Archive for November, 2009

The Unitary Executive and Climate Change

November 11th

To point out that the President of the U.S. has become critical to many public policy debates (especially Climate Change) would seem to be gratuitous in these times.  But we have come upon an obscure set of anniversaries and its useful to recognize, before Copenhagen, how tenuous progress on Climate Change has been.  Now we seem to be moving on one of the profound historical shifts of our times and it all turns on Barack Obama.

Only three years ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which Massachusetts and 12 other states sought to require the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases.  In February of 2007, Al Gore’s documentary, an Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar.  On April 2nd 2007 in a 5-4 vote the Court agreed that Massachusetts did have standing to bring the case.

Justice Roberts argued on behalf of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and himself that the President should be allowed to execute the laws.  (Of course there is some irony here since the dispute was about whether the President should be required to act to execute the law.)  The Bush Administration had argued that EPA should not be required to regulate automobile emissions because the science was unclear and it had a much broader program of voluntary compliance, incentives and research.  Conservatives argue that the Executive Branch should be free to devise its own strategies and to negotiate with the less developed countries without interference from the Courts and the Legislative Branch (hence the Unitary Executive).

Of course that was then, and this is now.  Last November, long before he was sworn in as the 44th President of the U.S., Barack Obama declared that there was no longer any debate, the science was clear.  He declared that during his Administration the US would become a world leader on Climate Change Policy.  President Obama has done many things in the ensuring year to demonstrate that he was serious.  But now he goes to China and then to Scandinavia in December.   The ball is in his hands.

And the science was clear, but the economics?  The Climate Change aficionados have been saying that the recession has given us some breathing room.  But not much.  Today the International Energy Agency forecasts that the demand for electricity (by 2030) that will be generated by coal unless something happens to change things, this will require the equivalent of 5 times the amount currently consumed by the entire US.

More than half of that coal generation will come from China.  Much of the balance will come from the Less Developed Countries.   By 2030 the world will be looking back to this time when the direction changed, indeed pivoted on one Unitary Executive in a very short period of time.

IEA Report

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Testimony on Capitol HIll

November 5th

Today I testified on revenue generating opportunities and the future of the U.S. Postal Service before the Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is concerned with the Postal Service.  See Testimony PDF

Overall, my argument was that the Postal Service and the mailing community can become a source of innovation that is an engine for creating new postal revenue through the creation of  public private partnerships.

To make the Postal Service viable will require making mail relevant to future customers.  This will mean connecting hard copy mail with the Internet so that it can play a key role in a multichannel marketplace.

But the new revenue for the public postal service is not going to come from making the USPS into an Internet services provider.  If that was ever an option, its time to say “that was then, this is now.”  Fortunately there are a number key opportunities for the USPS to create new revenue and new mail by creating partnerships with private firms. I describe three broad concepts – Enabling the Last Mile, Extending Democracy’s Reach and Promoting Green Routes.

Some highlights include:

By enabling the last mile I refer to the many opportunities that exist for putting technology in the hands of the Letter Carrier, in other words, on the doorstep of the mailing consumer.  One of the areas of greatest interest to mailers has been wanting to know where their mail is while its on route to its destination.  The USPS has been seen as a black hole compared with FedEx and UPS who have invested billions of dollars to enable their higher end services to “track and trace” and much more.

In addition, I argue that

A second broad theme that Chairman Ruth Goldway in particular has championed has been Vote by Mail.  The Postal Service can do this and provide many other government services as well.

Third, there are opportunities for the Postal Service to again serve the nation by carrying parcels that today cause three and four trucks to travel the same route.  We can reduce carbon emissions by creating Green Postal Routes.

What is needed is to create a pathway that connects the challenged Postal Service of today with a viable business model of the future.  The broad framework should be a public policy framework that encourages public private partnerships as the postal reform law of (’06) and the President’s Commission on the Postal Service (’03) proposed.

The details of new services to customers will depend on the trials and tests and an innovation platform that has yet to be invented.

The coming years could be an exciting time of transformation or they could be a train wreck.  The difference will be whether there is clear public policy guidance that can define the creative balance between what should be public and postal and what should be a public private partnership.

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Postal Implosion?

