USPS touts supply chain diversity as secret to customer service

The U.S. Postal Service procurement officials say supply chain diversity not only brings small, minority-owned and women-owned companies into the business of government, but keeps the agency flexible enough to meet new challenges.

In April, USPS was recognized as the top federal agency for supplier diversity this year by DiversityBusiness.com, which has applauded the agency in the field for the past 15 years.

In FY 2015, the Postal Service awarded more than $4.5 billion in contract commitments with small business — with $527 million going to minority businesses, and $766 million to woman-owned businesses.

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Rupert Warner, program manager of supplier diversity at USPS, said the agency’s supplier diversity outreach allows the Postal Service to harness the best of public and private services.

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“The Postal Service has its own set of supplying principles and practices. It is different than the federal government, which follows the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation]. So with our supplying principles, it’s the best of both worlds. We go for best value versus cheapest cost … and in many cases, we’re looking for innovation, we’re looking for the long-term, we’re looking for the return on investment,” Warner told Federal News Radio.

Contracting with smaller companies has enabled USPS to overcome hurdles into its transportation and IT portfolios. The Postal Service, for example, employs a small business to deliver mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon via mule, and hires small planes to deliver to remote parts of Alaska.

“We use those small and agile businesses to ensure that everyone is receiving mail or provided with postal services,” Warner said. “In a lot of cases, we can find a company that’s small and agile that can provide us some innovations in our technology.”

The Postal Service has nearly 500,000 career employees nationwide and a fleet of more than 190,000 vehicles, according to the USPS inspector general, but Warner said it contracts to small businesses the most in its transportation sector to reach communities that could other fall through the cracks when it comes to customer service.

“In order to adapt to the changing market, in many areas we are asking those small, minority and women-owned businesses, if they have any kind of a storefront location, maybe they could consider having some of our products — limited products or services — within those businesses. And in that way, we are making sure that we are in everyone’s community,” he said.

In order to get the word out to labor organizations, USPS has partnered with organizations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and the U.S. Hispanic and Pan Asian chambers of commerce.

“What we do is we tell them about the procurement process, how to go about navigating the postal marketplace. Many times we will talk about things that are emerging — emerging technologies or the direction of the Postal Service, so that these small businesses can prepare themselves to go after the procurement,” Warner said.

The purpose of this outreach, he said, is to ensure that membership has knowledge about the postal marketplace. In this capacity, USPS conducts workshops and holds one-on-one business meetings to discuss how to do business with government.

“Supplier diversity in an integral part of doing business with the Postal Service. Because we are so pervasive in everyone’s community, we really try have a reciprocal relationship with all suppliers in every community. So as we move forward in all of our procurement, there’s always a supplier diversity or multicultural element to go about purchasing things that we use,” Warner said.