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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/31/2011

The new postmaster general speaks out

By Ed O'Keefe


VIDEO | By A.J. Chavar/The Washington Post

Eye Opener

Patrick R. Donahoe is just the seventh person to climb the ranks of the U.S. Postal Service to become postmaster general. Over 35 years, he's moved 11 times and held 16 jobs on his way to the top, and went from earning $4.76 an hour to at least $275,000 annually.

The Pittsburgh-area native joined the Postal Service after his uncle encouraged him to take the entrance exam.

He took the top spot in early December from his predecessor, John E. Potter, spoke recently with The Federal Eye for The Post's OnLeadership series, which hears regularly with CEOs, academics, lawmakers, religious leaders and other notable figures about their life, career and thoughts on leadership. As the head of the nation's second-largest civilian workforce, editors believed Donahoe is a natural fit for the series.

A transcript of our conversation, edited for space and clarity, appears below. Watch video highlights in the clip above:

The Federal Eye: You mentioned Jack Potter, your predecessor, who just left last year. It's rare that the vice president or the deputy graduates into the top job. What did you learn from him that you'll remember and what might you do differently?

He was great to work for, because he gave me all sorts of flexibility in ways to run the operation. He focused extensively on outreach and a lot of work with Congress, as you know. I've learned a lot of good things from Jack, about how to deal with some of the setbacks, because, you know there are a lot of issues that we feel strongly about and it's a hard grind to get these things moving along.

The other thing that I'll do differently is put a lot more focus on growing revenue in this industry - not just the Postal Service - but it's an industry issue.

We also know there's still plenty of work in the package business, whether we're working with FedEx and UPS, we've seen growth there. We also know that we bring a lot of value to the whole market, from the standpoint from what we can bring with Priority Mail and other offerings you'll see in the coming months.

You've said you're going to go try and woo some of the largest companies in the country that aren't using the Postal Service. Give us the sales pitch.

If you advertise in the mail, your customer will take that mail out of the mailbox and look at it. they might not want to keep it, but they'll look at it. and that'll be the one way to get in front of your customer's eyes. And we think that if you put together a good ad campaign, something that catches a person's eyes, hey, if they get a 2 or 3 percent response on that, they're happy. If they get 5 to 10 percent response, they're elated.

So even if I'm going to get something from a car dealership, look at it and go, 'Ah, junk mail' and throw it out, you're saying that's of more value than TV, web or print ads?

I think so. Think of how many people would never see the ad on TV, would never hear the ad on the radio. How many stations are on the radio these days? And how many people have XM radio - they don't even want to hear them. We want to get in front of your eyes.

Negotiations are underway with two of your largest unions. There are some concerns with "excessing" - moving people to new positions or to a new town. You've said that one of the biggest concerns to the whole program that there's a big fear about change. Talk a little bit about how you're trying to allay those fears.

People come to the Postal Service for a good, safe career. Historically that's been the people who we attract. We're very fortunate, because most people who come here turn out to be great employees. I'm talking 99.9 percent. They jump in, they get that spirit of delivering to customers and they do a great job. Many, many people still don't like to change. I think there's a statistic that says that 90 percent of the people who work in the Postal Service begin and retire in the same building where they started. They don't like to change. You'd be surprised how many people are pleased with the night shift or the afternoon shift.

We've been able to avoid having to move a lot of people, to go through a lot of layoffs and such, but invariably you're going to have to change the way that some people do their job.

You're basically saying that if necessary, they have to be moved around? You can't afford to keep them in place?

We can't afford to have them sitting in the same spot. In many cases, we have people who work the window some days and carry the mail another. You go through different processes from a labor union perspective. You want them to have gainful employment. People understand that, they want to make sure that they're getting as close to 40 hours a week as they can, so we work with them.

Are the postal unions standing in the way of making changes you need to make?

No. They are led by good people. The presidents are very good people. They're people. They're looking at the challenges that we have with the same, 'Oh my goodness' that everybody else does. These guys, I'll tell you, we've reduced head count in this organization by 225,000 people since the year 2000. There are very few labor unions in the world who wouldn't be jumping up and down ranting and raving about that. They know what I and Jack Potter have done is to make sure there's as soft a landing as possible. They've worked with us on that.

As far as contracts go, they know what we're facing from a financial perspective. They know what we've got on the table with them, and they have to make some decisions. They're tough decisions, but my point to these guys has been, it's better for us to make the tough decisions now, then have somebody else make a decision later on, like GM, like Chrysler and some of the other companies you've seen going into bankruptcy.

