Written bySamantha Ehlinger
A bipartisan bill proposed to help the U.S. Postal Service back on track financially would add a new leader charged with finding “innovative” products that will help the agency generate revenue.
The Postal Service Reform Act of 2017 is the House’s latest effort to help the agency escape the red, and while many of the changes deal with the agency’s financials — including changes to the health benefits program and pension funding — the bill also includes a provision to add a chief innovation officer.
USPS reported that fiscal 2016 was its 10th consecutive year of net losses, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The innovation officer would “manage the Postal Service’s development and implementation of innovative postal and nonpostal products and services,” according to the bill.
Indeed, the bill calls for the chief innovation officer to specifically develop postal products and services that “utilize emerging information technologies, to maximize revenue to the Postal Service.”
USPS already has a vice president for product innovation, who is responsible for “product development for all mail and shipping products as well as innovation as USPS integrates with emerging technologies.” The bill doesn’t elaborate on the differences in the two roles.
No later than a year after the bill is enacted, the postmaster general would also be required to give relevant committees “a comprehensive strategy for maximizing revenues through innovative postal and nonpostal products and services.”
The provision was championed last Congress by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., according to prepared remarks from Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday to push for postal reform.
Robert Taub, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, noted that under current law USPS is barred from developing non-postal products, though it is allowed to innovate on new postal products.
Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan provided an example for how the agency is innovating on products under current law: informed delivery.
“We’re testing — the consumer would receive on their smart phone a digital image of the mailbox content that would be delivered today, and also provide a click-to-shop option there,” Brennan said.
In April 2016 FedScoop reported that program was on track to make mail previews available in mobile format in every U.S. zip code by 2017.
Kelly asked how the financial situation is preventing USPS from being innovative.
“I think the overall financial condition of the Postal Service informs every decision we make,” Brennan said. “So clearly we have to prioritize and remain focused on core business.”
When it comes to potentially innovating on products, Lori Rectanus, director of physical infrastructure issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, said “GAO’s position is that there has to be a delicate balance between revenue generation and cost-cutting.”
Americans for Tax Reform, along with more than 20 free-market groups, sent a letter to Congress Monday asking members to oppose the bill, including some thoughts on the chief innovation officer position:
“Key provisions contained in H.R. 756 would allow the Postal Service to divert resources away from the core mission of mail delivery to providing nonpostal products and services to state, local, and tribal governments and federal agencies. The Act creates a ‘chief innovation officer’ tasked with managing the development and implementation of nonpostal products. While intended to generate new sources of revenue, such provisions are only a point of distraction, and will see the Postal Service further competing with private firms.”