We have long enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of an extremely economical, reliable, trustworthy and universal mail and package delivery service, ranked the “best in the world” by Oxford Consulting. Since 1982, the USPS has been a self-sufficient enterprise, a model funded entirely by its users, but dependent on a steady growth in mail volume. As our communication practices have been steadily migrating to email, e-bills and e-payments, however, the volume in mail has drastically declined. This shift first reached a critical level in 2006, when the scales tipped toward the beginning of the end.
 
The Plan to Profitability will not fix the Postal Service, but it will keep it alive for now. Under the plan, Post Offices and plants will close, headcount will decline and service reductions will be unavoidable. After all, what do we expect from a self-funding enterprise whose top line is collapsing? Keeping the Postal Service on life support is critical while we determine what happens next.
 
A Full-Body Scan
 
Let’s say the plan is passed and the Postal Service does survive through 2016 without a bailout - what then? Do we really expect mail volumes and revenues to level off and digital disruption to subside? The Plan to Profitability will keep the USPS going, but our entire postal ecosystem requires a full-body scan to help the industry’s stakeholders re-examine the USPS’s suitability for meeting the needs of future generations.
 
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Determining the right postal service for our nation in the coming decades raises many questions and few answers. Do we really expect to operate a profitable delivery business in a diminishing market? Is there perhaps more to the Postal Service mission of “binding the nation together” than delivering mail and parcels? How about digital delivery? What infrastructure or platform design will be required to support the fulfillment of society’s postal needs? Must the government provide the solutions or enable the private sector to do so? Who should be responsible for ensuring that the intrinsic societal values of trust, privacy and universal service that we have come to expect from our postal products will continue to be honored and maintained for the common good?
 
America’s Postal Service must be completely reinvented. It needs to be reimagined and redesigned. This exercise cannot be undertaken by the Postal Service, Congress or any other official body on its own. It is a national responsibility that belongs to all of us and requires bold, courageous and perhaps outrageous thinking and dialogue on all our parts.
 
Nothing short of a bailout is more likely to save the Postal Service than its Plan to Profitability for the near term. It should be urgently approved. And the open and independent conversation about what comes next should begin now as well.

John Callan is the founder and organizer of PostalVision 2020, an annual conference designed to ignite imaginative thinking and stimulate provocative conversation about what the United States Postal Service should do and what it should be in 2020 and beyond.