What's your message to the rank and file at a time like this?
Keep doing a great job. You do a great job everyday for your customers and the American public. Focus on the quality of your work, focus on the customer and excellent customer experience. Focus on generating revenue and be as productive as you can. If you do that, this organization will be fine.

Don't worry about the legislative things, that's for me to worry about.

Considering the financial health of this organization, why would anyone want to work here?

It's still a great job. If you are a letter carrier and you come in in the morning, you're out on the street, it might be cold or snowy in some parts of the country, but you're out there, you're meeting with your customers, you're working pretty much on your own all day. The pay is good. I know there are some concerns going forward, but hey, look around. We still have one of the best jobs in the country, when you compare them to many other places in the country where there's a lot more hardship.

Why do you want to cut Saturday mail deliveries?
All of the cuts still, as you go forward are not enough to make the difference up, because of one thing and one thing only: First-class mail decline. First-class mail is declining at 6 percent a year. It might not seem like a big number, but when you go year after year after year, we're down 20 percent.

Let us move from six to five days, we'll take care of what we need to in terms of revenue generation, we'll take care of employment costs and administrative and union costs. And you know what would happen? We'd find ourselves in the black and able to pay that $15 billion debt down and by 2015 we'd have the debt cleaned up.

How much does it cost to deliver mail on Saturdays?

The total for the entire organization is $3 billion.

When was the last time you mailed a personal piece of mail?

Yesterday. I sent a note to a guy in California who owns a business that's trying how to figure out how to create individual mail pieces.

No I mean a personal note to a friend or relative.

Probably three days ago I sent a congratulations note to someone who got promoted.

How about the last time you received a personal piece of mail from a family friend?

Probably three or four times a week I'll get something. My uncle sends me stuff all the time. And I am a card sender. I think that there is a ton of value to it. You know what I do when I get e-cards? Delete.

But if I get a card in the mail, I open it and save it. I have a box of stuff up in my office that I've dragged around for the better part of 30 years that has cards and pictures.

The personal touch is a big thing. I was having dinner with friends of ours the other night. Their kids were there and they said, what's the oddest thing you ever saw come in the mail? Probably a coconut. Those kids mailed coconuts. They went out the next day to find some. They think that's so neat."

E-mail is so impersonal. Texting is so impersonal. Getting that little card in the mail means so much to people.

If everyone person in America sent a greeting card to someone else, how much revenue would that generate?

You're talking 300 million times 44 cents. That'd be about $120 million bucks? We'll take it.

Watch video highlights of the interview above and leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Cabinet and Staff News: President Obama attends a goodbye party for David Axelrod. White House Chief of Staff William Daley hits the Sunday talk show circuit, says he's no longer concerned with the health-care reform law. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. "isn't advocating any specific outcome" in Egypt. OMB Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients to lead Obama's reorganization effort. Former Bush aide found dead in Delaware was killed by assault. Could a man be the next White House social secretary?

ATF:
ATF fears cuts would imperil effort against gun trafficking: Some current and former agency officials, the fact that budget officials contemplated reductions is an indication of how low the agency ranks in the Obama administration's pecking order.

CIA:
The CIA's complicated relationship with Egypt: Like a long and mostly unhappy marriage, it's got plenty of ups and downs.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
Iraqi security forces facing serious problems, U.S. oversight official reports: Corruption, lack of capacity to handle logistics and an absence of realistic planning threaten to undermine the security infrastructure

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT:
Interior moves to shield scientists from politics: New ethical standards and a code of conduct explaining the new policy will be outlined in a new employee manual to be issued in a few days.

IRS:
Lose a job? Take a pay cut? Make sure it's on your tax return.: As much as we love to talk trash about the IRS, its Web site is useful and user-friendly. So inform yourself.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:
If Loughner is convicted, death penalty would be difficult to carry out: Prosecutors are expected to pursue the death penalty in the Tucson shootings. But precedent suggests it would be unlikely that Jared Lee Loughner, if found guilty, would ever be executed.

NASA:
Giffords's husband faces decision on Space Shuttle: Mark Kelly expected to decide by mid-February whether to move ahead with commanding the space shuttle in April.

