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Duck stamp office slashes costs and services
|Cutbacks of additional duck stamp products and services were announced in a letter to collectors in April. Robert C. Lesino, chief of the United States federal duck stamp office, signed the letter.
The letter contains mostly bad news for collectors, followed by some strange news.
As announced last year, the duck stamp office carries only the current season's duck stamp and related products. Beginning with the late June release of the 2001-02 $15 Northern Pintail duck stamp, only the self-adhesive pane of one stamp will be handled by the duck stamp office.
The pintail stamp also will be issued in panes of 20 with water-activated gum.
Regarding the gummed stamps, the letter states, "No gummed stamps will be sold from the federal duck stamp office."
Lesino also advises, "I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing not to print any souvenir cards. The numbered, mint and canceled cards are not a profitable product for us to carry and sell. They are being discontinued in their entirety."
Pictured nearby is a Bureau souvenir card for the $15 Mottled Duck stamp of 2000, Scott RW67.
The mailing of sales packets to customers also will be discontinued this year. This philosophy rings of some recent news from the United States Postal Service about the threat of stopping Saturday delivery because of a revenue crisis. Is the Postal Service going to keep cutting services to meet the budget?
If I recall correctly, mail delivery was created out of a public need, not necessarily to make a profit. I think the same applies to the federal duck stamp office.
The advertising and selling of duck stamps also is a service, initiated to increase sales and public awareness of the program. The stamp prices have risen from $1 in 1934 to $15 in 2001.
The last increase was almost 10 years ago, in 1992, raising the cost of a single stamp by $2.50 to the current $15, a 20 percent increase.
If the program needs more money, either the price of the federal duck stamp should be increased or a creative solution should be sought.
Perhaps requiring a junior duck stamp for hunters 16 and younger during a January through June season would add needed funds.
All the mechanics are in place to produce junior duck stamps, and the program could be a real plus for the youngsters.
I realize that money is used for wetlands acquisition and not to fund overhead costs of the duck stamp office.
It seems a bit shortsighted, however, to ignore that its efforts and sales have not more than paid for themselves. The funds are coming in and out of the same pair of pants but not the same pocket, it seems.
Another casualty of the cutbacks is the artist-signed stamps. Lesino's letter states, "Artist-signed stamps will be available in [self-adhesive] format only from the federal duck stamp office. Philatelists, collectors and dealers will have to contact the artist directly to make arrangements for gummed stamp signatures."
The address of the artist for the upcoming Pintail stamp is Robert Hautman, 2251 110th St. S.E., Delano, MN 55328.
An artist does not charge for signatures in the year (July 1-June 30) for which his stamp is current. However, autograph seekers should send an addressed, stamped return envelope, so the artist should not be out of pocket to return a stamp or cover.
Hautman's signature also will be available at the first-day event in Washington, D.C., June 29, and at the artist's hometown event, date to be announced. Information can be obtained from the duck stamp office web site at duckstamps.fws.gov.
Shipping costs will now take an added chunk from collectors. The letter further states: "The duck stamp office will be increasing its shipping and handling charges for [self-adhesive] stamps and licensed product orders. Each order sent via registered mail will have a $10 fee and overnight mail via Federal Express will have a $20 fee."
The no-cash policy is a rather strange one, which I presume has a good basis. Lesino states: "The federal duck stamp office will continue its No Cash policy. All office orders and sales at events and shows will be VISA, MasterCard, and checks only accepted. No Cash Sales!"
And I thought cash was legal tender. No explanation was given, but I find it a puzzling policy for a United States government agency.
Item No. 6 in the letter directs hunters, collectors, philatelists and other buyers to various sources for stamps, as follows:
For self-adhesive stamps:
A. The Postal Service at 1-800-STAMP24 (782-6724).
B. Amplex at 1-800-DUCK-499 (382-5499).
C. Your favorite duck stamp dealer, or the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society web site located at www.hwcn.org/link/ndscs/dealer.html.
