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Northrop Grumman Sues US Postal Service Over Automated Snail-mail Sort Contract

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the brought-to-you-by-fedex dept.

Government 80

McGruber writes "The Federal Times is reporting that Northrup Grumman has filed suit against the US Postal Service, accusing the USPS of violating the terms of the 2007 fixed-price ($875 million) contract to produce 100 massive automatic sorting systems, each capable of handling millions of magazines, catalogs and other pieces of flat mail. The Postal Service embarked on the project just as mail volume was beginning to nosedive, cutting into anticipated efficiency gains. The sorting machines' performance has been uneven, according to a series of reports by the Postal Service's inspector general."

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Dirty Northrop (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053101)

Northrop Grumman is so fucking bad, that I refuse to believe that anything they do is malicious. They're not competent enough to try to really screw the taxpayers. Every interaction I've had with them indicates that NG corporate is hostile to actually producing hardware and software, and desire to only create IP that NG can then charge the government to use. They are, however, so fucking incompetent that when I tried to get them to give me a proposal for a sole source, small change, that they were going to charge us 5x cost for, they failed to provide a compliant proposal before the money got pulled. You got that right. 80% profit and overhead, and they couldn't actually execute their core business function, which is extracting money from the federal government. Granted, our acquisition system is it's own disaster, but only NG could be so bad as to fail to ask when we're throwing money.

Re:Dirty Northrop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053177)

Starve the beast.

Re:Dirty Northrop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40055261)

Even the Liberatarian Cato institute says starve the beast is a failure: http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj26n3/cj26n3-8.pdf [cato.org]

Re:Dirty Northrop (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055469)

From the first page of that PDF:

There are three major problems with the starve-the-beast argument: (1) it is not a plausible economic theory;

Breakign news: Person who thinks an economic theory isnt viable has produced a paper saying said theory isnt viable. Details at eleven.

Re:Dirty Northrop (3, Interesting)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055697)

That's like taunting someone for saying a car isn't a plausible economic theory. Starve the beast was never presented as an economic theory, it's a vindictive theory of punishment, punishing government (or government entities) by cutting funding, but not cutting the budget. And it has never worked in the history of the planet. Feel free to name a time, ever, when starving the beast worked in a non-violent way (as I think it could be argued that a number of revolutions were sparked by effects of starving the beast, but the "goal" of the starve-the-beast proponents is not violent collapse - unless that's their secret goal).

Re:Dirty Northrop (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40058059)

Im taunting it for saying, paraphrased,

We think that this policy is a bad idea for the following reasons:
1) this policy is a bad idea.....

Wow, what amazing insight.

Re:Dirty Northrop (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40058441)

Ah, so you object because you are stupid.

We think this policy is bad for the following reasons:
Despite being pushed as an "economic theory" it is not related to economics (in the textbook definition, it obviously relates to money, confusing the ignorant and stupid, which is why we are explicitly stating this is not an economic theory, for all the idiots like LordLimecat who think it is and continue to give the nutters free PR by pushing it as such). Thus, as it is outside "economic theory" it can't, by definition, be a plausible economic theory. We apologize to all idiots and morons reading this (like you, LordLimecat) who don't understand the definitions of "plausible", "economic" and "theory" sufficiently to understand this distinction.

They stated that the "argument" is not an "economic theory". That you think that to be self-contradicting does not make it so. They are correct, and you are wrong.

Re:Dirty Northrop (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40058971)

If you actually READ the pdf in question, you would see that that is not at all what he is saying. He thinks that it isnt plausible, not that it isnt an economic theory.

Its right there on page two, first section, in big bold letters.

You also seem to think that I am some staunch supporter of Starve the Beast. Maybe I am, maybe Im not, I was just posting to call a spade a spade, or in this case, a bad post.

Re:Dirty Northrop (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053455)

I actually commented on this in an article a while back. 80k for them to repair a part that broke for the military, Under 5k for a military maintenance facility to. And the kicker? The military base repairs actually worked long enough to be useful, while the Grumman ones were often faulty just back from repair.)

Re:Dirty Northrop (1)

Courageous (228506) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056859)

80% profit? I can believe that NG was slow to submit, but this was not a government contract. Either that, or you don't really know what you're talking about here.

Makes me wonder (2, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#40053145)

If the USPS is charging enough for media/junk mail (aka "flats"). They probably don't want to price themselves out of the market but I find it hard to believe they can deliver junk mail for what they charge.