Meet Robonaut 2: The first humanoid robot in space when it is launched on the space shuttle

STATE DEPARTMENT:
U.S. demands that Pakistan free diplomat who killed 2: The murky case escalated into a diplomatic standoff Saturday, as the U.S. Embassy demanded the man's immediate release and accused Pakistan of illegally detaining him

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 31, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Postal Service  
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Comments

WE are serviced by a small Sub-Station here in the Rural Woods of N.W. New Jersey. I have a PO box and know most of the employees by name as we have only a handful and even less now that the economy and debt is as bad as it ever was.
But like all Bureaucracy run enterprises, it's failing and no matter how many hourly cutbacks and doubling up , it fails even more every year. Now we all know of the extant that Emails and the like have lessened the need for stamps and such. And I'm sure the Government will start something to tax us for it's use, as they can't stand to see anything free for the little guy. Not that the Web and E mail is free, not if you consider the cost of a Computer, cost to maintain it, the cost of electricity, the ISP cost, the phone and all else, you can be sure, it ain't free. But I've watched as Mail service has failed over the years and how much UPS and FED-Ex have cut into the packaging end of it. And some of the local Kings and Queens put in charge don't help either. I don't want to go into a personal mess I had with a Post Mistress but it ended with her being transferred after telling me that she'd never have that happen to her. I never wanted to see anyone fired in my life, especially seeing the Unemployment lines of today, but that's one broad I was praying to see fired. And you know what ? One Employee ran all the way out to my car afterwards and thanked me over and over for helping to get her transferred. They knew not only did she screw up my mail, and the delivery to me of my W-2 forms , but she was a little tyrant to try to please. So , like everything else in America today, there is little Accountability , and so , little darlins' like her keep rolling along , unscathed unless we speak up and try to make a difference. I wrote all the way to the Post-Master General of the United States, and ended up seeing the complaints passed all the way down to Newark N.J. the main Hub for Mail over this part of the state. It takes time and patience to be sure, but even more so, the task would be simpler if more got on the bandwagon to help. The " Tea Party " is a case in point. From the Movie, " We're Mad as Hell, and we ain't gonna take it anymore " Politicians commit more serious crimes than Madoff, yet he goes to Prison , and the ill-informed voters keep electing people like Rangel, Dodd, Fwank , Reid, and Shumer . One more time. " Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely "

Posted by: puck-101 | January 31, 2011 6:38 AM | Report abuse

Big Deal , he started for 4.76 an hour and is making $275,000 today. I started for $46.82 a week and climbed poles in all kinds of weather for 42 1/2 years before retiring , and I get a pension of $24,000 a year, and I can't even imagine how much he'll get when he retires. And don't tell me about Postal Employees contributing to their pensions. We did too, by taking less in hourly wages over the years to try and buildup pensions and health insurance. But with Obama and crew , I just saw my pension check come in with a $20 cut thanks to him giving a bogus Health handout to 30 million free loaders who had Health Care all along. So, cry me no tears for Donohue . I use to sort mail at the local in Paterson during Christmas Vacations on the 4 to 12 shift after delivering papers after school and then taking the bus downtown to the Post Office. I considered that a kid's job and delivering the mail a nice walk in the park . Try hanging off a pole with metal spikes on your feet in sub-zero weather , and have rubber gloves and sleeves on in 100 plus summers and then tell me why I should cry for Argentina or Donohue. And you can bet your Bippy that Donohue won't end up with the Arthritis I have from being out in that kind of weather for over 40 years. No, we've got enough sympathy in the country today, and you know where you can find it in the dictionary . Between sh** and syphilis . And with our job you couldn't rush like Hell and be done by 11 a.m and in the Gin Mill all afternoon until time to checkout. We worked from 8 until 4:30 p.m. And in storms, ice and hurricanes we worked for 16 hours straight, and considering travel to home and back for the next day, we didn't get 8 hours sleep between shifts and didn't get paid for the travel nor ever for the expense. So that old bulls** about " Rain, Sleet and Snow you can't deter your carriers from making their rounds " falls on deaf ears here. And the failure of the service , the result of poor leadership is but another case of the Government trying to run things.

Posted by: puck-101 | January 31, 2011 7:03 AM | Report abuse

This guy is freaking CLUELESS to the real world. Apparently he's had his nose stuck up into something for far too many years... He needs to step down and spend a few months in a normal post office environment. See the real issues... otherwise.. nothing here to see.. move on!

Posted by: darbyohara | January 31, 2011 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Sirs, What I read in this article was a bunch of rah-rah and filler. The Office of Inspector General has been conducting a series of audits of postal programs and operations, and has found most flawed, almost to the extent of criminality, in their enforcement and contradiction of postal rules and regulations.
In addition, recent antics of headquarters higher up (Robert Bernstock,Maryanne Gibbons)has done nothing to maintain the confidence of either the public, the Congress, or the employees; in terms of the organizational leadership and internal ethical conduct. Removing the responsibility for ethical behavior from the chief postal attorney has serious implications.
Mr. Donhoe has been the COO during this period and has not resolved these issues to anyone's satisfaction. He should be taking these issues in hand instead of with a grain of salt.