D. Your favorite Wal-Mart, Kmart, or local sporting goods store.
E. The federal duck stamp office at 1-877-887-5508.
For traditional gummed stamps:
A. Same as A previously.
B. Visit your local philatelic window at your post office.
C. Same as C previously.
D. The letter states, "The federal duck stamp office does not endorse any one dealer over the other and does not guarantee that the attached list is a complete list of all dealers who deal in federal duck stamps."
The letter advises, "Future cost-cutting measures may require the elimination of the gummed traditional stamp and/or the stamp as an engraved product. We are working with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to keep quality and tradition, but to reduce costs."
In my opinion, eliminating line-engraved duck stamps will greatly reduce the program's appeal. Then the statisticians will wonder why sales have gone down.
Entertaining the idea of eliminating the gummed stamp, a collector favorite, is about the most insane thing I've heard or read. These stamps are extremely profitable, and they represent almost 100 percent profit to the wetlands.
For the last few years during the dual tenure of self-stick and gummed stamps, let's assume that only 100,000 gummed stamps were sold per year, a number I feel is close to the actual total.
Each stamp is $15, so that means a total gross sales figure of $1,500,000 for the gummed stamps alone.
Gummed-stamp production costs, I understand, run about $75,000 annually, and the low cost of post offices selling only through philatelic windows is about the only expense involved.
Perhaps that only leaves a gross margin of $1.4 million a year. Well, that's a tidy sum to trash in the interest of saving money. Even if the sales are 50 percent overstated by my estimate, throwing away that much money for wetlands support is still outrageous.
Lesino explained to me that the Bureau increased its production costs for self-adhesive duck stamps by more than 100 percent from 1998 to 2001. Costs for gummed duck stamps have jumped 87 percent during the same period.
Every cent spent on production and printing is a cent not going to wetlands restoration. Thus, Lesino is considering alternative printing methods to chip away at costs.
I get the feeling that all possible options have not been explored.
If the cost cutters want to reduce production costs, why not lower the 4 million stamps printed to 2 million, since annual sales of both types run about 1.2 million stamps? It seems rather wasteful to produce 2.8 million stamps over the proven need.
Some overproduction is necessary to supply post offices with an ample supply of stamps, many of which are returned and then destroyed after ample storage time. In addition, the storage for approximately $42 million of accountable paper destined for the incinerator has to be quite an overhead apple to eat.
This doesn't make any sense to me, and perhaps it doesn't have to make sense to the government.
I think some private companies or individuals would be happy to work for a mere $1.4 million per year, or even $700,000 a year, worst case.
Two years ago, an advertising program for federal duck stamps was initiated on a test basis to increase sales. It flopped, and I recently learned that the entire $3 million to $4 million budget has been withdrawn. Being rather involved in duck stamps, I was always on the alert to see an advertisement, but never saw one - not a single one. I talked to many collectors at shows and on the phone, but incredibly not one had seen an ad either.
It's like the tree in the forest falling without witnesses; did it make a sound or not? The intent was great, but the execution was lousy. The sad news is that the ad campaign's results mean that duck stamp ads probably do not work.
The Government Printing Office prepared a lovely duck stamp album in some form or other since 1942. The explanations and black-and-white photos were outstanding. Both beginning and advanced collectors loved the albums.
About five years ago that album was scrapped because of the need to cut costs. What are those many collectors using today?
Except for artist appreciation cards and generic cards, all other cards have been discontinued, and a substantial number of stamp shows attended annually by the duck stamp office have been abandoned.
In the long run, the federal duck stamp program will not benefit from these so-called cost savings.
The duck stamp office was, and is, performing a valuable service to the duck stamp program and the collector community, which all served to bolster duck stamp sales.
It took many years to establish these efforts that are now crumbling, with the promise of more cuts to come, and no new programs on the horizon.
Unfortunately, the Department of the Interior seems intent on tearing down programs rather than building them. It appears that the federal duck stamp office might not exist at all soon, possibly followed by elimination of the duck stamp.
If that were to happen, then shame on the Department of the Interior and the federal duck stamp office for allowing on their watch such a tragedy to befall wetlands restoration and duck stamps.