Re:Makes me wonder (5, Informative)

danheskett (178529) | about 2 years ago | (#40053233)

They 100% aren't. The concept of discounted rate periodicals and std class mail was to use up slack capacity on slower mail days. Good concept.

But now that the 1st class mail volume has dropped to what it was, they are not charging enough. They have attempted to raise the rates, but the Postal Regulatory Comission has come down hard on any attempt to proportionally raise the rates of perodicals, non-machinable flats, and other "low value" documents.

Re:Makes me wonder (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053385)

That interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering why, when any of these companies completely botches a defense contract, the taxpayers eat the cost of their fuck-ups for years on end. And really, which project DON'T they fuck up?

But when they make a bogus machine that the USPS doesn't want, they sue!

I love how some companies get to have their cake and eat it too, on my dime.

Re:Makes me wonder (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053475)

But when they make a bogus machine that the USPS doesn't want, they sue!

The USPS did want it, which is why they gave the contract. If you had read the summary you would know they are suing over violating the contract. Maybe get mad at the postal service for screwing up the contract instead of blaming the company that is trying to get compensation for the lost business they were promised?

Re:Makes me wonder (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40054681)

But when they make a bogus machine that the USPS doesn't want, they sue!

The USPS did want it, which is why they gave the contract. If you had read the summary you would know they are suing over violating the contract. Maybe get mad at the postal service for screwing up the contract instead of blaming the company that is trying to get compensation for the lost business they were promised?

Promised? Entitled to? End it. Aren't you people always nattering on about how there are no guarantees?

Seriously, the private sector in this country has become a welfare case. Maybe they should have let the bottom fall out. Might have changed your mind then. Subsidizing capitalism the way this government has done has only made you people into spoiled brats.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055613)

Is the USPS bankrupt? No? Then they HONOR THE DAMN CONTRACT.

Re:Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40057283)

This. I DO work for a defense contractor. NG is a defense company. Their costs are driven as much by the environment (government requirements) as anything else. If the USPS wants to play in this pond they will have to understand the game as well as those in the defense industry and either negotiate in good faith or have deeper pockets. Most of these problems were caused by the USPS redesigning a system on the fly. You can get away with that for a single prototype, but do that for a whole bunch of deployed systems and somebody has to pick up the tab. NG is now refusing to do so as is their right per the contract. The USPS could be as efficient as any other entity if it was not run into the ground by a bunch of government 'lifers' with nothing to lose. Defense companies play the game for keeps. They have sued the customer in the past with no ill effects and they will continue to use the system they know very well.

It's NG's fault that the USPS doesn't know what the hell they want or lost track of the market they were in? Bullshit!

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40057499)

Perhaps you missed TFS: THE DAMN MACHINES DON'T WORK.

lame lameness lame lameness lame lameness lame lameness

Re:Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40055939)

Promised? Entitled to? End it. Aren't you people always nattering on about how there are no guarantees?

Seriously, the private sector in this country has become a welfare case. Maybe they should have let the bottom fall out. Might have changed your mind then. Subsidizing capitalism the way this government has done has only made you people into spoiled brats.

Yes, promised. If it was in the contract that the USPS will pay X dollars for Y machines that is a promise. Usually these contracts include terms for cancellation so the contractor doesn't get stuck paying the bill for some half-built machines that are useless to them. If this contract was lacking any sort of cancellation terms then someone really screwed up at the USPS.

I don't know what the rest of your stupid rant was about, nor do I care.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 2 years ago | (#40054813)

That interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering why, when any of these companies completely botches a defense contract, the taxpayers eat the cost of their fuck-ups for years on end. And really, which project DON'T they fuck up?

But when they make a bogus machine that the USPS doesn't want, they sue!

I love how some companies get to have their cake and eat it too, on my dime.

Perhaps the laws should be changed so that these companies can be allowed to be defense contractors for North Korea and Iran...

Re:Makes me wonder (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056009)

That doesn't change the fact that other than garbage like junk mail and a few places that still send paper bills there really isn't much use of mail by the general pop, certainly not enough to justify daily deliveries.

Hell my parents are in their 70s and not tech heads by ANY means yet I don't think either one has sent a letter in years, why? Because with email, chat, and FB frankly there just isn't a reason to. it is easier for both of them to just pop open the laptop or sit at the desk and type than it is to go through the time and BS of writing a letter, getting a stamp, mailing it, and then waiting to get a reply.

In the end like 8-tracks and DOS this is just something that really isn't needed and isn't used much anymore. I know that other than the occasional package frankly all I ever get through the mail is junk crap, I mean why bother? you have email and chat and cell phones, all of which can give you instant or near instant responses.

