USPS Going Down Very Hard and There Is NO Fix : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I worked on a project that audited the complete computational and technical activities of one of France's biggest corporations in the mid-80s and became very familiar with the way that we had to construct the language of our reports to encode our findings.

In the interest of helping fellow readers, my comments to this are in brackets. There is some sardonic humor involved, but only because the situation of the Postal Service in the U.S. is so bad that you have to laugh a little. BTW, here is one of the cases where 2nd world countries will do better because they are not as automated as we are. Fat lot of comfort that is.



February 23, 1999

Chairman Horn, Chairman McHugh, Chairperson Morella, and Members of the Subcommittees, I am Karla Corcoran, Inspector independent Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service, and have served in this position since January 1997. . . .

[Trust me, the Postal Service hates her very existence and spent at least all of 1997 resisting her every effort, on sheer organizational principle]

As you know, the Y2K problem results from the way in which computer systems store and process dates. In many systems, the year 2000 will be indistinguishable from the year 1900, thereby causing potential system failures. The Postal Service is heavily dependent on automation to carry out its mission. In 1998, the Postal Service used automation and information systems to deliver 198 billion pieces of mail, maintain its nationwide network of over 38,000 post offices and facilities, and pay its more than 775,000 career employees. This dependency on automated systems makes the Postal Service highly susceptible to the Y2K problem.

["highly susceptible" is a code phrase for: if Y2K isn't fixed at near 100%, they're toast. For Y2K mavens, the finance industry is also "highly susceptible"]

As a key element in our nation's communication and commerce infrastructure, its preparedness may be crucial to the nation's Y2K readiness. Both the private sector and government may rely on the Postal Service as a contingency if their systems fail on January 1, 2000.

[Again, put the criticality of the post office up there with the banks and the national guard.]

While the Postal Service has made progress in pursuing solutions to its Y2K problems, it still faces significant challenges in the ten months that remain. . . .

["significant challenges" always mean, "something has gone badly wrong and I'm now about to tip you off to the real issues ..."]


In 1993, the Postal Service's Vice President for Information Systems provided guidance for solving the Y2K problem within the Postal Service. Initially, only one Postal headquarters organization, Information Systems, was committed to, and engaged in, a solution even though it was a Postal-wide problem.

["even though": these guys knew better back then and punted]

In 1995, the Postal Service established a two-person Y2K program office. In 1997, the Postal Service expanded the program office to 12 people and selected an Executive Program Director, who reported to the Vice President of Information Systems, to lead, manage, and report on the Y2K Initiative. During this time, the Postal Service recognized the scope and complexity of the Y2K challenge, and hired contractors to Y2K program was expanded to include non-information systems areas such as external suppliers, mail processing equipment, and facilities. . . .

[the "2 people" and "12 people" is the auditor's injection of heavy sarcasm into the formal text]

To date, the Postal Service estimates it has spent about $200 million to address the Y2K challenge. In its most recent report to the Office of Management and Budget, the Postal Service estimates it will spend a total of $607 million to resolve the Y2K challenge.

[the auditor is letting their own self-reported numbers show that it isn't going to make it]


When we began auditing the Y2K Initiative in 1997, we found that Postal management had not fully identified the extent of the Y2K challenge and, in our judgment, was behind schedule in correcting the problem. Subsequent audit coverage concentrated on the adequacy of Y2K reporting and the Postal Service's overall efforts to ensure compliance.

Our first report, issued in March 1998, addressed the extent to which the Postal Service was aware of and had assessed the Y2K challenge. We found the Postal Service had been slow to recognize Y2K as a Postal-wide issue. We also noted that the Postal Service had neither comprehensive Postal-wide planning nor sufficient senior management involvement to allow for the most effective approach to solving the problem. . . .

[typical of most other organizations, BTW, except that the Postal Service is critical to the nation's functioning]

Our second report, issued in July 1998, assessed the Postal Service's preliminary progress in reviewing, correcting, and testing information systems and information technology infrastructure hardware and software. We found that:

Mainframe operating systems were not entirely Y2K compliant;

Critical information systems were not correctly identified, prioritized, or tested for Y2K compliance; and

Y2K status reporting was not always accurate. . . .

[e.g., "we found the effort was a total mess"]

We issued our most recent Y2K report this month. This report addressed the quality and reliability of Y2K information reported by the Postal Service. We found that briefings to senior management and Y2K reports designed for internal and external use were not always complete, consistent, or clear. We also found that the briefings to senior management did not include a standard report on the overall status of Y2K progress and were not provided at regularly scheduled intervals.

