The Washington Post

Google execs, tech experts focus on future of Postal Service

A postal employee sorts mail at the Southern Maryland Postal Facility in Capitol Heights, Md. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

As mail volume continues to plummet and more Americans use the Internet to pay bills and keep in touch, Google executives, social media experts and some of the most passionate tech evangelists are planning to meet in Crystal City in mid-June to sort out how to save and remake the nation’s mail delivery service.

The conference, PostalVision 2020, is designed to bring together “the people who understand what this technology has done, is doing and will do to digital commerce and communication in America,” according to John Callan, a longtime mailing industry consultant organizing the meeting.

Callan said he’s inviting the officials normally involved in conversations about the Postal Service’s future — USPS executives, postal regulators, mailing industry bosses and lawmakers — but he wants most of the day to focus on longer-term ideas generated by outsiders.

“This isn’t about solving the current problems,” Callan said Wednesday, crediting Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe for focusing on “fighting the fires they have currently.”

“All they can do is focus on this year first, let alone the next couple of years,” Callan said. “I think we need to stage a serious conversation about the future, so that the folks on the Hill can understand what’s going on and those of us in the postal industry can learn how we would do something differently.”

USPS anticipates losing about $7 billion during the fiscal year that ends in September and is in the process of eliminating 7,500 postmaster and administrative positions to save money.

The conference is scheduled to hear from Vint Cerf , Google’s “chief internet evangelist,” and Jeff Jarvis , who writes the popular blog and is an associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has written and blogged several times about whether or not the nation still needs a national mail delivery service.

“If it can be digital, it will be digital; letters and transactions on paper will die quickly; physical media isn’t far behind,” Jarvis said in an e-mail. “So where do we stand then?”

Through a spokesman, Cerf confirmed he plans to attend the conference, but wouldn’t comment further.

Postal executives are also invited, according to Callan, but a USPS spokesman couldn’t confirm who was invited or might plan to attend.

Ruth Goldway , chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, is also slated to speak at the conference. Her panel has approved plans for the Postal Service to begin testing the sale of retail gift cards at some post offices in an effort to raise new revenue.

But the commission said Monday it is concerned with Postal Service plans to close thousands of post offices in the coming years, because the plans lack an adequate way to inform customers about possible closings and of their right to appeal such decisions to the regulatory commission. The panel is also concerned that the Postal Service hasn’t carefully studied the cost and impact of closing post offices.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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