So I doubt even raising the rates would do much good, as many of the places that once sent me junk mail now simply has newsletters they email. Personally I hope they do get to raise it in the hope it'll kill junk mail faster but either way i think even junk mail will probably be dead in a decade, its just like those old AOHell discs in that you waste all those resources for very few sales.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056433)

Hi.

I read your journal entry. Thanks for the warning.

Remember what you said about your father and the guards that the Jews appreciated and how the big wigs left? I just saw a documentary about Buchenwald. I bet that your father was there. The documentary mentioned that the place was very disciplined and efficiently organized.

I want to make a disclaimer, though. The video is a holocaust denial video.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056441)

Sorry, I meant your grand father.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40059405)

Glad the heads up helped, I still get the occasional spam email from someone using Firefox and having a Yahoo mail account so that bug is still out there but it isn't as easy to set off as it was during FF 9 so hopefully they are working on it.

Hell you may be right, for the life of me I can't remember the name of the place. I was a little kid and hearing about such horrible shit noting the details about the place just wasn't something I ever thought to do. When you are a kid you think your family is gonna be around forever and it was frankly a total shock when my grandfather died because he wasn't even 60 years old when he suddenly keeled over with a heart attack. I doubt the man would have even told me if I hadn't asked what the deal was with the Nazi marches and why so many were screaming dirty words at them, because to a kid it looked just like a bunch of guys in funny clothes walking in a line, not very scary, but after he told me what he saw at the camp and that the neighborhood they wanted to go through was full of people from those camps it was easy for even a child to understand.

One of these days I'll slip the gal downstairs some money and have her do a record search on my grandfather as I'm sure the military will have detailed records of his movements, but all I can remember was it was either Poland or close to the border with Poland and not long after he had a wall dropped on him while in Germany and he got to spend the V days in a full body cast being ferried from Germany back to the states with the last leg in a Douglas transport. Hell the only reason I remember the Douglas is my grandfather loved the transport planes and would talk about how much punishment those birds would take without falling.

Anyway glad that post helped, just be sure if you are using FF to have a password for your password file which will protect you from the iFrame trick. Oh and if you are still writing that story look at the PAKs and MGs as those both scared the living hell out of the troops. There are videos of both being fired on youtube and if you want authentic be sure to talk about the sound. Both the PAK and the MG had a distinctive sound that the troops knew by heart. Grandfather said if you heard either sound you would hit the deck just on instinct because the Germans could just slaughter an entire platoon with those weapons if you weren't damn careful.

Oh and one other thing that struck me as weird that nobody seems to mention is that all the troops used to listen to enemy broadcasts! There was a Nazi version of Tokyo Rose and she would broadcast reports of wounded and captured Allied troops so the guys would listen to see if any group they knew had been captured. He told me the hitler broadcasts always reminded him of a preacher, in that even though he and his friends spoke no German Hitler would build this cadence up to the point you knew exactly where the Sieg heil part was gonna come in because it was all about the cadence, kinda like how they would teach the troops to march by using the whole "your left, your left, left right left" cadences.

Re:Makes me wonder (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053267)

If the USPS is charging enough for media/junk mail (aka "flats").

So you start a sentence in the subject line and continue in the body. That's bad enough. But for some reason you put an initial capital in the continuation, breaking up the flow even more.

Tell me, do you just like chicks with small boobs, or you a true pedo?

Re:Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053285)

Tell me, do you just like chicks with small boobs, or you a true pedo?

I dig Justin "The Bieb" Bieber. Gives me a woodie, have to go to the bathroom with a bottle of hand lotion...

Re:Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40054795)

I feel sick now... and here I thought Slashdot had hit bottom and couldn't get any worse :(

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 2 years ago | (#40054555)

You realize that if they were to stop giving such a massive discount on flats/off-loading the cost of flats to the paying customer (the ones who buy stamps and ship packages, never mind fund them through taxes), several things would/could happen:

* The USPS would not be bankrupt and would be a net profit center for the Federal Government. Yeah, they'd make money at it, even if they try to fail through other means.
* Most nonsense magazines which are shipped to the house (and infrequently paid for by the recipient, it seems) would cost twice as much to be shipped. Corner distribution would be preferred.
* Many of these junk rags, bulk fliers, and other junk mail would simply stop coming to your door. (Awesome!)
* There would be no need for daily mail delivery, and we could reduce USPS delivery to 2 or 3 times a week (or simply reduce the number of federal employees and lengthen the routes, with cyclical delivery routes).

