Study eyes 'hybrid' postal service

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WASHINGTON — As members of Congress pledged Thursday to revive legislation to save the financially ailing U.S. Postal Service, a Washington think tank announced it will conduct an independent study of how the quasi-government agency could cede much of its operation to private companies.

The review by the nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration will analyze the benefits of restoring the agency’s financial health by using a “hybrid” model, which would farm out to the private sector postal operations other than the last delivery mile. A letter carrier would still drive or walk that last part, dropping letters and packages in mailboxes.

“Just as private companies innovate and share supply chains in high-tech, automobile, and other industries today, the market will drive efficiencies in the postal network,” a group of privatization advocates wrote in a short paper previewing the deeper review.

The study is likely to bring more attention to a public-private model as a viable — and controversial — substitute for the Postal Service’s existing structure, which relies on a unionized workforce of more than 650,000 employees to sort, package, transport and deliver the mail. With first-class mail volume plummeting as Americans conduct more business and communications through the Internet, the Postal Service lost $16 billion in fiscal 2012.

The idea of taking postal operations private is popular in conservative circles but will be a non-starter in others. It is staunchly opposed by congressional Democrats and postal unions, which stand to lose tens of thousands of members.

The Postal Service declined to comment on the study.

The study is being underwritten by Pitney Bowes, a Connecticut company that makes postage meters, shipping software and other equipment for business mailers.

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