National Park Service Celebrates Centennial



National Park ServiceOn August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100!  The centennial will celebrate the achievements of the past 100 years, but it is really about the future. It’s about kicking off a second century of stewardship for America’s national parks and for communities across the nation.  Most importantly, it’s about inviting you to join us. We all have a role to play in ensuring that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the thrilling experiences of nature and wildlife, history and culture, and the spirit of adventure that is waiting at every national park.  Read more.

In celebration of the National Parks, the Postal Service has introduced a new series of stamps.


Postal operations continue in wake of California infernos



USPS News LinkThe Postal Service is continuing to deliver mail and packages in California despite a series of devastating fires sweeping through the state.  In Northern California, a blaze destroyed 175 homes and businesses and prompted the Lower Lake Post Office to temporarily re-locate to nearby Clearlake.

“People are scared,” said Lower Lake Postmaster Ben Lovato.The community suffered a major fire last year that Lovato said “was devastating to a lot of people in this area. … Seeing this again brings up a lot of mixed emotions.”

A second fire along California’s central coast has scorched 70,000 acres, destroyed 57 homes and killed one firefighter.

“That is a lot for our small community to absorb,” said Big Sur Postmaster Andrew Luersen, who has worked to clear his Post Office of brush and branches.  Fire also is sweeping through Southern California’s San Bernardino County, prompting the closures of the Wrightwood and Lytle Creek Post Offices.  The USPS Service Alerts page has the latest information on closures.

Employees in affected areas are encouraged to use the national emergency hotline number, 888-363-7462, to stay in touch.The Postal Employees Relief Fund and Employee Assistance Program can provide assistance to employees who have suffered losses.

Source: Through the fire | USPS News Link


Prattsburgh, NY Post Office closed indefinitely over safety concerns


Prattsburg PO

WETM-TV: The Prattsburgh, N.Y., Post Office closed last month due to building safety concerns. Since then the Pulteney office has swiftly taken over, but nevertheless some customers can expect changes when it comes to getting their mail.

“Obviously our first concern is to make sure that we are able to provide for the needs of the community. So for those who have street delivery the carriers are still delivering to their addresses. There should be very little interruption,” says Karen Mazurkiewicz, a representative for United States Postal Service Corporate Communications.

“Customers who get their mail through a P.O. Box, they do in fact need to make the trip to a Pulteney to retrieve their mail,” she says. A section of Route 53 is closed surrounding the post office.

Prattsburgh Town Supervisor Leonard McConnell says it has a ripple effect on the community. “It’s not easy, it’s not going to be easy for a while, but hopefully we’ll get it fixed,” McConnell says.  “Like all small towns it’s not only a service but it’s a gathering place. It’s especially for some of our older people to have to get to Pulteney to get mail, that’s a hardship,” he says.

McConnell says the biggest issue with the building are the floor joists. He says he believes the building will be torn down rather than repaired.  Read more.


Banking on the Post Office



Capital & Main: Several years ago when my wife Susan and I traveled across Ireland by local bus, we headed toward a national cultural site a few miles beyond the nearest town. The route the bus took crossed a rural peninsula, and finally to the little community.  As we wound through the country roads, old people climbed aboard, and when we arrived at the end of the line, still some miles from our destination, they all disembarked for the post office.  We needed some stamps, so we followed.

But at the post office, no one did much postal business. Instead, they picked up their monthly retirement checks – then cashed them, before returning to their homes on the next bus. Of course, in between, there was time for a short stop at the pub and maybe the grocery store.

As tourists, we seemed to be the only people interested in the local church.  Post offices once offered savings accounts that immigrants found especially useful. I had not thought about this scenario much until I saw a piece in The Atlantic magazine in which a successful American writer realized that in a crisis he couldn’t come up with $400. Neither could 47 percent of the respondents in a recent poll by the Federal Reserve Board. People said they would either borrow the money or sell something.  Which must be why people borrow from check cashing stores, paying exorbitant interest rates above 300 percent. However, in most instances, I’ve learned, it doesn’t take a crisis.

Most pay check loans cover monthly bills – rent, utilities and basic living expenses. Sadly, the customer base for these financial services involves a huge percentage of working America. Some 19 million households use payday lenders, nearly one in six, according to the Community Financial Services Association of America, which represents storefront lenders. Furthermore their director told Congress in February that “as many as 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.” That’s a huge potential market for customers who either do not or cannot use banks for their financial services.  Read more.


The Postal Service test drives its new Service Performance Measurement system


usps truck

Back in January 2015, the Postal Service proposed a major change in the way it measures on-time service performance for single-piece First Class Mail.  Instead of contracting out to a third-party as it had done for many years, the Postal Service wanted to take advantage of the increased use of barcoding and do the measuring itself.

The Postal Service began testing the new internal measurement system during the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, and last week it shared the results for the second and third quarters with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

According to this PRC order, the Commission will host an off-the-record technical conference to discuss the data represented in the quarterly service performance reports on Friday, August 26.

At this point, it appears that the Postal Service may have some explaining to do.  In many instances, the on-time performance data produced by the two measurement systems seem significantly different, and it’s not clear what the discrepancies mean.


The two measurement systems: EXFC and SPM

For years now, the Postal Service has been using what it calls the External First-Class Measurement (EXFC) system to measure the end-to-end (mail deposit to delivery) length of time it takes for mail to be delivered.  The system is “external” because it’s conducted by an independent third-party contractor, i.e., IBM.

In the EXFC system, the contractor employs “droppers” who deposit letters and flats addressed to “reporters.”  The participants record when mail was sent and received, and based on the transit times for those mailpieces the system generates service performance data showing the percent of mail that was delivered on time, i.e., within the service standard.

usps mail processingBecause it’s expensive to track individual pieces of mail this way, the EXFC system uses a comparatively small sample of test mailpieces, and then extrapolates to make estimates for mail volumes as a whole.  The test mail is statistically analyzed based on sample volume, mail characteristics, and the location where the mail was entered and delivered.

The new internal system is called Service Performance Measurement (SPM). It takes advantage of the fact that much of the mail is now barcoded and can be tracked on automation equipment by the Postal Service itself, which will save the expense of contracting out.

Unlike the EXFC system, the new SPM system doesn’t track particular pieces of mail, end to end. Instead, it uses a statistical composite that averages, weights, and combines live mailpieces on three different stages of the delivery process — First Mile (collection), Processing Operation, and Last Mile (delivery).  The data are combined to measure overall transit time for what amounts to “virtual” mailpieces, as opposed to the actual mailpieces tracked by EXFC.

Thanks to barcoding and automation equipment, the SPM system can track a significantly larger volume of mail than EXFC.  In fact, since the SPM tracks such a large portion of the mail flow, the Postal Service considers it a “census” rather than “sampling” methodology (just as the U.S. Census tries to include every household, not just a representative sample).  As stated in the USPS report describing the new system, “the proposed measurement system changes will increase the number of pieces in measurement – moving from a seed/sample system to more of a census-measurement system.”

Since it’s not tracking actual pieces, the reliability of SPM is more dependent on the quality of the statistical design and the accuracy of sampling.  The reliability also depends on whether the categories of mail that are measured (i.e., barcoded mail) are also indicative of the categories of mail that are not measured (i.e., non-barcoded mail).  Read More