[The reason there was no report will turn out to be that it was impossible to collect meaningful enough data to construct a meaningful report. How bad is that?]

As a result, senior managers did not always have the information they needed to monitor Y2K progress. Because senior managers did not have this information, they lost time-critical opportunities to make important resource and budget decisions. . . .

[once again, they're toast: "time-critical", in code, means, "it's now too late"]


Critical Core Business Infrastructure

Without its critical external suppliers, mail processing equipment, or adversely impacted. While the Postal Service is reporting significant progress in developing Y2K solutions for mail processing equipment, it is behind schedule in assessing the readiness of external suppliers and area facilities. . . .

External Suppliers: The Postal Service relies extensively on external suppliers that are critical to moving the mail, such as airlines, railroads, and the trucking industry. Obviously, these suppliers are also susceptible to the Y2K problem. Therefore, it is important that the Postal Service become aware of the Y2K status of suppliers to plan and minimize potential disruption in services. Postal officials started to address the supplier issue in June 1998 and, to date, have identified almost 8,000 critical suppliers. As of January 1999, the Postal Service knew the Y2K status of 349 of these 8,000 suppliers.

[... or less than 5%. The auditor is mocking the Postal Service with this statistic. You may not believe that, but it is true. She is offended here by the incompetence.]

These 8,000 suppliers can be categorized into two groups: headquarters and field.

For headquarters' suppliers, in January 1999, the Postal Service had identified 661 critical suppliers and inquired as to their Y2K readiness. Of these, 312, nearly half, did not respond to inquiries, so the Postal Service did not know their Y2K status. Of the 349 that replied, the Postal Service determined that 254 are at high risk of not being Y2K ready and 95 suppliers will be ready. Generally, the Postal Service has not developed contingency plans to address how it will move the mail if these external suppliers are not ready for the year 2000.

[translate: even though extrapolation implies that almost three out of every four external suppliers are at high risk, they haven't gotten around to figuring out what they're going to do in ten months to get the mail out]

For field suppliers, the Postal Service also identified more than 7,200 critical suppliers that still needed to be assessed for Y2K readiness.

[.... and these guys haven't even been addressed AT ALL yet]

Because so much work remains to be done in assessing the readiness of suppliers, the Postal Service faces a significant challenge in developing contingency plans for those critical suppliers that will not be ready.

["significant challenge": again, pay attention to what comes next]

Mail Processing Equipment: The Postal Service relies extensively on mail processing equipment to sort and process millions of pieces of mail daily. The Postal Service has identified 43 types of equipment that are critical to movement of the mail. These include nationally-managed equipment, such as delivery bar code sorters, advanced facer cancellers, flat sorting machines, and large parcel sorting systems. The 43 types of equipment represent thousands of pieces throughout the country. The Postal Service has reported that Y2K solutions have been developed, or are already in place, for 39 of the 43 types of equipment. The best assurance that systems will work in the year 2000 is to test them in advance. However, Postal management initially elected to test mail processing equipment at only 3 out of more than 350 sites.

["However": again, the auditor is offended, since she knows this effort is a sham]

The remaining 4 of the 43 types represent less than a thousand pieces of equipment. According to Postal management, these four types are in the process of being assessed, reviewed, and corrected. The Postal Service has projected that all 43 systems' solutions will be in place by August 1999.

Technology-dependent Facilities: The Postal Service operates more than 38,000 facilities nationwide. . . .

As of January 1999, the Postal Service did not know the Y2K status of critical equipment in its facilities nationwide. Officials tried to determine the status of equipment starting in June 1998, but had limited success. In January 1999, the Postal Service determined that the most appropriate method for assessing equipment was to conduct a survey of the equipment within 200 "high risk" facilities. The survey is expected to be completed by June 1999. . . .

[OK, because it was too late and they don't have enough people working on it, they don't have time to figure out what will work and what won't. So, instead of testing mission-critical equipment (remember, non-mission critical was never slated to be touched), they will "survey", not test, the mission-critical equipment within 200 of their 38,000 facilities. This is another sham.]

Information Systems Area. . . .

Information Systems: As of January 1999, the Postal Service had identified 152 critical information systems. Critical systems are those crucial to the core business activities of the Postal Service. Examples of these systems include Payroll, National Change of Address, and Stamp Services.