Really, flat rate bulk mail is a travesty. It should not happen. It is corporate welfare at its finest (and worst) and absolutely enrages me. It has bankrupt one of the simplest and most essential government services here in the US. The irony is that private enterprise - FedEx, DHL, UPS - have managed to do a better job than the USPS by far, for less - all while paying fuel and income taxes.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

MsWhich (2640815) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055341)

The USPS is not taxpayer-funded. Really. You can look it up.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055503)

The USPS is not taxpayer-funded.

Then who the hell is buying all those stamps?

You should have said: "The USPS is not funded by tax dollars."

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

MsWhich (2640815) | more than 2 years ago | (#40057211)

You don't have to be a taxpayer to buy a stamp. USPS will sell a stamp to any-dang-body. Even furriners and Commies. "Taxpayer" implies tax-funded. That said, I suppose I could have been a bit more precise with my language. (Everyone's a critic!)

Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (5, Insightful)

george14215 (929657) | about 2 years ago | (#40053153)

Why not? Would any private sector business continue to do business with a partner that was suing it?

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (4, Informative)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 2 years ago | (#40053183)

Apple keep buying Samsung DRAM, NAND, processors, and maybe even screens, despite ongoing litigation.

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053189)

Samsung and Apple come to mind...

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (4, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | about 2 years ago | (#40053235)

Private sector businesses do that all the time. One of my firm's clients is a - naturally unnamed - car manufacturer. There's a happy merry-go-round of lawsuits between the manufacturer and its contractors. It usually ends in a slap on the shoulder - nice fight, didn't get what you wanted, did you, but let's just have a beer...

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40060223)

Exactly. I was working on a project where the client mistakenly believed they also bought the implementation phase so they sued us instead of paying us for the design. The settlement involved them paying in full and us giving them 1,000 hours for free to help deploy the solution.

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (1, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | about 2 years ago | (#40053325)

1. The USPS is semi-independent of the federal government.
2. There are 537 reasons that the government does dumb shit.

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40055973)

There are actually quite a few lawsuits over defense contracts, though it's often over the bidding process. One contractor wins and the competitors sue that the selection process wasn't fair. The bigger the contract the more likely this is to happen.

Re:Cancel All Defense Projects with Grumman (1)

proverbialcow (177020) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056267)

Because at some point the courts will resolve the issue, and the needs that drove the two parties into business together to begin with remain.

In Soviet Russia (0)

Chemisor (97276) | about 2 years ago | (#40053165)

In Russia, back in the days of USSR, all letters had to be sent in special envelopes upon which you had to trace machine-readable destination code in specially provided boxes. No code - no delivery. And in the US, the supposed birthplace of computing and internet, letters still have no required machine-readable codes (at least) 30 years after the USSR had them.

Re:In Soviet Russia (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053211)

Hi !
As Ex-Soviet I can provide you with the example of "machine-readable destination code"
Here is an example of http://img-fotki.yandex.ru/get/5207/msbt2005.3d/0_4a6f9_454064e2_orig.jpg

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40057473)

1987 envelope? What a beauty! Brings back some memories. Thank you :)

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053217)

Computers with appropriate software are very good at reading handwritten addresses. This recent talk by one of the software authors goes into more detail.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9EoD05eM_s
One could argue that handwriting is now machine-readable.

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#40053227)

Every post office I've been in has big signs up about how to make your addressing machine readable so it's sorted faster. It mostly boils down to using blue or black ink on a light or white background and printing in large letters.

Re:In Soviet Russia (4, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#40053237)

You should have started with "In Soviet Russia, letters send you!"

Seriously, my understanding is that the USPS relies on OCR rather than a special format to handle a lot of sorting and routing, and secondarily on humans to figure out what goes where. In the US, the zip code was invented in 1963 to get a letter at least as far as the correct post office, and the zip+4 came about in 1983 to get you within a typical city block - by that point, it's in the right carrier's bag, and can be delivered correctly fairly easily.

Re:In Soviet Russia (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40053245)

I don't know how much is purely down to inertia and inefficiency(these certainly cannot be ruled out); but I get the impression that the US postal service has a certain cultural attachment to a slightly retro ideal of universal service going back to their original constitutional mandate. This is of pretty questionable use in their contemporary capacity as high-volume junk mail distributers with a side of certified legal mailings; but my interactions with postal personnel(especially in smaller markets) has always given me the impression that they take a certain pride in the fact that anyone can scrawl a vague reference to somewhere in Podunk on an envelope, slap on a stamp, and have it actually arrive at the correct slice of nowhere, courtesy of the postman who knows that area.

