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Why the USPS is running a deficit

The USPS is in the news lately, complaining they'll be running some 200+ BILLION in deficits in the next 10 years unless they cancel Saturday delivery, raise rates and do a number of unpleasant things, none of which entails laying off personnel or improving their service.

I had a taste of why the USPS is so inefficient recently that I wanted to share. The USPS, like all government agencies, is subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. The FOIA is a great tool for individuals and businesses to get information from their government.

I recently used FOIA to try and obtain the database that drives the USPS's mailing location website. I wanted the data to add to our sites to make it easier for people to find the "blue box" collection spots that are scattered about virtually every city in the country. There are hundreds of thousands of these collection points in total and the current USPS website is pretty poor and difficult to use. Adding this data to our sites seemed logical and productive.

I sent a FOIA requesting "a list of addresses and and last pickup times of all USPS collection box locations in the United States." - this is precisely the information that their website uses, so it has to be an existing, fairly easy to access table on a server somewhere.

Here's their response in a nutshell: (some verbiage left out for brevity)

Dear Mr. Coryat,
Our IT Department has estimated the computer processing and personnel costs associated with your request to be approximately $2,732.00

$1600.00 - 8 hours of IT specialist Time
$180.00 - 3 hours Operator Time
$100.00 - Electronic Delivery Set-up
$6.00 - 6 gigabytes data delivery
$140.00 - PC Usage
$706.00 - Mainframe/Open system usage
Paul C Sullivan
Delivery Systems
475 L'Enfant Plaza SW
Rm 5821
Washington, DC 20260-5821

8 hours of IT specialist time and all those other fees to extract a single, existing database that sits in a publicly facing webserver? 6 gigabytes of data? There are 238,000 (+/-) collection box locations in the US, at 6 gigabytes, that means each collection box location consumes a whopping 25,150 bytes! An address and a last collection time should require about 150 bytes at the most.

This is typical of the way the USPS does business. It's no wonder they can run a 200+ Billion dollar deficit over the next 10 years.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 4, 2010 4:12 PM.

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