As of January 1999, Postal managers reported that 127 of the 152 systems were reviewed, corrected, and tested at the system level. These systems still need to be certified and independently verified as Y2K compliant. Some systems will also need to undergo readiness testing. The Postal Service's initial target date for reviewing and correcting systems was September 1998. The current completion date is projected for June 1999, nine months after the original projection, which affects other information systems target dates.

[Again, the auditor is signalling us. Nine months behind at this stage is an eternity. Even if they meet June, 1999, they have already put many other information systems at risk. The auditor expresses no confidence in the June date but merely transmits it.]

According to the Postal Service, as of January 31, 1999, 41 of the 127 reviewed and corrected critical systems had been independently verified as Y2K compliant.

Contingency plans identify alternative actions in case a critical system fails, and protect the continuity of business processes. Originally, the Postal Service intended to prepare contingency plans for all 152 critical systems. Currently, the Postal Service's intentions are to develop contingency plans for key business processes. No contingency plans had been completed as of the end of January 1999.

[Get this: not only are plans not being developed for actual systems but only for "processes", but none have been completed 11 months before rollover even for processses. While the word "processes" sounds weighty, EACH of their processes relies on the correct functioning of ALL of the 152 critical systems. That's why the systems are, uh, critical.]

Data Exchanges: The Postal Service exchanges a significant amount of data internally and with external organizations, such as financial institutions, customers, transportation suppliers, meter manufacturers, and the U.S. Treasury. These data exchanges need to be assessed and certified as compliant if the Postal Service's Y2K effort is to succeed. Even if the Postal Service's critical systems are Y2K compliant, it is possible that exchange partners' systems may not be Y2K ready. As a result, the Postal Service's critical systems may be affected. For example, 5 postage meter manufacturers generate these manufacturers are transferred to the Postal Service's systems via data exchanges. The Postal Service is in the process of ensuring these very important data exchanges are Y2K ready and tested.

As of January 1999, the Postal Service had not completed its inventory of internal and external data exchanges. The Postal Service has assessed about 4,300 out of approximately 5,700 data exchanges. About 2,000 of the 4,300 data exchanges assessed have been identified as critical. As of now, 123 of the 2,000 have been reported as Y2K ready.

[They haven't even assessed almost 30% of the data exchanges. Only 2.5% are ready]

In the ten months that remain, the Postal Service must:

Identify whether the remaining 1,400 data exchanges are external or internal;

Determine if the 1,400 data exchanges are critical;

Assess the Y2K readiness of all critical data exchanges; and

Develop workarounds and contingency plans for those critical data exchanges that are not Y2K ready.

[Call the Pony Express .... there isn't time. End of story.]

Information Technology Infrastructure: The Postal Service depends on mainframe systems, midrange computers, network servers, personal computers, and telecommunications equipment. The Postal Service has been working to make this infrastructure Y2K compliant since 1996. As of January 1999, officials estimated that the Postal Service had more than 134,000 actual pieces of hardware, including about 120,000 personal computers and about 14,000 servers.

To manage the inventory, the Postal Service has categorized the hardware and software into 2,000 unique types. As of January 1999, the Postal Service reported that solutions had been developed for 1,600 of the 2,000 types of hardware and software.

[OK, pretty good .....]

Deploying the solutions will be a challenge because the Postal Service does not know which specific personal computers and servers are not Y2K compliant.

[... oops, you mean we actually have to examine and do something with the hardware itself? Why didn't anyone tell us that? Here, the auditor is employing irony under the covers.]

Postal Service officials also indicate they are currently working on solutions and workarounds for the remaining 400 types of hardware and software. Contingency plans and independent verification are in process for the information technology area, but have not been completed.

Readiness Testing: The most reliable way to ensure that the Postal Service's complex information systems and core business processes are Y2K ready is to test them before the year 2000. Officials recently elected to conduct readiness tests on information systems that drive core business processes in areas such as finance, marketing, and mail operations. Readiness testing is a high-level integrated means of ensuring that information systems, data exchanges, and the various technology elements will work together to process information in the year 2000. To date, they have not identified how many of the 152 systems drive core business processes other than in the finance area. The Postal Service has not made a final determination on the extent of readiness testing.

[In other words, they don't understand their business well enough to know what to test, when to test and what the results of the tests will mean for mail delivery next year.]

Although the Postal Service plans to complete all readiness testing for systems that drive core business processes by July 1999, a great deal of work remains, such as:

Identifying information systems that drive non-financial key core business processes;

Obtaining resources needed to conduct the tests;

Developing readiness testing plans; and

Correcting any portion of a system that fails a readiness test or developing a workaround.