Fedex, on the other hand, you expect the barcodes and the little scanner/PDA widget.

As noted, it isn't obvious that this cultural orientation is a good fit for the position that the service finds itself in; but it has always struck me as an interesting phenomenon...

Re:In Soviet Russia (5, Informative)

sphealey (2855) | about 2 years ago | (#40053525)

Something like 99.7% of USPS mail is autosorted. There are three (IIRC on the number) centers were a few dozen human-type people view (remotely, from the regional sorting center) the 0.3% that doesn't autosort. Again IIRC those people are able to sort 99% of the remaining, usually within 10 seconds. The rest go to the dead mail office.

The pictures people have in their minds of USPS "inefficiency" are the way things were done in the 1950s; the USPS started automating in a big way in the 60s and funded a lot of research in machine vision and OCR in the 60s and 70s.

sPh

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053733)

Their bigger problem is that they're required to deliver letters for the same price no matter where in the US they're going and no matter where they're from. Which means that in some parts of the country they may have to use a plane or a helicopter or a horse to deliver the mail. What's more these are generally rural areas where the people are opposed to spending any tax payer dollars on anything.

As long as those leeches exist and keep "starving the beast" on things that benefit the people paying most of the taxes this sort of bullshit is going to happen.

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40054121)

You nailed it:

USPS cannot set service standards.
USPS cannot set prices.
USPS cannot set service areas.
USPS cannot own planes.
USPS cannot own trains.
USPS cannot own boats.
USPS cannot open or close processing plants.
USPS cannot lock out workers.
USPS is required to participate with non-competitive government benefit plans.
USPS is the just about the only entity in the entire US that has to prefund retiree health benefits (which, by the way, is a good idea, but puts them at a competitive disadvantage).
USPS is required to choose from suppliers specified by law.
USPS is forbidden from buying systems from certain international vendors that are already proven and in use by other systems.

Congress, or the Postal Regulatory Commission (setup by Congress) have their thumb on the entire system and refuse to allow them to modernize. The worst of the regulations keep them from being competitive in very profitable business lines - for example, next day deliveries. Since the USPS can't by law own air transport, they have to contract for it with a variety of carriers - most often FedEx. However, if FedEx doesn't have any capacity to sell today, the USPS is the first to be bumped, making packages late. So despite having bar none the best door-to-door delivery network in the world, they can't reliability deliver packages next day.

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40058375)

USPS is a private company with Congressionally mandated tax breaks. They get some tax dollars, mostly to subsidize free mail for the blind.

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40057027)

They pride themselves that they give reliable high quality service to all customers, even under difficult conditions. You're right, they're out of step with the times.

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

danheskett (178529) | about 2 years ago | (#40053249)

Well - all commercial mail DOES require a machine readable barcode.

Collection mail that is hand addressed (i.e. not courtesy reply or business reply) is a very small fraction of all processed mail. For that mail, OCR systems + remote encoding stations can very efficently barcode the mail.

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056671)

Actually, no. Commercial bulk mail gets most of its discount from pre-sorting. The POSTNET barcode has always just added an additional (and much smaller) discount to the bulk rate, but has never been required.

Starting in 2013 (though this date has been pushed back several times already) POSTNET is being phased out in favor of the "Intelligent Barcode" system, though I'm not sure if the barcode will actually become mandatory at that point or if POSTNET will just become invalid.

Re:In Soviet Russia (3, Informative)

optimism (2183618) | about 2 years ago | (#40053269)

Last I checked, machine recognition of handwritten zip codes was better than 99.5%.

That was about 5 years ago. Presumably it has improved since.

So, there is no need for special machine codes. They can read your writing as-is, or pass the rare piece of mail to a human sorter if the confidence margin is too low.

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40056907)

Handwriting has gone worse over the last five years.

Re:handwriting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40072219)

Handwriting has gone worse over the last five years.

I bet those post office hand sorters just love getting a piece of mail handwritten by any Doctor I've ever known.

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#40053533)

How is paper mail and/or the USSR relevant to anything in 2012?

In a shrinking economy ... (2, Insightful)

cdrguru (88047) | about 2 years ago | (#40053243)

We are certainly going to be seeing more of this. The problem is businesses have contracted for services based on at least things staying the same. We have five years now of shrinkage in the economy, jobs, everything. And it is going to continue down the same road.

