A bit of praise for the Postal Service

It was a ''red-letter day'' for the US Postal Service (USPS).

At a meeting here of the Board of Governors of the Postal Service, Postmaster General William F. Bolger said the first-class stamp will probably remain at 20 cents for about two more years.

On the same day, a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration unveiled an ''Evaluation of the United States Postal Service'' which, on balance , gave high marks to the institution most Americans still call ''the post office.''

Alan Dean, chairman of the 10-member panel that spent nine months studying the USPS, told a press conference, ''While there have been some shortfalls, the USPS has accomplished an outstanding implementation'' of the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act.

He termed the organization and management of the Postal Service ''indisputably superior'' to the former Post Office Department. But he said the panel concluded the USPS had, ''in its successful efforts to reduce costs and increase productivity,'' neglected problems of employee courtesy and customer services. The panel also said the rate-setting machinery needed overhauling.

The evaluation was commissioned by Postmaster General Bolger on July 2, 1981 - the Postal Service's 10th anniversary. The National Academy of Public Administration is based in Washington, D.C., and since its founding in 1967 has conducted many such evaluations of government agencies.

Assisted by a 12-member staff, the panel visited postal facilities and interviewed more than 100 USPS officials, major users of the Postal Service, union representatives, competitors of the USPS, and others. There was no dissent to the final report, said acadamy president George H. Esser.

The evaluation panel found the Postal Service basically sound ''despite some contradictions in the Reorganization Act.'' It said the USPS ''is primarily a public service'' and ''must remain accountable to the Congress and the American people.''

It cited ''depoliticization'' of appointments, promotions, and management decisions as ''an outstanding achievement of postal reform.'' And it lauded the USPS management as ''aggressive and intelligent in tackling its problems through new methods. . . .''

The Board of Governors of the Postal Service, said the panel report, ''should be continued and strengthened,'' but it ''should shift its primary focus from internal management toward how the USPS interacts with the economy and the public.'' Particularly noted were attempts to inaugurate such steps as closing small post offices and requiring a nine-digit ZIP code ''without enough consideration of and preparation for negative public and congressional response. USPS should improve its public-relations planning.''

The ''cumbersome'' ratemaking process, in which the Postal Rate Commission and the USPS Board of Governors share responsiblity, was singled out for special criticism. The panel said that although ''Congress should not set (postal) rates ,'' it should reform the process. Three possible solutions were suggested: give a strengthened Rate Commission the basic ratemaking authority while providing for an override on a two-thirds vote of the Board of Governors; give the USPS governors the rate-setting power, subject to congressional override; or move postal rate-setting to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission.

Addressing one of the major complaints of average Americans, the report suggests that the Postal Service, instead of merely measuring the period between postmarking mail and arrival at the destination post office, ''measure the full period between deposit and delivery of mail'' - that is, how long it takes a personal letter to get from a blue mail box to a home mailbox.

The panel says ''planning, research, and development in USPS have been deficient and should be substantially improved.'' To meet the challenge of fast-growing electronic communication, the Postal Service should establish a technology advisory group of outside experts, the report urges.

Although the panel takes note of ''undesirable features of the postal wage and manpower structure that remain to be resolved'' and points to poor labor-management relations at many large postal facilities, it makes no specific recommendations in this area. It says a new ''employee involvement process'' could help improve relations, and it suggests establishment of labor-management committees at major facilities to implement the ''involvement'' program.

Postmaster General Bolger issued a brief comment on the report July 7, saying , ''The panel of experts has raised a number of issues that require attention and study. We will be looking at each of those areas as we examine ways to improve the Postal Service.''

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