[Forget the Pony Express, call the U.S. Cavalry]

Business Continuity and Contingency Planning. . . .

The last area we will discuss is business continuity and contingency planning. We believe that the Postal Service must act quickly to reduce the risk and potential negative effects of Y2K failures.

["must act quickly" is code for, "if (and it will never happen) this was treated as the number one priority by tens of thousands of Postal Service employees, it might be possible to work-around the failures that are now fore-ordained". As auditors, we always had a faint hope that the organization had a collective "brain". But, you see, organizations, by definition, don't, because they are not human in the simplest sense.]

One weak link anywhere in the chain of critical dependencies including external suppliers, business partners, and the public infrastructure could cause major disruptions in Postal Service business operations nationwide. As a result, it is imperative that continuity and contingency plans be developed and tested for all core business processes.

["imperative" means it should have been completed 12 months ago, at least]

Ten months remain to develop, implement, and test a comprehensive Y2K business continuity plan. . . .

[By citing "ten months", the auditor is saying that there isn't enough time EVEN to make a responsible continuity plan. That may be too subtle for some readers.]

The Postal Service plans to complete its business continuity and contingency plans by July 1999, and test them by August 1999.

In the remaining ten months, Postal officials must:

Document the Postal Service's core business processes;

Determine system component dependencies;

Assess risk of failure for each component, including the estimated probability and effect;

Develop business process contingency plans and develop trigger strategies;

Establish recovery teams for each critical process;

Test business process contingency plans; and

Update disaster recovery plans and procedures.

The Postal Service is faced with a formidable challenge in completing all of these tasks, and needs to continue to vigorously pursue this area. . . .

[Translate: these were the tasks that should have been done and completed in 1998. "formidable challenge": do I need to translate this again? It isn't possible.]

Therefore, we believe the Postal Service should immediately reevaluate the initial assessment and shift priority to issues that are absolutely necessary to ensure that core business processes work in the year 2000.


The core business processes are those that move the mail, pay employees and vendors, protect revenue, and protect the safety of employees and customers. The remaining systems and structures must still be corrected, but not until after the core business processes have been safeguarded against Y2K failures.

[Say, in 2001, if the Postal Service is still operational]

[Here are my final comments:

In ordinary life, apart from Y2K, the solution was, as we know, "move the deadline out a year, two years, five years." That is what the Postal Service itself has done for decades.

It's too late for deadline-shifting.

The USPS is going down. If we're lucky, "down" will mean a crippled operation with a big hit on national productivity minimal and consumer confidence (and, not unlike banks, consumer confidence in the mail is everything, or else, why drop a letter into the (black)mail box)?

If we're unlucky, the entire system will stop completely: this one can't be done with mailmen carrying mail on their horses between cities, states and regions. GI?

Even if the entire thread has gone over your head, focus on this one thing: the Postal Service, like the banks, HAS to function nearly perfectly to function AT ALL (because of its nearly totally automated structure). But, unlike the banks, which, right or wrong, at least CLAIM to be 95% compliant RIGHT NOW, the Postal Service is manifestly a Y2K disaster. You tell me from this auditor's analysis how compliant they are. What? You can't? Exactly. They can't even MEASURE it, they're so confused.

Apparently, someone forgot to tell them that they are a critical CONTINGENCY PLAN for our nation in 2000 (if you understand the irony of this, you will ROTF). In other words, the Postal Service will help keep the country glued together.

Now, to the reality of it, no fooling: unreliable delivery of social security, Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements, welfare and, yes, bills and invoices. Or .... no delivery. On top of unreliable COMPUTATION of those very same items by the nation's governments and businesses.

The result? Book it: national chaos, beginning about 1/15/2000.]

-- BigDog (, February 27, 1999


Puts a whole new spin on "the check's in the mail".

-- Sandman (, February 27, 1999.

I won't even go there with the obvious disastrous effect of people not receiving their life supporting checks!!!!

Seems like the banks and credit card companies, etc. need to include in their contingency plans how to get their bills to their customers. Hmmmm! maybe I should run up the plastic and hope for the best.

-- Debt (, February 27, 1999.

Big Dog, excellent analysis, even though it caused me to emit one hell of a long sigh, as Diane would say, without your analysis. What will be some of the impacts of the USPS foul-ups? My family and I recently moved from Augusta Ga. to Florida. We used change of adress forms and they worked well for the most part. However, we recently received a threating letter from a collection agency because of a final bill (which we never received from Bell South) was not paid. To make a fat story lean by the time we were able to pay the bill it was too late, the collection agency had filed a report with TRW.