A big part of the problem is expectations and perceptions. What really torpedoed the housing market was a perception that things were suddenly different. It made no difference whatsoever that a house valued at a million dollars one day hadn't changed in any way but the next day people were only willing to pay a half a million for the same house because of a perception that the housing market was crashing. This, obviously, led to a crash in most of the country. Yes, there was a possibility that people might default on some loans - and then because a lot of goods and services were no longer selling as they did a lot of people lost their jobs - and once again, perception became reality and people defaulted on loans after they lost their jobs.

Of course the Postal Service is going to try to weasel out from this contract for stuff they no longer need. They might get away with it, unlike most other businesses and individuals. A lot of the time a business will purchase equipment and hire people based on a contract that isn't really cancellable and often it is difficult to get out of those. Try signing up for a lawn service for five years and cancelling after the first year - you might get sued as well.

A far bigger problem is that there will be a ripple effect here. Northrop Grumman will fire a bunch of people that were supposed to be working on this. Then will in turn stop buying as much stuff leading to further contractions spreading out through the economy. It is what happens in a shrinking economy rather than a growing one. This has happened before, but the problem is this time there is no confidence that the government is capable of fixing things in any manner other than throwing money around like a drunken sailor. And rather than just a crisis of confidence, there is actually a great deal of confidence that things are just going to get worse and worse.

Re:In a shrinking economy ... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40054419)

It's not all gloom and doom, and maybe our economy needed a little contracting, but when you have one party opposed in lock step to anything that might fix things for purely ideological and "don't let the economy get better or they'll re-elect a black guy" reasons, this is what happens.

Some people's belief in government's ability to fix things, as opposed to abillity, is about the same as my lack of faith that corporations will ever have loyalty to their people or their country, or that CEOs will ever stop being sociopathic egomaniacs who care nothing but for themselves.

Re:In a shrinking economy ... (2)

Courageous (228506) | more than 2 years ago | (#40056879)

It wasn't just perception that killed the housing market. The homes were objectively over valued. Things like rental value to investment cost actually matter. The change in perception involved people waking up to that.

One of the Reasons for the Nosedive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40053265)

Our organization used to do a LOT of bulk mail.

The workers at the local bulk mail center became more and more rude, to the point where I started taking witnesses with me, just to document that I wasn't making this up. When they weren't being rude, they were just being impossible to work with, with management creating new rules and regulations to make it more difficult to send bulk mail.

This inspired us to push for digital communications with our customers. Even though our clientele aren't computer savvy, we've been working to educate them in the use of web sites, email, Facebook and texting. They don't get to see us at the bulk mail center nearly as often as they used to.

The U.S. Post Office's end has been coming for a while now, but they went out of their way to accelerate their own extinction.

Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any more. (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#40053277)

The previous generation of flat sorting machine. [youtube.com] The new flat sorting machine. [youtube.com] The mechanical problems of sorting large volumes of flats of varied size and thickness with flapping loose pages have finally been solved. But it doesn't matter. Putting ads on glossy paper and shipping them to people who don't really want them much is a dying industry.

The USPS really wants to get out of the deal for the flat sorting system, because the flats business (mostly catalogs and magazines) is declining. Mail volume overall peaked in 2006, and has been in a screaming dive [usps.com] since then. The USPS doesn't need a new generation of flat sorting machinery. But the USPS signed a firm fixed-price contract for the gear, and they're stuck with it.

Paper mail, as a business, is tanking. [usps.com] "We forecast U.S. postal volumes to decrease from 177B pieces in 2009 to around 150B pieces in 2020 under business-as-usual assumptions. Notably, volumes will not revisit the high-water-mark of 213B pieces in 2006 -- on the contrary, the trajectory for the next 10 years is one of steady decline, which will not reverse even as the current recession abates. Expressing the decline in terms of pieces per delivery point highlights the challenge: we project pieces per household per day to fall from four pieces today to three in 2020 -- driven by decreasing volumes delivered to an increasing number of addresses." That's the optimistic scenario - recession over in 2012, no "Do Not Mail" bulk mail opt-out legislation. It's also from a 2010 study that didn't really consider the move to smartphones.

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (4, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#40053433)

Paper mail, as a business, is tanking.

And yet parcel (package) mail volume is increasing.
The funny thing is that UPS makes more money than everyone else in the package business combined,
but for rural deliveries, they (and FedEx) farm out the packages to USPS because it would cost to much to deliver it themselves.