Posted by: mn4470 | January 31, 2011 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Nepotism, cronyism, empire-building are mainly what have caused most of the problems within the Postal Service. When actual business problems occurred: down turns in the economy, change in business environment, loss of business segment, etc. our management obviously did not know what to do. All most managers know is to run their own jobs operationally. The business suffered.

There are those of us who have come to the Postal Service highly educated, with extensive business experience who are given no opportunity to move up because managers' uneducated friends and families are in the way. The degreed candidate appears to be feared versus being treasured, as in other organizations. When George H. W. Bush had left the White House and the job market in ruins, I entered the Postal Service knowing that with my background: Masters in Accounting (3.78 GPA), Assoc. Professor, District Manager, Cost Accountant I would be an asset, that I could contribute... Fifteen years later (six and one-half spent part-time) I am still carrying mail...

Just think of the length of time it has taken the people at the top to notice that, with much empire building, we are top heavy and there lies the problem versus the sixth day of delivery. A number of our customers are only available for signature deliveries on Saturday and I am positive that there are parcel carriers waiting for this next business gaffe. Sure, provide even less service.

A book could be written concerning what I have observed since 1995, having come from private industry. I can only continue to provide service and ask Congress to realize what we, the employees and the public are dealing with.

Posted by: RgrsGloria | January 31, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Nepotism, cronyism, empire-building are mainly what have caused most of the problems within the Postal Service. When actual business problems occurred: down turns in the economy, change in business environment, loss of business segment, etc. our management obviously did not know what to do. All most managers know is to run their own jobs operationally. The business suffered.

There are those of us who have come to the Postal Service highly educated, with extensive business experience who are given no opportunity to move up because managers' uneducated friends and families are in the way. The degreed candidate appears to be feared versus being treasured, as in other organizations. When George H. W. Bush had left the White House and the job market in ruins, I entered the Postal Service knowing that with my background: Masters in Accounting (3.78 GPA), Assoc. Professor, District Manager, Cost Accountant I would be an asset, that I could contribute... Fifteen years later (six and one-half spent part-time) I am still carrying mail...

Just think of the length of time it has taken the people at the top to notice that, with much empire building, we are top heavy and there lies the problem versus the sixth day of delivery. A number of our customers are only available for signature deliveries on Saturday and I am positive that there are parcel carriers waiting for this next business gaffe. Sure, provide even less service.

A book could be written concerning what I have observed since 1995, having come from private industry. I can only continue to provide service and ask Congress to realize what we, the employees and the public are dealing with.

Posted by: RgrsGloria | January 31, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Puck-101 I'm sure is a conservative. As you can notice he failed to mention any conservative crooks and liars. And failed to mention through either ignorance or intentional, the real reason we are going broke, the 5.5 billion dollars (over a ten year period) we are required to dump into an account to pre-fund retirees healthcare. No other federal agency is required to do this, why is that? It was the Postal Reorg Act of 2006 that was signed by none other then G.W. to do what? What it has is the apperance to me is, the start of the slow dismantling of the US Postal as we know it. Something the right as be crying about for years, they hate government and unions so for them its a two fer. But you won't hear that in the media, all they want you to hear is "the post office is broke and its starting to fail, time to privatize". Hate any form of government, in hopes of it going broke so private industry can come in and gobble up the profitable parts, which would leave everyone in this country not living in the "profitable" areas to pay through the nose to get their mail. Isnt' "pay as you go" exactly what we want? Well thats what the Post Office does (NO TAX DOLLARS!, let me repeat, NO TAX DOLLARS!)
Good luck America if the conservative movement is allowed to do this. Remember with them is is not "WE THE PEOPLE" its "ME THE PERSON or CORPORATION" Just let the Postal Service keep their money and it would be fine, wouldn't have to cut delivery days from 6 to 5, wouldn't have to consider closing post offices. The best way to kill a service industry is what, kill the services! Glad I'm out in several years, I really concerned the of the direction we are now turning to.........

Posted by: dandle60 | January 31, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

One of the advantages the USPS has going for it is Saturday delivery- why get rid of that. Instead get rid of Wednesday delivery- it's usually a very light day. This would also serve another purpose, people that can retire, will probably want to retire knowing no more long weekends. Not many would want split days off.

Posted by: silica101 | January 31, 2011 8:05 PM | Report abuse

@silica101-What do you mean this would encourage people to retire, as they would have no more long weekends and not many would want split days off? Letter Carriers HAVE split days off now! We have rotating schedules, which means we get a 3 day weekend every 6 weeks, then work 6 days in a row, then get off Sunday and Monday and start all over again, with split days off until our next long weekend.

Posted by: pjpj | January 31, 2011 11:31 PM | Report abuse

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