From 1995: Marvin Runyon on what the USPS would look like in 2010

As the US Postal Service once again tries to chart its future in an ever-changing market, let’s see how a previous Postmaster General envisioned the future of the USPS:

Jan. 26, 2010 – Timothy Jackson looked out the window of his home in western New York and decided the blizzard would force him to stay home. He knew, however, he had to finalize and mail a proposal to a key client.

Thus begins Marvin Runyon’s brief 1995 essay in Insight Magazine describing what the US Postal Service would look like in 2010. I’m sure Runyon hoped his piece would show what a forward looking, innovative organization he had turned the USPS into. Unfortunately, it served instead to show how out of touch he was with the changes that were already taking place:

With a few additional keystrokes, he electronically accessed his business post office. He had 37 pieces of hard-copy mail in the post-office box. A quick electronic scan identified six as reply envelopes that typically brought him remittances; another three were hard copies of E-mail his staff had sent the day before.

I’m not exactly sure why you would have your staff mail hard copies of emails to you, but I suspect Runyon was the kind of old-school executive who never actually used a computer, but had his secretary print out emails for him to read- so it probably made sense to him.

Runyon then goes on to give an odd description of how his imaginary 2010 customer’s computer would communicate with him:

His computer winked and chirped, and he saw exactly what and how to get his message into the postal system.  He printed the screen and jotted down the name and digicell phone number of a post-office representative in case he should have any questions or need technical assistance. His confidence and comfort level were high as he turned back to the spreadsheets and qualifying forms.

Winking and chirping aside, Insight readers were quick to point out that the services and technologies Runyon promised for 2010 were already available to anyone with an Internet connection. One wrote:

I won’t need the help of the Postal Service in 2010 to do what I already can do today.

Another wrote that Runyon “simply confirmed how out of touch government bureaucrats can be”. (While true, it seems that the writer was unaware of Runyon’s history as a successful auto industry executive, who had previously been brought in to reform the Tennessee Valley Authority by none other than Ronald Reagan!)

Some of Runyon’s other predictions have failed to materialize- “Post-office lines will be a thing of the past”, and “Consumers… will access their local post office electronically and even determine when their letter carrier will bring the mail.”

In fact, there’s really only one innovation predicted by Runyon that has come true.

Self-stick stamps.

Let’s hope the current crew at L’Enfant Plaza are better fortune tellers than Carvin’ Marvin was…

  • M. Jamison

    Actually Mr. Runyon had at least the inkling of a vision that would have served the current Postal Service quite well. He saw the Postal Service integrating itself with the changing technologies that would have maintained its relevance. Developing the electronic mailbox may have given the Postal Service a greater role in providing services to late and poor adopters of the internet. There is room for an electronic bill presentment and payment system that takes money orders into the next generation and provides important access and integration for those who cannot or will not participate in electronic banking.
    I suppose there are some who would argue against that idea as merely a duplication of commercial services but then that was probably an argument against the introduction of parcel post. There is a last mile role the Postal Service can fill within the areas of electronic communications.
    Mr. Runyon had a good many faults but he did articulate a vision of the Postal Service reinventing itself in ways that recognized its ongoing importance while acknowledging the need to develop products and services that maintained its relevance and economic viability.

  • common sense

    We’ve got lots of empty suits who know how to “articulate a vision”- what we need is executives who can set goals and then actually accomplish them. Runyon was talking about getting electronically notified of (on paper) remittances years after companies like Checkfree had already started providing instant electronic payments! And if you don’t want to “participate in electronic banking”, the USPS already provides all the tools you need: stamps, envelopes and money orders. That is not exactly a growth market.
    The comparison to parcel post is apt, but when PP was introduced, it was popular enough with rural voters that the special interests weren’t able to block it. There was no clear incentive for politicians to “allow” the USPS to get into electronic presentment and payment when the banks considered it unfair competition. And at any rate, a USPS system would long ago have become obsolete, just as Checkfree did. (And what “last mile role” is there in electronic bill presentment and payment?)
    So I’d say Marvin’s “vision” was pretty cloudy.

  • crazy

    Haven’t been on postalnews for a few weeks. I don’t know why I gave in to the temptation to come back today. The news gets worse every day. The USPS making terrible decisions to destroy service while Congress does nothing to help, even though the USPS has been a cash cow for the government for many years. Most in Congress aren’t doing anything because elections are coming up and they don’t want to lose their cushy, overpaid and overcompensated positions. Beginning to wonder if the USPS will survive all this mess, even though it has been and can continue to be a viable part of our country. Enough said. Hopefully I won’t give in to the temptation to come back again.

