New postmaster general officially takes over, promises job cuts
On the same day the U.S. Postal Service's new top boss took over, he warned that at least 7,500 administrative personnel could soon be on their way out.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe also said Friday that he plans to turn most of his attention away from the ongoing political debate about the Postal Service's future in hopes of wooing new customers to use the cash-strapped mail agency.
"I need to get out and sell this business," Donahoe said moments before officially taking office before 400 employees at the service's L'Enfant Plaza headquarters. "For years, I think we've focused too much on legislative things. ... I've got to get 580,000 people in this organization selling mail."
Donahoe officially took over as the nation's 73rd postmaster general Dec. 3, but delayed his official installment until after the holiday season, traditionally the Postal Service's busiest time of the year.
The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in September and continues to suffer from plummeting mail volume. Letter carriers delivered about 175 billion pieces of mail in 2009, down from a peak of 213 billion in 2006.
"We're not going to be wringing our hands about any of these trends, we're going to be adapting aggressively and figuring out how to play an indispensable role," Donahoe told the crowd. "We're working very hard in the way we manage our business and the way we approach this marketplace."
Donahoe's plans include a reorganization of the executive ranks he unveiled last week, closing up to 10 district offices nationwide and cutting about 7,500 positions through attrition as eligible workers retire. Early retirement packages may be offered to other workers, but he acknowledged that the nation's current economic climate makes it more difficult to entice workers to leave.
"There's a lot of people in our organization who are helping other people out, they're supporting family members, taking care of grandchildren ... It might have seemed kinda easy a few years ago, but now they're afraid to do so," he said during a conversation with reporters before his swearing-in ceremony.
About 2,000 postmaster positions could be eliminated as part of the cutbacks, allowing USPS to close retail locations or merge some with others nearby, Donahoe said, noting that about a third of postal business is conducted outside the post office at other retailers or online.
Bob Rapoza, president of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States -- which represents most post office managers -- was traveling outside the country Friday and unavailable for comment.
Donahoe has spent his professional career as a postal employee, climbing from an entry-level night shift worker to mid-level executive, and most recently as deputy to his predecessor, former postmaster general John E. Potter.
Tony Conway, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers and a former USPS official, credited Donahoe's deep understanding of postal issues, and his willingness to start making necessary, if not uncomfortable, spending cuts.
"One of the things that we'll be curious to see is if he's a little more aggressive in making some of the tough decisions to reduce costs in the organization," Conway said. "Clearly there are a lot of us hoping that is the case, and so we'll find out."
Donahoe said he has thought little about his ascension, but was happy to share the day with his family, who first encouraged him to join USPS about 35 years ago.
"My uncle called me one day and said, 'Hey, get out of bed, go down and take the test,' " Donahoe said. "I was 20 years old and I was going to the University of Pittsburgh, I was a junior in college, I took the test, got a good score, got hired and the pay was good, it was $4.76 an hour."
As postmaster general, Donahoe will earn a six-figure sum.
"I went in, figured I'd stay for a few years, get a regular job," he said. "And 35 years later, I'm still here."
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| January 14, 2011; 4:08 PM ET
Categories: Postal Service
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