Postal Service will link every office

Postal Service will link every office


The new postmaster general is hoping to trim projected losses by $2.4 billion this fiscal year by building the Information Platform, an overarching infrastructure linking systems at every postal facility.

The Postal Service also is preparing to upgrade digital mail readers and implement tracking systems for mail at every step, from sorting through delivery.

'We are going through some rough economic times right now, but we have been through challenging times in the past,' said John 'Jack' Potter, who was named postmaster general last month. 'Each time, we've adapted to become even stronger. I am confident that collectively we can do it again.'

USPS receives less than 1 percent of its budget from the Treasury Department and earns the rest from stamps and mailing services.

The automation effort will increase costs over the next few years, warned David Walker, the comptroller general, in a May 15 General Accounting Office report, U.S. Postal Service: Financial Outlook and Transformation Challenges.

'The service will likely need to continually raise rates to maintain service and to meet its break-even mandate, at least in the near future,' the report concluded.

Labor costs

The break-even mandate requires the service to cover costs without relying on the federal budget and without making a profit, said Bernard L. Ungar, director of physical infrastructure issues for GAO.

Improving productivity through automation is commendable, Ungar said, but 'even if they do automate, would they be able to reduce labor costs? Historically, they have not had recent reductions in labor.'


face="Arial,Helvetica,Geneva" size="2" color="#FF0000">USPS' Thomas Day says computer-savvy equipment will reduce the volume of letters that humans must process, 'the slowest and the most inefficient thing we do.'The postal Board of Governors last month approved spending $224 million for software and hardware enhancements to USPS' optical character reader and remote computer reader equipment.

Both these types of mail-sorting equipment reduce labor costs, said Thomas Day, vice president of engineering at USPS. OCR readers have been around since the mid-1980s and the remote computer readers since 1996. 'In the early 1990s, we realized the potential,' Day said. 'We're just taking it to that next step.'

The optical reader applies bar codes to mail based on printed or typed addresses. Handwritten addresses are interpreted by the remote reader unless they are what Day called atrocious.

Unreadable addresses are scanned and transmitted to mail processing plants where human operators study them, key in corrections and send correct bar codes back.

Day said the improved equipment would decrease the volume of letters that humans must process. 'It's the slowest and the most inefficient thing we do,' he said.

The enhanced equipment will eliminate about 7,500 jobs, Day said. USPS had 55 mail reader centers around the country last September, and now the count is down to 25.

The service expects to complete the equipment upgrades by 2004. Closing affected centers could ultimately save the agency $92.5 million a year.

USPS receives 30,000 letters per hour. It costs $5 to process 1,000 letters with the automated equipment versus $55 manually. Less than 10 percent of mail was readable by automated equipment in the mid-1990s, Day said.

The advanced readers also should reduce delivery errors, he said.

Tracking mail

Early this year, USPS rolled out the Signature Confirmation tracking application for packages and priority mail, at Another application tracks letters and other flat mail.

The Signature Confirmation app was developed in-house and runs on a mainframe under IBM OS/390. Bar codes are stored in an IBM DB2 database.

The service is testing a third application, the Quality Management System, in Tampa and Orlando, Fla. The prototype system lets bulk mailers track their returned envelopes and is scheduled to go nationwide next spring. Accenture LLP of Chicago is developing QMS, which runs under Unix and taps an Oracle Corp. database management system.

Another application, scheduled for rollout this fall, is the Processing Operations Information System, which tells postal managers the quantity and type of mail arriving at each processing center.

Finally, the service's Surface Air Management System will tell postal managers how much mail is arriving by air, ground or sea to help them decide how to route it.

The Information Platform network eventually would link postal computers coast to coast with all these new tracking and management applications.

'It will tell us if the check is really in the mail,' said Charles Bravo, USPS vice president for the Information Platform initiative.


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