Postmaster general on way out

Postmaster General William Henderson plans to step down in May after three years as the head of the U.S. Postal Service.

Henderson, 53, presides over a massive half-public, half-private agency that is operating at a loss and faces increasing competition from e-mail, electronic funds transfers and commercial package delivery services.

After losing $200 million in 2000, the Postal Service boosted postage rates this month, but its economic future remains uncertain. In a report last fall, Henderson said substitution of e-mail and electronic bill-paying for traditional first-class mail is making it increasingly difficult for the Postal Service to meet the requirement that it remain financially self-sufficient.

During his tenure, Henderson "has done quite a bit to try to help the Postal Service adjust its products, offerings and business model to accommodate the greater competition" in mail delivery, where it traditionally has had a monopoly, said William Kovacic, a postal expert and law professor at George Washington University.

Henderson has conducted promising experiments to incorporate the Internet and electronic transmissions into the postal system, Kovacic said. They include transmitting messages electronically to printers near the point of delivery, where they are printed and delivered, electronic billing and bill-paying and certified e-mail.

Henderson's chief accomplishments have included encouraging a "more entrepreneurial culture" at the mail agency. He "encouraged the top Postal Service management to think of itself more as a competitive enterprise and less as public utility," Kovacic said.

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