Putting his stamp on the US Postal Service
SOME years before he ever imagined himself in his new position as the nation's postmaster general, Anthony M. Frank had lunch with then-Postmaster General Paul N. Carlin. ``I remember asking him, `How much money do you make?' And he said, `$82,000.' And I said, `That's a dime an employee.'''Skip to next paragraph
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``I could see I just kind of ruined his day,'' says Mr. Frank, with the ready chuckle of an accomplished storyteller.
Now Frank occupies the large corner office at the headquarters of the United States Postal Service (USPS), and things have improved: At $99,500 a year, and with a work force of 761,531, Frank makes 13 cents per employee.
His own compensation, however, is the least of his worries. He knew when he took the job that public-sector rewards were different from those at First Nationwide Financial Corporation, which Frank built from a small northern California bank in 1971 to one of the nation's largest savings institutions before selling it to the Ford Motor Company in 1985.
He still thinks of himself as builder. These days, however, he's more concerned about continuity. The USPS has run through five postmasters general in as many years. Frank, who took over from Preston R. Tisch on March 1, hopes to stay three to five years, so as to help turn around the sagging public image of the USPS.
``You ask the average American about the Postal Service,'' said Frank recently in a lengthy interview in his office, ``and he'll say, `Rates going up, service going down.'''
``That's exactly right,'' he adds, although he notes that ``it would take a political scientist to explain to the American people that [these two issues] are not related.'' The April 3 rate increase came from the Postal Rate Commission, an independent body. The service cuts, which trimmed post-office window hours, Sunday pickups, and some other functions, came in response to an entirely separate congressional budgetary action last fall.
Yet both issues reflect what Frank calls ``the constraints that we operate under.'' These include a budget-cutting Congress, a Board of Governors that has sometimes shown an inclination to micro-manage the USPS, a handful of very powerful unions, some increasingly anxious commercial mailers, a public apparently resigned to three-year cycles of rate increases, a Postal Rate Commission that has at times been sharply critical of postal management, and an administration which, under the impetus of Budget Director James C. Miller III, is intent on ``privatizing'' the Postal Service.
All that is new turf for Frank. ``I can't believe as the chief executive officer of a $40 billion-in-revenues organization that I have no control over pricing,'' he says ruefully.
The control he does have comes from a mixture of priority-setting, hiring, jawboning, and sheer inventiveness. He already has a clear fix on his priorities. The first, he says, is ``to get us on a financial footing that doesn't require as frequent rate increases; second, to restore service; and third, to restore the perception and the image.''
In all three areas, he has found support from what in past years would have been an unlikely source: the postal unions. The increasing amount of talk about privatization - which would strip the Postal Service of its monopoly status and set it in competition with private-sector first-class delivery services - has created ``a lot of concern for the first time'' among union members, he says. As a result, ``the attitude of cooperation between the unions and management here has been closer, I think, than ever before, occasioned by this common threat.''
Sensing a changed atmosphere, Frank has not been slow to seize the initiative. His first lunch after his arrival was with union leaders. The next day he arranged a dinner between union leaders and the Board of Governors - two groups that had never once met in the 18 years since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 turned the old Post Office Department into a quasi-governmental corporation.