Come to think of it, this shows fairly well the interdependicies between two different systems. Which leads me to another point. I'm really tired of hearing people say nobody knows what will happen if all systems are not Y2K compliant. THINK, use your imagination(sp) If the USPO system goes down, how can you pay your bills? In some instances how will you get paid?

-- Watcher (, February 27, 1999.

Could someone please help a brand new computer user? I have been trying to print out this page about the USPS and all I get are blank pages. The printer works fine for other sites but not here. What am I doing wrong? I have been lurking here for a while and have recieved many valuable ideas and mind opening views of my narrow, little world. This article could help me convince a number of DGI's if I could only print it out. Pleeeease help me. Thanks, I.M. Stupid

-- I.M. Stupid (, February 27, 1999.

Hey Stupid don't 'post' yourself so short.

-- Couldn't (, February 27, 1999.

We'll fix it! This is the United States of America!! ;-)

-- Deborah, who is kidding (, February 27, 1999.

Does anyone know how UPS or FedEx are doing? Maybe this will be the time to go private(as is no choice).

-- Hugh Glass (, February 27, 1999.


If all else fails, tell your browser to save this page to disk, and them print it out later.


-- Jerry B (, February 27, 1999.

To the person who wants to print this out...

Highlight the entire page with your arrow. Then select copy, then paste to a word document. I have used this several times for these pages and it works fine. If you need more help, contact me at and I will do it for you and email you the copy :-)

-- Sub-Mit (, February 27, 1999.

Thanks Sub-Mit. That worked just fine. I knew I could count on you guys. I.M.

-- I.M.Stupid (, February 27, 1999.

Great analysis, BigDog! Do you have a URL for this testimony?

Where is Paul Davis, Flint, et al, when this kind of information is revealed? Come on, Paulyanna, tell me why this isn't that big a deal and won't affect the US significantly. Come on Flint, explain to me why we can't really know what the impact of the USPS going down in flames will be.

-- Nabi Davidson (, February 27, 1999.


If the USPS goes down in flames, the impact will be very ugly.

It's clear from this report that USPS has no real idea what they face or what will fail or how it will fail. Will the sorting, stamping, and other equipment fail? USPS doesn't know even that, much less what the failure mode will be.

In general, it looks like at best a lot of mail will be lost, some will be sent to the wrong place, and even the mail that gets there will be very late. At worst, USPS will shut down altogether. Very bad. I expect the USPS strategy is: Stand around and do nothing on failure.

I can't begin to predict the ramifications of USPS's condition in detail, but clearly they are just awful. I don't even know how to do personal preparations for this. Do you have any ideas?

-- Flint (, February 27, 1999.

Nabi -- here ya go:

I believe, in the long run (5-10 years, 20 if the culture itself collapses), the failure of the USPS will lead to privatized mail and further consolidation of the Internet/electronic tokens, commerce, etc.

But there is no mail fix for 2000-2002, IMO.

Best, imaginable case: the USPS limps along, with consumers awesomely frustrated (imagine the finger-pointing: "we sent your bill". "We never got it." "The Post Office says you did." "We didn't." "Well, that's your problem, sorry about your electric being turned off but ...") and, IF most of the Internet stays up, companies/telecom/ISP cobble together electronic notification/payments (and that IF the banks/credit card companies stay up) and that IF ......

Nabi, you're so right. There is no conceivable pollyanna response to this. None.

If we had serious national leadership (and, in a kind of fairness to them, it really does take a combination of deep technical insight AND cultural insight to grok the depths of this, which is why this NG COLLECTIVELY taken is so "intelligent"), there would be an instant and total death march with respect to shoring up the Postal Service. AND providing incentives to FedEx, UPS and anyone they can think of to share the mail load.

It ain't gonna happen. Ironically, there is nothing new here, just the beginning smoke flares of what Yourdon, North, Hamasaki, Milne and others have been predicting consistently.

The only difference is, "game's up."

-- BigDog (, February 27, 1999.


Don't be impatient. They'll be along. It takes them a while to think things out.

One must assume that wearing a rectal necktie restricts blood flow to the brain.

-- Greybear, fasion consultant

- Got Proper Attire?

-- Greybear (, February 27, 1999.

And, by the way, I never gloat about this kind of stuff. It's terrifying and heartbreaking because of the potential implications. I SHARE Flint's reaction. Lots of stuff is being fixed, yes. But this is authentically nightmarish.