  • cpttuna

    There are 3 kinds of people:those that make things happen;those that cause things to happen;and those that don’t know what the hell is going on.

  • jo

    Mr. Runyon knew back then that a major problem was that there were far too many in management with much too much downtime.We of coarse knew that and were very dissapointed that his observation could not translate into the remedies that were needed.Now the chickens have come home to roost.

  • John McCloskey

    It is a shame that we still have individuals in the Postal Service that have the same ability to think as Mr. Runyon and others that don’t care and won’t do anything about it.

  • William

    Declining 1st class mail volume not withstanding, the 2006 PAEA law passed by the Republican controlled congress and Republican President was the impetus here. Forcing the USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year for ten years to PRE-fund 75 years worth of the USPS’s portion of the retiree’s health insurance was designed to cover the Republican’s tracks if they were able to stay in power long enough and turn over the entire USPS infrastructure for free to a private company. With that and the overfunding of the pension system, if they completed the privatization they could’ve appeased all the opposition by saying that the existing employees who were laid off and/or forced to retire would be taken care of because there was plenty of money put aside for their health care and their pensions and “no one” would suffer. The Republicans lost control of both Houses in 2007 but the Dems didn’t have the aggies to repeal the PAEA Law and now the Republicans took back only the House in 2011 and now there is gridlock on this issue and nothing will get done and We the People will have to suffer. Private companies will only deliver where and when they can make a profit. Try to find the multiple airlines that fly to Fargo ND.

    By-the-way, for all those that want ot condemn the Gov’t pensions, I’ve been informed that, because USPS and all other Federal employees hired after 1984 are not Civil service anymore, the average Postal Pension is now only about $15k-16.5k a year after 30 years service (except the executives) Not exactly exhorbitant. Not a lot to live off of unless you live in a nice low cost state like Ala., Miss., or Ark. The average retiree nowadays needs at least $2000 a mo.; $1000 rent for a little apt. and the other $1000 to pay every other bill. And that’s a conservative estimate and a very meager lifestyle.
    Unlike Congressmen and Senators who only have to serve 6 years in congress and he/she will get at least $20k a year when they “retire” or they can get a hell of a lot more if they stay in office longer. After this guy Postmaster General Donahoe kills the USPS and then retires he’ll make more per year as a retiree than any of his employees ever made as a worker. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Crony capitalism at its best.

  • corruptioncentral

    Too many unqualified people standing around doing nothing! As another person has stated many times “ONE GIGANTIC FRAUD”

  • just the postman

    i came into service in 1995. runyon was the the outgoing PG at the time. i can’t name all those who came after. simply because i never really cared due to that the fact that NONE of them have ever really impressed me and tried to make the place i work for better. can anyone name a former PG?? i can only think of henderson to be honest. at least he made the deal with fedex and ups. some dude named jack comes to mind and now dona-who??

    at least runyon got one thing right. if you don’t “touch” or “move” the mail then you don’t have any reason to be employed by the usps!

    things get real stupid when a ton of managers get paid to do absolutely NOTHING! same goes for our UNION leaders! you all want a “paycheck”…..but DO NOTHING AND I REPEAT NOTHING TO EARN/WORK FOR IT!!

    i get the mail delivered….what do you do??

    • common sense

      “at least runyon got one thing right. if you don’t “touch” or “move” the mail then you don’t have any reason to be employed by the usps! “

      I was wondering when someone would dig up that old chestnut! Actually, Just, that would save the USPS tons of money, since none of the people who do “touch the mail” would get paid, or have vehicles, or buildings to work in. The fact is that there are a lot of people who never touch the mail who are just as important as you seem to think you are. Are there empty suits occupying space in offices? Absolutely! But there are also a lot of people who work to provide you with the tools you need to do your job, and also make sure you get a paycheck. And Runyon never said that people who don’t “touch the mail” have no business in the USPS- even he wasn’t that stupid. What he said was that those kinds of jobs had to be justified. With volumes dropping the way they have been lately, EVERY job has to be justified. The fact that you “touch the mail” doesn’t justify your job- if you can’t do it efficiently, or there simply isn’t enough work for you, you should be let go.