My Turn: Compliments, criticism equally valued

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

The Postal Service is in the news. I am a member of the Board of Governors and see first hand the reasons why. Each person, each business, each organization in our country looks forward to receiving mail. We deliver to 138 million addresses every day. We carry 207 billion pieces of mail each year - letters, periodicals, catalogs, advertisements and packages.

Here in Alaska, the Postal Service delivers more than 4 million pieces of mail every week to more than 180,000 addresses. Last year more than 3,000 new addresses were added. There are 291 post offices and retail outlets in our state.

For 227 years the Postal Service has carried out the country's mission for universal service - scheduled service to every address at an affordable price. From time to time Congress has renewed this commitment and updated postal law. Since 1970 we have operated entirely on our own revenue without Congressional appropriation.

It is time for change again. Electronics have changed our business. Beyond e-mail, customers now expect to trace mail and receive confirmation of delivery. Competition has changed our business. Customers expect an opportunity to negotiate for better rates and services. We are unable to adjust our products and prices quickly enough to meet these growing and changing expectations. We are also unable to adjust our operating expenses to low volumes in the summer and holiday season peaks.

The U.S. Postal Service has been a major factor in the peaceful development of our country. Since 1775 postal roads and contracts to carry the mail have eased the path of migration. By example, in 1896, two years before the great gold rush to the Klondike, the Postal Service established scheduled service to Circle City via Juneau and Dyea with additional service from San Francisco via St. Michael's and the Yukon River.

Early postal routes in Alaska used paddle wheelers, dog sleds and reindeer to carry the mail. And along our rocky coasts, early lighthouses were manned. As the Coast Guard has changed and modernized, so must we. Since 1999 we have cut $2.5 billion and 30,000 jobs from our operations. This month we delivered a transformation plan to Congress proposing additional cuts, reorganizations and service changes that will reduce our costs by an additional $5 billion.

We measure customer satisfaction. We know that over 90 percent of our customers rate our service as good, very good or excellent. We know that we must continue to satisfy our customers if we are going to continue to serve every address, on schedule, and at an affordable price. Universal service is not service if it is late, lost or misdelivered.

Please let us hear from you. Compliments and criticism are equally valuable as we chart a new course. Contact the consumer advocate at 475 L'Enfant Plaza, Room 5801, Washington, D.C. 20260-2200.

Ernesta Ballard lives in Ketchikan and was appointed a governor to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors on Nov. 13, 1997, for a term expiring in December 2005. She serves as chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee.

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