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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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As Expected, Clerks Union Opposes Plant Closures

If Postmaster General Louis DeJoy had hoped to avoid opposition from postal labor to his 10-year Plan, such as by avoiding any requests for concessions on labor agreements or wages and benefits, he scuttled them by his recent decision to resume the network rationalization process that was halted in 2015.

As would be expected, the American Postal Workers Union, representing the clerk craft employees who staff processing facilities and retail operations, promptly announced its opposition.  In a typically overwrought statement, the union’s president asserted

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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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Will Lowering the Bar Enable Success?

On April 21, the USPS filed its Request for an Advisory Opinion on Changes in the Nature of Postal Services, seeking the Postal Regulatory Commission’s input on changes to the service standards for First-Class Mail and time-sensitive Periodicals. The fifteen-page filing was accompanied by direct testimony from five witnesses and eight “library references” containing supporting data.

Proposal

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Exchange of Letters Shows Rift

Letter exchanged this month between a coalition of industry groups and the Postmaster General illustrate the gap between them regarding the Postal Service’s 10-Year Plan, released March 23.  The industry letter presents a series of concerns, to all of which the PMG takes exception.  Readers can form their own conclusions. Links below. 

Industry Response to 10-Year Plan

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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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More than Geography

It’s practically part of the routine: when a new boss takes over, a reorganization soon follows.  That step accomplishes many purposes, including setting up a functional and management structure that reflects the executive’s vision for the organization’s best configuration; reassigning or replacing members of the executive’s immediate and next level subordinates; redesigning territorial responsibilities; and revising reporting relationships.

A “reorg” happens at the Postal Service usually after a new Postmaster General is installed, if not more often, and typically impacts functional organization, executive team membership, field structure, or complement levels.  So it’s no particular news that Louis DeJoy began his own reorg shortly after being named PMG last summer.

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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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Firing the Boss

After annual reports are released, corporations that didn’t do well often dismiss their top executives in the belief that better results would be produced by their successors.  Sometimes that works, sometimes not.

Analogizing this to the Postal Service, the ongoing service crisis is resulting in calls for the dismissal of the postmaster general.  As with a company, such action is assumed to be key to righting the ship or beginning a positive improvement trend; but also as with a company, that assumes the CEO is the primary factor in the company’s performance.

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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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When a Monopoly Is No Longer What It Was Meant to Be


Once upon a time, there was a company that was given an exclusive charter to build and operate a railroad between two cities that were quite far apart.  That charter required certain levels of service to the cities and to each town along the route and, in exchange, afforded the company the exclusive right to carry certain types of freight and passengers.  To be sure the fares the company charged weren’t excessive, an independent panel was established to review the company’s income and costs.

For decades, the railroad thrived, with more passengers and freight every year.  Even though it was the only railroad allowed to operate the route, the company’s customers still were satisfied with its fares and service.

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The Post-Election Postal Service, Part 2

Part two of two in a commentary, originally published in the most recent issue of Mailers Hub News. Click here for part one

 

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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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USPS Policy Allows DMU Employees to Refuse COVID Screening

Commercial mail producers continue to express concerns that, despite having protocols to screen visitors for virus exposure, postal employees coming into their facilities to work at detached mail units refuse to comply, often citing instructions from their union (the American Postal Workers Union).

As much as such a position may seem counterintuitive and potentially dangerous, it appears that the Postal Service sanctioned it in a policy statement issued last spring.  The April 1 Industry Alert itself (below) offered no explanation for the agency’s refusal to cooperate with screening practices, instead referring to a Q&A document (Coronavirus Updates for Business Customers).  Although that cited document referred to letter carriers, the same policy presumably was applied to all craft employees:

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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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Evaluating Rumors About Potential USPS Changes

The possibility of Postal Service price changes was usually an issue discussed only within the mailing industry, but the politicization of the agency over vote-by-mail and other matters has resulted in postal news appearing in the general media.  However, this phenomenon has resulted in articles being published that are based on incomplete information, rumors, or speculation, derived from “unnamed” or unofficial sources, and produced by writers inexperienced in dealing with the arcane world of the USPS.

Changes ahead

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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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Paying the Price for Poor Communication

The current level of negative publicity about the Postal Service – notably for slow or infrequent delivery, the impact of reported changes in mail processing and delivery procedures, and the potential consequences of these changes on election mail – might not have to be what it is if the USPS simply were more communicative.

Institutional Reticence

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