New postmaster general selected

The U.S. Postal Service has picked a career employee to be the next postmaster general and confront the agency's woes, including a possible $2.5 billion deficit, rising fuel costs and growing competition from private delivery services and the Internet.

John "Jack" Potter was announced Monday as the Postal Service Board of Governors' choice to replace William Henderson, who is stepping down as postmaster general at the end of the month.

"We are going through some rough economic times right now," Potter conceded Monday, "but we have been through challenging times in the past." Potter said he is committed to continuing "affordable universal service" to all U.S. addresses.

"I see a bright future for the mail and for the United States Postal Service," Potter said.

A 23-year postal employee, Potter has been the Postal Service's chief operating officer and executive vice president since October. He has worked for the Postal Service since 1978, when be was a part-time clerk in Westchester, N.Y.

Two recent postal rate hikes and rising deficit projections focused attention on the selection of a new postmaster general. A coalition of commercial postal customers last week blamed the Postal Service's problems on "a crisis in postal management."

The group, calling itself the Main Street Coalition for Postal Fairness, charged that "postal management has lost its way through the changing communication landscape." The coalition criticized new Postal Service business ventures, such as an online bill-paying service and other e-commerce endeavors as "costly misadventures."

"Like a business lost in Internet Alley, it's time for the USPS to return to fundamentals," the coalition wrote.

Coalition members complain that the e-commerce ventures compete unfairly with commercial businesses and, because they do not yet make money, must be supported through rising postal rates.

But Postal Service officials say tapping the Internet is essential for the Postal Service's long-term survival. "It takes a while to grow some of these" businesses, said spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp. The Postal Service's electronic billing and payment service, eBillPay, does not make money now, "but we expect the market to be there" eventually, and it is important to be positioned to profit from it when it is, Kreienkamp said.

To the critics who say the Postal Service should stick to delivering the mail, Kreienkamp argues that's what services like eBillPay do. "The Internet is a different delivery system," he said, noting that for more than two centuries, the Postal Service has delivered bills to customers and payments to businesses.

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