Postal Service reams proposal for smarter, UPS-accessible mailboxes

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The U.S. Postal Service is keeping the mailbox door closed to private delivery services.

After UPS executive Keith Kellison suggested the agency expand mailbox access to companies like his — in part to encourage technological advancements — Postal Service media relations manager David Partenheimer shot down the proposal.

“The fact is that exclusive mailbox access isn’t some kind of gratuitous privilege,” said Partenheimer in a USPS blog post. “If delivery companies want to discuss stuffing your mailbox with their packages, then that discussion needs to start with why mailboxes are reserved for the Postal Service in the first place.”

Kellison’s comments, which appeared in a post on the Postal Service Office of Inspector General’s blog late last month, come after the OIG pitched creating an “Internet of Postal Things,” a broad platform that it said could bolster the USPS’s hemorrhaging business. The post office recorded a net loss of $1.9 billion in the second quarter of fiscal year 2015 alone, according to its own estimates.

In his post, Kellison argues that lifting the Postal Service-only restriction on mailbox deliveries could be the key to unlocking the Internet of Postal Things, a frontier that he suggests the agency has not yet pursued.

“[A]s letter mail volume has decreased and parcel volume increased, mailboxes have grown … Given this demand, and the fact that consumers own the mailboxes, doesn’t it make sense to no longer restrict mailbox deliveries?” Kellison poses in the post. “After the restrictions are lifted, we can continue advancing neighborhood logistics. Electronic delivery notifications and boxes with temperature controls are just two potential ideas with immediate potential.”

The Postal Service’s watchdog has a history of proposing innovative ideas — it also released a report last summer exploring potential applications for 3-D printing — and the USPS has an equally consistent habit of dismissing its suggestions. In July, the USPS strongly refuted an OIG report that concluded its cybersecurity measures were grossly inefficient prior to the hacks that exposed the records of 800,000 current and former employees.

The USPS response argues that universal access would impinge the efficiency of delivery, create security vulnerability and potentially further damage the Postal Service’s bottom line.

“Exclusive mailbox access goes hand in hand with the sort of secure, efficient, universal, and affordable mail service that the American people expect and require,” Partenheimer states. “Mailbox access cannot be ‘rethought’ without realistic consideration of how else to provide Americans with the efficient, universal delivery of letters and other mail: a public service that the Postal Service currently performs without taxpayer dollars.”

It also cites numerous sources, including armed forces think tank and analysis group RAND Corporation, as evidence that open mailboxes would “have a negative effect on public safety and mail security.”

For its part, the OIG blog post also cites postal experts from across industry and academia to weigh in on its “smart” mail theories.

“The list of opportunities is endless,” Kellison concluded. “But the first step is access.”

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Agencies, United States Postal Service
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