That said, the United States Postal Service isn't really in financial trouble.
Their problem mostly has to do with a bad law that forces them to devote enormous amounts of cash to prefund pension plans [wikipedia.org]

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (1)

sphealey (2855) | about 2 years ago | (#40053543)

= = = That said, the United States Postal Service isn't really in financial trouble.
Their problem mostly has to do with a bad law that forces them to devote enormous amounts of cash to prefund pension plans [wikipedia.org] = = =

Excellent point.

sPh

Look past the artifice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40054105)

Oh, the horror! A semi-government agency is forced to prefund pension liabilities like the government requires private industry to do for those types of pension plans? How absurdly unfair to require the same standards for government-related agencies as for private industry!

Of course, aside from the ironically amusing complaints they have about this requirement, the sad fact is that the government is looting the USPS pension by taking their money and promising to guarantee it with the full faith and credit of the US government. You know, like the promises by the Federal government to repay the special issues that comprise the Social Security Trust Fund.

...then Congress uses the USPS money to reduce the deficit. Which, after all, is why they forced the USPS to surrender the money to them in the first place. It never was about fiscal responsibility, it's about asset stripping and replacing valuable assets with worthless, unfulfillable promissory notes.

Re:Look past the artifice. (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#40063451)

AFAIK private industry is not required to pre-fund pension plans. That is one of the competitive disadvantages against the USPS. (IMHO pension plans, if offered, should be pre-funded, and not 'owned' by the company so they can't be raided, and not funded by the company's own stock. But that's another topic.) See a comment higher up for the list of things that USPS is not allowed to do by Congress - including setting rates, and other things that other companies can do.

Re:Look past the artifice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40070657)

Private industry is required to prefund pensions, but not retiree health care (which USPS is required to do).

At least, per PolitiFact [politifact.com] :

By federal law, private companies must fund their pensions fully, and catch up over time if they fall behind. They don’t have to prefund retiree health benefits.

So, the claims about how unfair this is to the USPS are very ironic, given that they are being similarly "hobbled" the way government hobbles private industry.

That said, I think it's egregious to *not* prefund pension liabilities. But hypocrisy and meddling is the nature of government, so there's not much to be done about Congress asset-stripping the USPS in the ironic name of fiscal responsibility.

Re:Look past the artifice. (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 2 years ago | (#40120067)

Agreed. I'd go a step further and require any pension to be defined-contribution as well - so that offers are strictly comparable.

I'm not a big fan of deferred pay in general - it is WAY too open to abuse, and I've seen firsthand the problems that arise when companies imply that workers are earning some benefit only to yank it away from them.

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 2 years ago | (#40054601)

And yet parcel (package) mail volume is increasing.
The funny thing is that UPS makes more money than everyone else in the package business combined,
but for rural deliveries, they (and FedEx) farm out the packages to USPS because it would cost to much to deliver it themselves.

I suppose that it largely depends on how exactly you're shipping things, what you're shipping, and where you're sending it.

In certain parts of the country, FedEx is the only way to go. In rural NE and SD, for example, I know FedEx will stop/drive by 2, 3 times a day. By 'rural' I mean anything from a couple dozen people per square mile (or less) to small towns to cities of 150-200k people.

In these places, UPS is the one that's more likely to do things like leave the packages at the local gas station (also the post office), and not bother even trying to deliver it (no wonder it's cheaper). I have had FedEx drop off several packages and then pick up at the end of the day, with the same driver. You won't get anything like that with UPS. If you want to ship something big and/or heavy, FedEx is the only way to do it with any expectation that it'll be handled well (with normal bulk rate or freight rates).

In my experience, they each excel at different things.

* UPS is good at small parcel post (letters and the like). If timeliness isn't an issue and cost is the perogative, and it's not easily broken, go for it. Most likely to read "Fragile" to mean "Step On and/or Break".
* FedEx is best at big things (eg. larger than a breadbox). They handle things the best, in my experience. If you need it timely, it'll be there, but it might also cost you. I've gotten things which couldn't have been delivered faster if someone had left for the airport to travel to me with them on a commercial flight - just ridiculously fast. It's the only way I'll ship sensitive equipment.
* USPS is the cheapest and most secure way to get something from overseas, ironically. Don't do it with anything fragile. Sometimes, you wonder if they're still using the Pony Express for some legs of the delivery.

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055509)

Paper mail, as a business, is tanking.

