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OIG Examines the Postal Service’s Embargoes and Redirects

The 2020 peak mailing season likely didn’t go as the Postal Service or its customers had expected, to say the least.

Whatever preparations the agency had made for the usual seasonal volume were severely disrupted as the global pandemic impacted employee and transportation availability, and as package volume surged in response to orders from quarantined shoppers.  USPS processing facilities strained to move volume and maintain service but, as the Postal Service and commercial mailers learned, those efforts were unsuccessful in some locations, necessitating exceptional measures to redirect or completely halt the inflow of mail.

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Distilling Information from USPS Responses

Part of the Postal Regulatory Commission’s process for considering a Postal Service request for an advisory opinion – like the one now before it regarding changes to USPS service standards – is the opportunity for intervening parties to ask questions of Postal Service witnesses, based on their written testimony.

Last month, as an intervenor in the case, Mailers Hub submitted questions to three USPS witnesses: Logistics VP Robert Cintron; Stephen Hagenstein, Director, Logistics Modeling and Analytics; and Acting Budget Director Curtis Whiteman.  Some were about vehicle utilization and dispatch times, while others focused on the reasons for the changes that were proposed.  After some debate over what constitutes a “question” (the number that can be submitted is limited at 25), the USPS witnesses filed their responses on June 1.

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Operational Issues May Explain Service Standard Failures

A major focus of the Postal Service’s 10-year Plan, issued March 23, is the need to downgrade service standards for First-Class Mail because the current standards, which haven’t been met for several years, are “unattainable.” The Plan recites various reasons for this situation, including failures in air transportation and in compliance with facility operating plans.

The fundamental absence of operating discipline in USPS processing facilities was highlighted in two audits published in mid-April by the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General: Delayed Mail at the Lehigh Valley, PA Processing and Distribution Center, issued April 12, and Delayed Mail at the North Houston, TX Processing and Distribution Center, released April 13.

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How to Make a Plan, USPS Style

There was a commercial for Toyota that aired several years ago that had the tagline “You asked for it, you got it.”  What “it” was hasn’t been remembered as well as the tag line, but the utility of the line persists.

In this case, given that the Postal Service finally issued its 10-year plan last week, the agency can say “you asked for a plan, you got a plan.”  Congress and the mailing community have been waiting for years for The Plan that the agency’s been promising, and now we can all see whether the result has been worth the wait.

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OIG Reports on Cleveland Drop Shipment Unloading Delays

In an audit report released March 10, Excessive Wait Times to Accept Commercial Mail Shipments at the Cleveland Processing & Distribution Center, the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General examined the circumstances surrounding the challenges encountered by the facility in late 2020.  As the OIG stated at the outset:

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2020 general election, the US Postal Service’s Cleveland Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) experienced earlier than normal Peak Season mail, including package volume.  This management alert responds to media and mailer concerns indicating that drivers experienced excessive wait times for drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC.  Our objective was to assess the efficiency of processing drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC in the Northern Ohio District.”

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Kremlin on the Potomac: Postal Service Communications

Readers old enough to remember the Soviet Union also remember how skilled it was at saying nothing – about anything – no matter what.  If something happened, regardless of whether it was visible to the outside world, it simply wasn’t acknowledged.  A natural disaster?  Never happened.  The disappearance of an important figure?  He’s fine.  A bomber crash into a village?  No bomber, nothing happened.

If outsiders posed a question about any event, the basic answer, if there was one, was denial, deflection, or obfuscation.  The Soviets never admitted to anything going wrong, to any internal failures, or to any event or condition that might break the illusion they so ardently projected or that might provide an outsider a peek into what’s really going on.

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Parsing the Causes for an Historic Service Collapse – Analysis

Usually, after the busy fall mailing season and the holiday rush, things return to normal for the Postal Service and its commercial mailing customers.  As everyone knows, however, the current environment is anything but normal.

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USPS Issues Post-Election Report

In a perhaps unusual move, the Postal Service released a report in late December reviewing the 2020 election and its role in the vote-by-mail process.  Posted on its Link site on December 30, 2020, the 22-page document, Post-Election Analysis: Delivering the Nation’s Election Mail in an Extraordinary Year, summarizes the agency’s actions in support of the election process.

The report detailed its performance at the national level:

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Lack of Information Continues About Delays at USPS Facilities

As the latest wave of illness related to the ongoing pandemic sweeps across the country, the Postal Service, like other businesses, is suffering from staffing shortages as workers become sickened, or are absent to quarantine or care for family members.

Postal officials have stated that USPS facilities typically can have a 3-4% absentee rate – employees on leave for one reason or another – but that some are now facing staffing shortfalls of up to 20%.  For example, if an incoming dock operation at a plant had an approved staffing of 20, and could function with 19 or 18, it likely would be challenged to meet unload times if only 15 or 16 employees were available.

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Can Scan Data Be Believed?

One of the better features of many USPS mail categories and services is the use of a unique barcode on mailpieces that, when scanned by Postal Service machines or people, can yield information about the item’s location (and delivery status).  Of course, the value and accuracy of that information depend on whether the scan actually was captured at the time and location reported to the customer.

The USPS regularly details on its daily Link the percentage of expected delivery scans that actually occur.  For the week ending October 16, for example, the national score was 97.06%, down 0.14% from the previous week.  The areas and districts that do the best typically score in the mid- to high-ninety percent range, meaning that the others do more poorly; the agency doesn’t disclose them.

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Still Paying the Price for Poor Communication

A commentary in the August 3 issue of Mailers Hub News opined on the Postal Service’s failure to offer meaningful communication during times when the popular media is regularly publicizing rumors, leaked documents, and union allegations about what’s going on in the agency.  In concluding that commentary, we urged the USPS to provide accurate and timely information before other parties told their story first.  Similar messages for better communication by the Postal Service came from others in the mailing industry before and since that commentary was published.

From all appearances, the urging has had little effect, and the consequences of the Postal Service’s silence continue.

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Delivery Changes Met by Media Criticism

Changes to mail processing and delivery procedures being adopted by the Postal Service have been met with criticism in the general media.  News articles frequently cite customer and labor union concerns over delays in mail delivery and fault the USPS for placing budgets ahead of service.

Many examples

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Lack of Transportation Impacting International Mail

The article below was produced by Merry Law, Mailers Hub’s expert, and consultant on international mail. Merry may be reached at [email protected].


COVID-19 closures, lack of transport capacity, self-declared inbound rates, expiring USPS consolidator contracts, no bilateral agreements with other countries: Taking this a piece at a time can make sense of what is happening, who it affects and how. Let’s start with the more temporary effects of the current pandemic crisis and move on to the longer-term matters.

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Mailers Hub Coronavirus Response

The scale, scope, and ubiquity of the current health crisis is a situation none of us has encountered before. While we all have to adapt in our personal lives, we also need to do what we can to keep our businesses alive. From the information that’s available, it would seem that the days of uncertainty, challenge, and sacrifice are far from over, and no commercial mail producer has the ability – or bank account – to allay all the fears or overcome all the challenges by itself.

Now, more than ever, members of the commercial mailing community need to work together. 

Our job at Mailers Hub is what our tagline says: to bring commercial mailing, solutions, and resources together – and we’ll do that by providing information and a place to get it.  On our site, as information becomes available, we will do our best to communicate it in a timely and useful manner.  As problems arise for the industry and individual providers, we will do our best to act as a resource and network to help facilitate solutions.  We all need to do what we can; we hope our part will serve our colleagues well.
 
As always, contact us as needed.


FOR UPDATED INFORMATION: https://mailershub.com/covid-19 





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