If the postal service can't beat its opponents, the next best thing might be joining forces. This has already begun in a limited way. Last year, 7 percent of USPS shipping revenues came from the "parcel select" program, in which FedEx, UPS, and other couriers handle packages, with the USPS handling the "last mile" of packages' journeys to customers' doors. The post office says that the program is growing by 20 percent each year.
In Callan's opinion, even bigger growth could be the key to survival. "The postal service could do a lot less and partner a lot more with the private sector," he says.
More Ads in the Mailbox
According to its five-year plan, the USPS thinks that direct mail—in which businesses circulate advertising to selected neighborhoods—could potentially be a chief area of future revenue growth. "If I'm a pizza shop and I want a menu to everyone in my neighborhood, I can bring it to the postal service, and [the mail carrier will] drop the piece off at everybody's door," explains Gary Reblin, vice president of domestic products for the USPS. The program will mean fuller mailboxes and, the USPS hopes, fuller coffers.