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Postal Service Chief Ousted; Problems Noted

January 07, 1986|MICHAEL WINES | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Paul N. Carlin, a career Postal Service worker who rose to that agency's top job only a year ago, was removed Monday by the Postal Service Board of Governors and replaced by former American Airlines Chairman Albert V. Casey.

The action, taken in a closed meeting of the 11-member board, apparently reflected displeasure over painfully slow and costly shifts to automated mail handling and a controversial ZIP-plus-4 coding system, among other woes, several experts said.

After three years of surpluses, the post office lost more than $250 million in the year that ended Sept. 30, but it is expected to return to the black in fiscal 1986.

The Postal Service refused to comment on the management change until a news conference today. Spokesman Ralph Stewart declined to say whether Carlin, 54, a postal employee since 1969, would remain with the agency.

Veteran Manager

Casey, 65, is a veteran manager who is credited with steering American to power and profitability during the turbulent years after the airline industry was deregulated in 1978.

From 1963 to 1974, he served first as vice president for finance and later as president of Times Mirror Co., publisher of The Times. He is a director of Times Mirror and a member of the directors' audit committee but will relinquish those posts upon becoming postmaster general.

On taking charge at the post office on New Year's Day, 1985, Carlin purchased and sent to his top employees nearly 13,000 copies of "In Search of Excellence," the best-selling book on how to run a profitable and happy company. But in the year that followed, outside experts say, Carlin repeatedly clashed with the Postal Service board over key management issues.

Carlin resisted pressure to decentralize and slash staffs at the agency's headquarters and its five regional offices, saying that the changes would be disruptive. Failure to cut such costs, critics say, helped feed last fiscal year's $251.5-million deficit and forced Carlin to order a wave of drastic cost-cutting last summer to avoid a half-billion-dollar loss.

Carlin has said that the deficit was caused by delays in approving an increase in first-class postal rates, before he took office.

Other critics say Carlin also wavered over whether to make an expensive change from computerized mail sorters that can read only an envelope's ZIP code to sorters that can also read addresses.

New Code a Failure

Carlin stuck with the old sorters, counting on customers to begin using new nine-digit ZIP codes that would route the mail more efficiently. But the much-touted conversion to "ZIP-plus-4" has been a stunning failure with consumers, and several studies have urged the purchase of address-reading sorters that would eliminate the need for the extra four digits altogether.

"Carlin was faulted by the governors for failing to master key issues--for not making decisions," said Van H. Seagraves, publisher of Business Mailers Review, a Washington newsletter that follows postal issues. "The bureaucracy there has often favored the status quo, and . . . in some ways he was a captive of the bureaucracy."

Michael F. Cavanagh, a Washington consultant and critic of Postal Service management, called Casey "a seasoned manager" who probably will make quick and far-reaching management changes at the postal agency.

An expert on Postal Service labor relations--almost nine of every 10 postal dollars are spent on labor--said Casey has a reputation as "a tough but fair" negotiator.

'Finance-Oriented'

Robert F. Erburu, chairman, president and chief executive officer at Times Mirror, called Casey "a very intelligent man who's very finance-oriented--somebody who understands what it takes to get from here to there.

"I think you'll see Al in the Postal Service building a very strong management team and then being in a position to turn that over to the proper people," he said. "He likes challenges. He's an activist par excellence."

Casey, now a resident of Dallas, holds a bachelor's degree and an MBA from Harvard University. He was a senior official at the Southern Pacific Railway until 1961, then became vice president and treasurer at REA Express in New York.

After joining Times Mirror in 1963, Casey served for a year as vice president for finance, then for two years as executive vice president before being named president in 1966. He remained in that post until he moved to American in 1974. He retired from American last February.

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