March 2, 2009

USPS: Clean Up the Byrd Droppings!

A West Virginia Congressman whose district benefits from U.S. Postal Service pork is trying to prevent the Postal Service from delivering only five days per week.

Rep. Nick Rahall and the other co-sponsors of the legislation have not suggested other ways for USPS to close its billion-dollar budget deficit. But here's one for you, Congressman: Shut down some of the Postal Service's superfluous mail-handling facilities in West Virginia, including the four in your district.

Having the small state fragmented among 11 Sectional Center Facilities (SCFs) is inefficient for the Postal Service, costly for mailers, and leads to slow delivery for West Virginians.

USPS has about 450 SCFs (an average of one per Congressional district), each of which handles mail for one or more 3-digit ZIP code areas. About one-fourth of those SCFs are also Area Distribution Centers, meaning they can handle mail for several nearby SCFs. Commercial mailers generally try to create SCF pallets of at least 500 pounds and dropship to the SCFs when postal discounts make that worthwhile. Periodicals mailers can also obtain somewhat smaller discounts for ADC pallets and for dropshipping to ADCs instead of SCFs.

A Dead Tree Edition analysis indicates that the Lewisburg, WV SCF in Rahall's district has less than one-tenth the mail volume of the average SCF. For nationwide mailings, that means only the largest -- those with at least 2 million pounds -- have enough volume to create a Lewisburg SCF pallet. The other three SCFs in Rahall's southern West Virginia district (home of the Hatfields, McCoys, and Martha Stewart's prison cell) are also much smaller than average.

Mailstreams of less than 200,000 pounds even have trouble creating ADC pallets for the state's two ADCs, which together serve about half the population of an average ADC. That means much of the mail going to West Virginia is packaged in sacks instead of on pallets, which is expensive for both mailers and the Postal Service, as well as delaying delivery. Having the mail fragmented among so many facilities prevents any one location from having the critical mass needed to use the most efficient automated mail-sorting equipment.

Adding to the costs and the delivery delays are the fact that even the largest mailers tend to avoid dropshipping to any West Virginia postal facility. The volumes for each facility are so small that the dropship discounts are not enough to cover the freight costs. Standard-class mail for West Virginia tends to be dropped at Bulk Mail Centers (BMCs) outside the state, gaining the mailers at least some dropship discount.

But Periodicals mailers, lacking a meaningful BMC discount, simply enter the mail at the printing plant, often a thousand or more miles away from West Virginia. They lose any dropship discounts, and the Postal Service has to ship the publications to West Virginia itself. That typically delays delivery by at least several days.

West Virginia's rugged terrain is no excuse for having so many processing centers. Consider that mountainous Idaho has more than three times West Virginia's land area and nearly the same population yet only one ADC and three other SCFs. New Mexico and Colorado are each four times larger and have more people than West Virginia, yet each has only one ADC.

Why does West Virginia have far more Postal Service facilities handling mail than is justified by its population or land area? Could it possibly have anything to do with the state being represented by the Prince of Pork, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who has the most seniority in the Senate as well as being its only ex-Klansman?

Before postal reform gave USPS more independence from Congressional control, powerful Congressmen could get key postal facilities placed in their districts rather than where the Postal Service needed them. That's probably why Winchester, Virginia, home of another powerful Senator Byrd, has its own superfluous SCF.

There hasn't been a Virginia Byrd in the Senate for more than two decades, but only this year did postal officials start the process of closing the Winchester Byrd dropping. (Dead Tree Edition predicted last year the shutdown of the Winchester SCF because of the new Flats Sequencing System.)

Let's hope it doesn't take the Postal Service so long to slaughter some of its pork in West Virginia.


Anonymous said...

I glad to see that someone other sees this waste beside our "Scarlett - oh I'll worry about that tomorrow - management.
Several ADC's in several of the West Virgina districts are staffed twice as much than ADC's with more volume, higher delivery and less congressional resprentation. It is sad that our governement allows the elected power to waste tax payer's money and never hold anyone accountable to how it is being spent. Including the ex-klansman!

Anonymous said...

Hey idiot, the USPS has not had a SCF system in place since 1982. You might want to know what you're writing about before you spout off.

Dead Tree Edition said...

To the person who claims there has been no SCF system since 1982: Take a look at this, the Postal Service's listing of SCFs: Take a look also at the rate charts for classes like Periodicals and Standard and you'll see plenty of references to SCF.

dr droock said...

Thanks for the post.

Getting a down in the weeds view of the mail infrastructure is really tedious. Thanks for clarifying.

Just the idea of seeing print product as a flow, instead of the "9 x 12 128 page 80# gloss perfect bound thing" is most definitely worth stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a while in Wv and some of the SCF operations you mention worked under me..there are several reasons they are still in place: the enormous public outcry whenever any postal facility/operation is changed, which immediately involves the politicians; the operational efficiences that they afford; time/location issues; the large number of little post offices (refer back to first reason).
Each zip code requires a bin in the sort plan..when you serve over 300 zips, like Clarksburg, that is a lot of machine space for offices that might get 100 letters on a good day. Then, due to the containerization regs, those 10-100 letters must all be trayed..then you need the same bins on the flat sorter, with a tub for each. You also then need a hamper for each, on your spbs if you have one, or on your manual parcel are talking tons of equipment for, like you say, a handfulof mail. To say nothing of what the cubic ft requirement would be to get these mostly empty containers to these offices, on twisty mountain roads. To accomoodate all that, you would have to primary, secondary and maybe tertiary sort to break it then it is way past the dispatch time, and they will get their mail at is better in some of these cases to jackpot those handfuls and let a clerk in a local Post Office (who are the most efficient employees in USPS as they know they gotta get the mail done before the truck leaves) sort it to the offices--less machine wear, less MTE, less capacity. Since most of the routes sorted by the SCFs are HCR, there are no monetary savings by DPSing that mail, so get it out of there so you can process the city routes. Adding more machine capacity would be costly, as expanding or building, plus million dollar machines, would take an upfront expenditure that would take many years to recoup, especially with mail volume declining. So, I wouldn't call it pork--just fruit that is not low enough on the tree yet)for USPS to go after.
Additional points: The places you cited as comparisons have a LOT less POs than WV, which is a big driver of distribution costs and capacity needed (carryover from when Postmasters were political appointments, and every coal camp had a PM); many many boonie routes out there are Tri-weekly routes, and only run 3 days a week; having traveled extensively out there--where the speed limits on state roads is 70mph in some places--traveling is a heck of a lot faster there than following the coal truck over the mountain in WV.