And yet parcel (package) mail volume is increasing.
The funny thing is that UPS makes more money than everyone else in the package business combined,
but for rural deliveries, they (and FedEx) farm out the packages to USPS because it would cost to much to deliver it themselves.

That said, the United States Postal Service isn't really in financial trouble.
Their problem mostly has to do with a bad law that forces them to devote enormous amounts of cash to prefund pension plans

Actually, they are forced to prepay 75 years of health pension benefit in the next 10 years [ieee.org] . Look at the pretty charts and you'll see the massive losses only started happening after the law was passed - before that they were doing fairly well - no big profits, no big losses, basically self-sufficient.

Even worse, they're prepaying health benefits for people who haven't joined USPS yet. Imagine paying for employee pensions for those who aren't even employees yet.

Define makes (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055615)

ups revenue 53 billion

USPS annual budget 70 billion
fedex 39.3 billion
dhl 65 billion in annual sales

I believe your link/assertion re the pension plans-- I think some law makers are trying to break the back of USPS-- but I disagree with your claim re ups marketshare...

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (2)

waferbuster (580266) | more than 2 years ago | (#40054323)

I get probably 5 pieces of actual mail per month (bills, statements, etc). When I moved into my new house 6 months ago, I was getting about 8 bulk mailing pieces per day. I used every available opt-out method to avoid getting this junk mail delivered, and now I get maybe 2 or 3 pieces of junk mail per week. Overall, opting out has dramatically reduced the amount of bulk mail I receive. The important part is how easy it was to opt-out. I spent maybe 2 hours on various websites filling out basic forms. Now, when I get a spam mail, I try to opt-out from it online (google is my friend). Usually I can find a site or phone number to get my name removed from their mailing list.

If the Post Office business model depends on people being willing to accept bulk advertising as an unavoidable nuisance, then their business is in trouble. If opt-out laws get passed, then it'll really put a dent in their profits. I hate spam, and I don't care if it's on paper or electronic. If I can avoid it, I will.

Re:Here's the hardware. But it's not needed any mo (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#40063467)

A decade or two ago I read about a guy who lived out in the boonies, and for some reason couldn't get or afford firewood one year. So he subscribed to every junk mail and catalog he could get, and used that in his wood stove. Stayed warm all winter, and helped support USPS! :D

Just Say No? (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | about 2 years ago | (#40053939)

I'm not saying this is a good policy, but doesn't the United States government reserve the right to decline any lawsuit filed against it in the United States?

Re:Just Say No? (1)

Rudolf (43885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40054439)

I'm not saying this is a good policy, but doesn't the United States government reserve the right to decline any lawsuit filed against it in the United States?

Yes, it's called Soverign Immunity. The U.S. government waives immunity in some cases, and possibly the contract with Grumman includes a clause that allows either party to sue for breach of contract. Also, the post office is not entirely part of the government any more, so it may not even have soverign immunity.

This Wikipedia article has more detail.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_immunity_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]

Re:Just Say No? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40054705)

According to that Wiki entry, under the Tucker Act, the US Government does not have immunity from suits regarding commercial contracts, so the US government is not protected from suit. NG's case will likely make it to court, and then its a coin toss.

CAPTCHA: meddled

Fixed-price contract YES. (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055461)

I don't care about the details of the lawsuit, the courts can sort it out. What I like is that the USPS had the foresight to sign a fixed-price contract with a major federal contractor. Northrup Grumman, Lockheed, General Dynamics and friends are in the business of navigating federal bureaucracy and milking it for every last over-budget dollar.

Three cheers for USPS for drawing a line in the sand.

Military contractor for the USPS? (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 2 years ago | (#40055523)

By the way, if you're surprised to see an aerospace company providing mail sorting services to the USPS, you misunderstand what Northrup Grumman, Lockheed, General Dynamics, and Boeing are. They're not really aerospace companies, they're federal government contracting companies. Their primary expertise is in navigating the federal bureaucracy, attaching a money hose to it, and pumping it dry. That includes both admirable and unethical skills: they've got a ton of experience with the reams of required federal paperwork, but also cozy relationships with congress.

But they provide all kinds of non-defense services to the federal government. For instance, Lockheed operates the US Antarctic bases for the NSF.

Re:Military contractor for the USPS? (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#40063493)

+1. Most folks don't realize what a PITA it is to work on a government contract. It affects every element of your business, so for most companies it is just not worth doing. This becomes an effective 'barrier to entry', so those companies that are tuned and structured to work for the government can price things in a much less competitive way. And that tuning and structuring does have a significant cost, so things are more expensive to produce.

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