What's got to stop is the onus constantly being put on us poor schmos in this NG who are WARNING people, instead of the agents of our still, yes, potential, tragedy.

In this case, our government has already failed us by not addressing this with USPS for the past ten years when it was fixable. It's not North's fault, or Yourdon's or Hamasaki's or mine, it's the fault of the USPS. Let's keep it focused there on the slight chance that the message will reach someone with the power to burn someone's butt at the highest levels. Some of those people are reading this NG.

-- BigDog (, February 27, 1999.


Thanks for the link; I've got to print this one off in its entirety.


Thanks for the honest reply. I agree with you that it's going to be very ugly. The ramifications are so enormous that it's tough to figure out how to deal with a stand-alone USPS failure. The effect on the economy would be incredible.

But when you factor in a USPS failure with other possible failures (especially telecommunications), I think the economy will slam to a virtual halt. On a contingency basis, many banks are depending on the USPS to deliver clearing items in the case telecommunications problems make electronic fund transactions impossible. Without at least one of these systems working, banking transactions will be very difficult (if not impossible) to initiate and process.

It's hard to get past the domino aspect of Y2K. All facets of our society are interconnected, and failures in one area WILL cascade through other areas. Understanding this is the key to understanding WHY Y2K will be serious.

-- Nabi Davidson (, February 27, 1999.

all of this is this thread completely justifies what good ole boy Gary North has been saying all along...


that's why the toast will be stuck in the toaster... i can smell the acrid smell already BURNT TOAST...


-- gotitlongago@garynorth. (vacajohn@(nospam), February 27, 1999.

I'm waiting for someone to come in here with "Oh, she's exaggerating!"

If history is any guide, Karla Corcoran will soon be looking for another job. Whistle-blowers are never welcome.

-- Tom Carey (, February 27, 1999.

Big Dog--

I've always had a great deal of respect for your posts--but this one--whew! Thank you (I think) for the critical information and your wonderfully insightful comments.

My husband and I are revising our entire Y2k strategy.

The implications of this are horrific. I would think the collapse of the Post Office would trigger a "splintering" of states (every state for itself) which would cause an earthquake of tremendous proportions to rock the Federal Government. I've been thinking a *6* for quite a while--but this combined with other factors--how can we not have disaster?

Yikes! (And I *was* in such a good mood this morning!) Oh to scout out farms....

-- Scarlett (, February 27, 1999.

Tom --- I quite agree with you. Contrary to appearances (?), I would love to see a VALID counter-argument. Anyone?

But my entire IT career tells me that the simple recital of the "phenomena" here (ie, the facts, ma'am) PLUS the remaining schedule PLUS simple understanding of political/human dynamics in huge organizations make this auditor's report close to the worst Y2K "status update" I've ever seen. Maybe the worst, considering the importance of the organization.

It sheds some light on the need for independent auditing too, eh?

Now, I wonder how Defense and the IRS are REALLY coming along ...

-- BigDog (, February 27, 1999.

Big Dog:

Excellent analysis. This is about as damning as it gets, albeit couched in "polite" language.

Not sure what contingencies can entirely replace the USPS. If it crashes mightily, think of the impact even if everything else survives! How many companies won't be able to collect revenues? The list is endless...

Save your junk mail now. It'll make good kindling for the fire...

-- Steve Hartsman (, February 27, 1999.

Big Dog, great post. I can't wait for my dad to read it. He just retired from the Post Office, and he saw this one coming awhile back. While he still worked there, his branch would do a yearly tour, and we were able to see all the new automation when it was instituted back in 1994 or so. The high-speed sorters were great, unless someone was sending someone sexy panties that got strung in the sorter, or someone had a staple in the wrong place. But if an envelope was illegible they still had people who sat in front of a wall of mail slots to sort the mail by hand. As I understand it, in order to work for the USPS, one must be able to memorize zip codes and be able to manually sort.

Now, granted that the automation will probably not work, any ideas as to how much our stamps will cost if they USPS has to go to manual sorting? I can just see those rows and rows of postal employees "poking mail," as my dad calls it .... At least hand sorting doesn't require electricity!


-- jhollander (, February 27, 1999.

I know this bugs the hell out of some people, but think about my signature - written in the early 1920's by somebody who had, um, VISION.

Now when he says "the end of the world will be brought about" - he means "as WE KNOW IT" - we live in a system of interdependencies and no entity is an island - everything affects everything (I'm sounding like an old hippy now :) ) - Gary North is right - IT'S SYSTEMIC.


