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A Framework for Considering the Social Value of Postal Services

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Document date: February 02, 2010
Released online: May 24, 2010

Abstract

The objective of this study, commissioned by the Postal Regulatory Commission, was to identify the array of benefits provided by the United States Postal Service—through its mail service and post offices—that contribute to the social value of the post. We provide a framework that categorizes benefits, beneficiaries, and measures. We also identify possible metrics and methods for estimating the value of these benefits. Research in community and economic development supports the concept of post offices as community assets and of the value of social connectedness and civic engagement, two social benefits frequently associated with postal services. This study provides an organizing scheme for detailed analysis and quantification in the future.


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Introduction

Mail use in this country has changed dramatically with increased electronic communications, bill paying, and banking. Steep declines in mail volume and revenue challenge the financial condition of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS 2009f). Yet, the Postal Service's Universal Service Obligation requires the provision of postal services that meet standards for geographic scope, range of products, access to services and facilities, delivery frequency, affordable and uniform pricing, service quality, and security of the mail (PRC 2008b). While a universally available place-based paper mail service could seem to some like an anachronism in the electronic age, there are many social benefits to universal postal service for individuals, communities, and the nation.

The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the successor to the Postal Rate Commission, is an independent agency that exercises regulatory oversight over the Postal Service, which was created by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) enacted on December 20, 2006, significantly strengthened the Commission's authority and expands its oversight responsibilities to include annual determination of Postal Service compliance with applicable laws, review of the Universal Service requirement, and assurance of transparency through periodic reports. In the context of these responsibilities, the PRC contracted with the Urban Institute1 to assist in outlining the various issues and metrics necessary to measure the social value of the post and the universal service obligation as well as the various non-postal functions performed by the Postal Service.

This project is a first step in documenting a comprehensive matrix of social benefits and providing an organizing scheme that will facilitate more detailed analysis and quantification of these benefits in the future.

Taking a broad view of potential benefits, this project included a scan of key information sources and interviews with knowledgeable informants, including those specifically focused on postal services, as well as potentially applicable research on community and economic development, community assets, and measurement of social value. This report uses that information to present a comprehensive list of benefits and a framework for identifying, categorizing, and documenting those benefits. The next section of this report presents additional background for the study and explains the concept of social value as applied in this study. Section III presents a series of matrices illustrating the benefits identified and a classification framework. Section IV provides additional information on measurement of social value, and Section V suggests steps for further research. Appendices include a list of individuals interviewed for this study and a bibliography.

(End of excerpt. The full report is available in PDF format.)



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