November 4th

The talk of the need for new business models is increasingly common.  Harpers runs an article on the end of newspapers.   When Berkshire Hathaway buys the Burlington Northern Railroad for $34 billion Warren Buffet says that he is “placing a bet” on the future of the American economy.  General Motors is reportedly angering German workers.  (Does it become a foreign policy dispute when the US government owns the company?)

The talk of new business models is a common discussion in the mailing industry.  For years now there has been discussion of Snail Mail making the posts into Dinosaurs of the Information Age.  Seeing the context of the discussion adds a dark shadow to the picture.

But speculation is one thing, and a trail of ominous markings is another…from comes a series of indications along the pathway.

First, the report that next year’s projection by the postal service is lower than this year’s volume.

The PostalNewsBlog has reported that “The resident officers met with Deputy Postmaster General Pat Donahoe on Wednesday, October 28, 2009, along with representatives from NAPUS and the LEAGUE of Postmasters concerning several issues that had been raised in prior meetings with the Postal Service. DPMG Donahoe briefed us on some of the current issues; The USPS projects that the plan for volume for 2010 is 166 billion pieces. The first month of the fiscal year the volume did not meet the projections.

In Great Britain, where there is a postal strike taking place

According to The Telegraph, “Thousands of people have started to use telegrams – one of the earliest forms of long distance communication – for their urgent messages as the national postal strike deepens.”

During the postal strike in Great Britain, talk of privatization has increased

According to the Financial Times, “Royal Mail is more than a commercial brand. It is a relic of imperial glory, a UK institution that, even under assault from e-mail and private competition, connects every home by means of six-day delivery of letters at a standard price. Yet in spite of the residual affection for it, attitudes to Royal Mail and its future seem confused. According to one poll, two-thirds of people oppose the current strikes. Yet in another, twice as many sympathised with the workers as with the management. Sixty-eight per cent were against privatisation.

For more than a decade there has been discussion of the problems of the Postal Pervice in an Internet Age.  But many have taken comfort from the thought that the 230 year old institution seemed too big to fail.

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November 2nd

Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the Management Summit in Monteray.  Eric, for the uninitiated and those who come from another planet, is the Chairman and CEO of Google.

I was impressed by Eric Schmidt’s sense of reality.  He may be the CEO of a company that is reshaping the world of advertising communications, but he points out that since the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, still own 60% of the company between them – there is really not much of a question of who is working for whom.  Good to start with a sense of reality to make the source credible.

And, with that credibility, Eric has a great deal to say about doing business in the modern marketplace.

He concludes that one of the great opportunities that we all have today is to put what we are thinking “out there” to start the process of collaboration.

Collaboration is a topic that has been getting growing attention.  Firms like McKinsey & Co.  and IBM have been studying the collaboration technologies of Web 2.0 for a number of years now.  In a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly (“Using Technology to Improve Workforce Collaboration,   James Manyika, Kara Sprague and Lareina Yee) the authors wrote

Knowledge workers fuel innovation and growth, yet the nature of knowledge work remains poorly understood—as do the ways to improve its effectiveness. The heart of what knowledge workers do on the job is collaborate, which in the broadest terms means they interact to solve problems, serve customers, engage with partners, and nurture new ideas. See McKinsey Quarterly.

One of my leading personal motivations for putting what the consulting firms refer to as their “IC” out there is the amazement of learning who else is out there.  I have a personal favorite experience of reaching some INSIGHT that I think is particularly meaningful.  Then because the Internet is moving at accelerating speed, I learn, often within 40 minutes of having reached the plateau that someone else somewhere in the world has been working on the problem for months, even years.  There are times that Wikipedia informs me that I have just made a discovery that is an elementary part of an entire field of study that has been developing for years.

Perhaps this would be sufficient motivation for the series that begins with “IC-1-09.”

Or possibly it was the sense that its not just about putting something new “out there” but also the recognition that if you hold onto it too long, if you give it too much thought, that the good new thinking can go in the wrong direction.  (My editor son put it more economically when he told me that something that I had written was sounding a little “unibomberish” – as if I had been cooped up in a cabin in the woods thinking about it too long without testing it with real people.)

In other words, whether its the nature of things in the knowledge workplace that we will all want to learn how to be more effective collaborators, the opportunity to learn new things and to contribute or whether its for my own good – the start of the IC series was born somewhere between Eric Schmidt and the Unibomber.

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