"The conveniences and comforts of humanity in general will be linked up by one mechanism, which will produce comforts and conveniences beyond human imagination. But the smallest mistake will bring the whole mechanism to a certain collapse. In this way the end of the world will be brought about."

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, 1922 (Sufi Prophet)


Great post!

-- Andy (, February 27, 1999.

Just for the record, here's that link warmed up: Statement by KARLA W. CORCORAN, INSPECTOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE

It'll sure put a crimp in the stock market.

Maybe Congress will pass a moratorium on foreclosures and repossessions ---

-- Tom Carey (, February 27, 1999.

For those who think UPS and FedEx are an option, neither, along with USPS, will function if the airline industry is not working. Just a few noncompliant airports could shut a lot down. Here's hoping Troll Maria is right. I see a plethora of faxing and e-mailing next year!

-- Brooks (, February 27, 1999.

I've been keeping my eyes closed for this entire thread. Is it OK to come out now?

Bye bye bump in the road....

I'm reminded of the New York City garbage strike a few years back where the garbage piled up all over. Only this time, there's a stamp on ever piece.

Won't be sleeping well tonight. Welcome to Gilligan's planet.

-- Arnie Rimmer (, February 28, 1999. most feverent thanks for this post. I have been trying to convince some very close friends for months that this y2k thing was real. They were here tonight when I called u this forum and your post. When they left(about 4 hours later), the guy was shaken to the core and his wife was in tears and both are scared to death. Their big thing is "Is there enough time for us to prepare". I never thought that I would appreciate seeing a woman in tears but this time it was worth it. First, Missy makes his living as a direct mail marketer and Mike works in advertising. This came as a very cold shower to both. Again, thanks for the great post. Arf-Arf Lobo

-- Lobo (, February 28, 1999.

Hey Big Dog,

I don't know who you are, but I've been impressed by your analysis of the current situation. Might I have your permission to repost your analysis of the USPS auditor's report in another fora? You may reply to my email if you wish.

Thanks, Dean from (almost) Duh Moines

-- Dean T. Miller (, February 28, 1999.

Thanks BigDog. You've driven another stake into heart of the shallow argument that we'll "muddle through" this. I am in no way trying to "add to" your post, but I want to share what I took away from your fine work: The first image I had was of managers telling employees to call, e-mail or fax customers or vendors because the mail is too slow. Can you imagine the stress that would put on the telecoms if they have a fragile network up? Down it would go.

You've cemented another weight to the legs of the economy.

I am now convinced that the macro-economic effect could be felt for a decade or until the next medium-size war -- whichever comes first. Let me try to outline why.

1. Full remediation schedules and plans have turned into "mission-critical only" remediation plans for far too many organizations. No industry will be globally prepared. Mypercent of mission-critical ready systems may not be the same mission-critical ready systems youhave finished... which may not be the same systems hehas ready in his percent of mission-critical systems finished.

2. The balance of nonmission-critical systems will still not be ready and every day of missed deadlines (starting from the original full remediation schedules) must be added to the back end to regain the efficiency lost from those systems being unreliable or unusable. We are going to lose all efficiencies gained from those systems. Everything.

3. The time and money required to continue remediating the nonmission-critical systems will be reduced due to the bottleneck of goods, services and payments. Revenues will be delayed then reduced as marginal companies burn through cash reserves. This will further delay remediation of the bulk of systems (the nonmission-critical ones). The last thing any executive will want to see is a purchase order request for hardware or software. The response will be to get the ones we have working.

4. A fast economic drop with potential for a slow climb is better than a long slow decline followed by stagnation. We're going to get cut with a dull knife and it's going to hurt like hell for long time. A sharp scalpel would be better.

5. Unfortunately, the fastest way to get a stagnant economy suffering inflation or deflation is to start a good war. Either that or wait a long time for momentum. It's not like turning a large ship. It's more akin to the distance and time required to shut down the engines and let it coast to a full stop. Then get it moving up to speed again by adding a small percent of power every so often.

The next time your traveling on a highway, pull over and stop for just one minute then start back up again. Now think about it with a tractor-trailer (the momentum of our fast moving economy). Calculate how much time you lose in making that one minute stop. My thesis is that if the economy slows to a one minute stop in March, it will take 5 years to recover. A stop in June will need 10 years of recovery time.

-- PNG (, February 28, 1999.

