FOR years the butt of jokes, the Postal Service is taking...

Salmagundi

December 14, 1993

FOR years the butt of jokes, the Postal Service is taking steps to become more efficient by turning to automation. The plan is to bar-code mail, leaving the sorting to computers. As a result, the number of errors and workers should greatly decrease.

Two years ago, the Postal Service embarked on this plan, which calls for fully automating the country's mail by 1995. The end result: 40 percent of the mail will be bar-coded by customers, 40 percent within the Post Offices, and 20 percent bar-coded by systems designed for incomplete addresses. The program is expected to eliminate at least 100,000 jobs, out of 700,000 career workers.

The Postal Service has made considerable progress in recent years. Today, 43 percent of letter mail and 50 percent of commercial mail is bar-coded. However, the systems for bar-coding incomplete addresses are behind schedule due to union arbitration.

The agency's central goal is to lower overhead costs. The biggest cost is labor, which accounts for 83 percent, or $39 billion, of the total Postal Service budget.

Automation will greatly reduce the number of workers needed to sort the mail and similarly lower labor costs. Last year, the plan saved $1 billion and is expected to save $2 billion annually by 1995.

Maybe by then, we won't have to worry about higher postal rates every few years.

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