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Bureau costs led to change in contractor for 2002-03
|After 68 successful years of producing United States federal duck stamps, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was outbid in fall 2001 by Banknote Corporation of America for the contract to print the 2002-03 duck stamps (Linn’s, Feb. 25, page 31). High Bureau costs led to the change to a private-sector printer.
The Bureau’s first duck stamp, the $1 Mallards of 1934 (Scott RW1), is pictured in Figure 1. The 2001-02 $15 Northern Pintail stamps (RW68, lick-and-stick; RW68A, self-adhesive) are the most recent BEP-printed duck stamps.
A Jan. 23 press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that an agreement was reached with the U.S. Postal Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and that bidding to print the 2002-03 duck stamp was opened up to USPS contract printers.
The release also stated that future federal duck stamps will continue to be printed using a combination of offset (surface) and intaglio (recess) printing.
It seems that it all boiled down to money, as printing costs charged by the BEP continued to rise.
The Fish and Wildlife Service news release also stated that the subsequent savings will provide more money to buy wetlands for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Mary Burke, manager of marketing and sales for the federal duck stamp office, shared her insight concerning this significant change.
Burke stated: “As required by the Migratory Bird Stamp Act of 1934, we purchase duck stamps from the Postal Service and pay it for the printing, distribution and sales costs involved.
“During the past few years, the annual increase in the amount the duck stamp office paid for duck stamps was significant. The cause of this dramatic increase each year was the price the BEP charged to print the stamps.
“We approached the BEP and asked it to suggest ways to reduce the cost. “The Bureau replied that its high prepress and printing costs, combined with the small print run each year, did not allow it to reduce costs significantly without changing the printing methods or formats of the stamps.
[Editor’s note: Since 1998, federal duck stamps have been issued in water-activated panes (30 stamps per pane during 1998-99; 20 stamps per pane from 2000-present) and self-adhesive panes of one.]
“We want to stick with offset and intaglio printing, at least for the near future.
“Therefore, we approached the Postal Service and asked if it would explore the possibility of having its private contract printers provide us with prices.
“After all eligible USPS printers and the BEP were given the chance to bid, Banknote was the successful bidder. The duck stamp office selected Banknote because it offered the lowest cost and the best value.”
I asked how much money would be saved by using BCA to print the stamps.
“Final bills have not been received, but annual savings should be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Burke replied.
The release also declares: “98 percent of the proceeds from each $15 duck stamp goes toward purchasing wetland habitat.”
According to Burke, in prior years, $14.70 from the sale of each $15 stamp was used to purchase wetlands, 21¢ covered printing costs, and the remaining 9¢ went toward distribution, sales and postal bulletins.
Among the postage stamps Banknote Corporation of America has manufactured are the Trans-Mississippi souvenir sheets of 1998. The adage that you get what you pay for might or might not apply to the next duck stamps. Time will tell.
Since the BEP began printing federal duck stamps in 1934, a very modest number of major errors have been discovered, some with only 10 or fewer examples believed to exist.
All of the following errors except one are listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers: 1934 $1 Mallards (Scott RW1) imperforate or horizontally imperforate, 28 known; 1946 $1 Redhead Ducks (RW13) bright rose-pink color error, six known; 1955 $2 Blue Geese (RW22), 1957 $2 American Eiders (RW24) and $3 Labrador Retriever (RW26), each with back inscription inverted, one to six of each known; 1962 $3 Pintail Drakes (RW29) missing back inscription, one known (recently certified by the Philatelic Foundation and not yet listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers); 1982 $7.50 Canvasbacks (RW49) missing orange and violet, fewer than 10 known; 1986 $7.50 Fulvous Whistling Duck (RW53) missing black, 63 known; 1990 $12.50 Black-bellied Whistling Duck (RW57) missing back inscription, several hundred known; 1991 $15 King Eiders (RW58) missing intaglio black, fewer than 10 known; and 1993 $15 Canvasbacks (RW60) missing intaglio black, 120-150 known.
So in 68 years, 11 different BEP-printed duck stamps have surfaced with major errors.
The total number of stamps represented by these 11 errors is approximately 575, out of some 230 million duck stamps printed.
Of this total, about 115 million stamps were not sold and subsequently were destroyed.
Another interesting fact is that of the roughly 575 error stamps, more than 500 are examples of RW53, RW57 or RW60.
Some experts believe that the imperforate examples of RW1 are actually printer’s waste, but today this cannot be proven either way.
Overall, these numbers speak quite well of the Bureau’s tenure in printing duck stamps.
As a citizen, though, I am befuddled why the BEP cannot compete with private industry. To me, there seems to be some problem with in-house costs and capabilities.
On the other hand, perhaps the duck stamp office is responsible for some of these excess costs. For example, self-adhesive duck stamps are far more costly to produce than water-activated stamps are.
In recent years, the combined print total of self-stick and traditional gummed stamps has been 4 million, with approximately 1.5 million stamps sold. The unsold balance has to be inventoried and then destroyed, which adds to the bottom line.
Why not print half that amount, 2 million stamps, and make them all lick-and-stick stamps? This would reduce costs all around.
Elimination of the self-stick pane of one would save a bundle. However, the duck stamp office deems this format necessary because it fits neatly into a cash register — a self-stick pane is the size of a paper currency note — and it allows for easy handling by sales clerks in retail stores where duck stamps are sold. A self-stick pane of one of the 2001-02 $15 Northern Pintail is shown in Figure 2.
Despite this convenience, there has not been an appreciable increase in the total number of duck stamps sold. Meanwhile, production costs have risen.
Specifically, self-stick panes cost approximately three times more to produce than gummed panes do.
If dollar-size panes are really necessary, why aren’t all postage stamps also produced in this merchant-friendly format?
I think merchants should solve their own handling problems with the duck stamps.
A transition management team is in place at the duck stamp office.
Since Bob Lesino left in October 2001, Terry Bell has been serving as acting chief.
Because 120 days is the maximum one can serve in this capacity, Doug Ryan is now the acting chief, while a permanent chief is being selected.
Ryan is from the division of bird habitat of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.