My brother worked as an analyst for a Provincial corporation in Canada for some years. I asked him to read Corcoran's testimony at and then this thread, particularly BigDog's opening shot. He replied,

"Just finished reading 'em. I've had to read govt auditors' reports annually since 1980 - usually just to find out how badly the Corporation had screwed up this time. BigDog's interpolations are, IMO, right on the mark. She's saying what he says she's saying, right down the line - he understands every bureaucratic euphemism, and translates it right."

I was afraid of that.

-- Tom Carey (, February 28, 1999.

PNG ---

[my comments in brackets]

You've cemented another weight to the legs of the economy.

[hey, I didn't know I was the one who caused USPS to end up here. I thought it was the auditor's fault ... ;-)]


2. The balance of nonmission-critical systems will still not be ready and every day of missed deadlines (starting from the original full remediation schedules) must be added to the back end to regain the efficiency lost from those systems being unreliable or unusable. We are going to lose all efficiencies gained from those systems. Everything.

[You/one of us should do an entire article on this. Omitting the major problems you already described in 1. from miscategorization, loss of efficiency is going to be huge. It's a joke to say that non-critical systems can be lost without effect ("we never needed them"). The sheer fact that data flows in and out of them to critical systems puts the lie to that. IMO, North's "systemic" concept, Yourdon's "deja vu" and the importance, like it or not, of non-critical systems are the three truths that give the lie to Y2K as bump OR easily recoverable drop]


5. Unfortunately, the fastest way to get a stagnant economy suffering inflation or deflation is to start a good war. Either that or wait a long time for momentum.

[The 20th century has been the most warlike in history. It remains an unpleasant fact of human psychology that conflict with a concrete enemy wonderfully distracts from the pain of "doing things the slow way." As you know, my most intense anxiety is about the geopolitical situation over next five years and that's saying something, considering my feelings about Y2K itself. I feel Japan is at major risk here from a frenzied China, which can no longer just return in toto to a peasant economy.]

Tom --- As I alluded to earlier, alarming though this report is (and let's not rehash that, we all feel like we've just seen a bogyman), it highlights the fallacy of self-reporting on this in general.

As always, Y2K failure comes down to the simplest issues: we started too late AND, despite thirty years of software engineering experience, too many of my "peers" presumed without evidence that "this time it would be different."

Unfortunately, they may prove to be right in the wrong way: "it may even prove to be worse than projects in the past."

Finally, for those who may be reading this thread and "grokking" internally for the first time the implications of Y2K:

Your intuitions are correct. Be very afraid, first, then swallow hard and LIVE.

Y2K is probably (mind you, not definitely, but probably, which is plenty bad enough) a worldwide disaster in the making, with the ship destined to strike the iceberg at this late point. BUT, Y2K may also come to represent tremendous personal opportunity for you to recalibrate your life and opportunity for the world to rethink its relationship to its technologies.

Don't think short-term (which is itself one of the worst aspects of our culture and a prime cause of Y2K) ... think 20, 30 and 50 years out.

That said, let's not go back to the future ON THIS THREAD (Yourdon regulars). There are many fascinating threads on this forum which think through the years to come, in very positive as well as potentially negative ways.


-- BigDog (, February 28, 1999.

Thanks for your thoughts, BD.

It's heartbreaking, isn't it. Think of all the carefully crafted business contingency plans that just turned to scrap paper.

"The Postman" (a Kevin Costner film frequently alluded to hereabouts), tells the story of a man who restores society after an apocolypse by restoring communication over distance.

Never realized the story could be told the other way around.

Gotta go kiss my kids.

-- Lewis (, February 28, 1999.

Further comment from my brother-- (FWIW) --
By definition, an auditor's report, whether it's in govt or in the private sector, is never biased _in favor_ of the agency that's being reported on. (Hopefully, it's not biased _against_ 'em, either.) While govt auditors do indeed use these euphemisms, which to the uninitiated seem like downplaying a problem, it's not because they're trying to downplay it, it's because they're highlighting it in a language the civil service understands - all too well.

In govt, tea-leaf reading is a high art, and the people getting their wrists slapped are well aware of it when the auditor uses these polite euphemisms to highlight their inadequacies. The real danger - to the reported-on, that is - is that the Opposition will pick up these "polite" snippets and use them against the govt. Which is why the civil service just _hates_ auditors' reports - if you've screwed up (and there's a lot of inevitable screwups in any bureaucracy - it's the nature of the beast) and the Opposition makes mincemeat of the govt with it, your ass is grass, as far as the govt is concerned.

Bear in mind, I was working in a parliamentary form of government, where (theoretically) govt can fall on any given day - it just takes losing a vote of confidence.

-- Tom Carey (, February 28, 1999.

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