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Caught in the Spin

As everyone involved in commercial mail production realizes, we’re heading into a second atypical fall mailing season.  Supplies of the essential raw material – paper – are tight, trucking companies are busy moving backlogged shipments from ports, drivers are still in short supply, and companies are struggling to find workers despite high unemployment.

Concurrently, the Postal Service is reworking its processing and logistics networks – consolidating some operations while adding annexes and installing package sorting equipment – and planning to move more mail by truck and reduce its service commitments.

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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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DeJoy and His Governors: Dissenters Not Welcome

Given the circumstances of their nomination and confirmation, it’s no surprise that the majority of the sitting USPS Governors exhibit a common philosophy, regardless of their partisan affiliation.  Moreover, the six governors who were in place before this summer, having chosen the current Postmaster General, also display a singular allegiance to him, and back any decisions that he makes; he’s their man.  As a result, Louis DeJoy apparently can run the USPS as he wants, knowing he’ll be supported fully by those who selected him.

Insulation

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USPS Claims Service Improvements

Anyone even marginally attentive to USPS service performance knows that, over the past year, the agency has struggled because of pandemic-related absenteeism, process failures, a lack of air transportation, a surge of packages, and other atypical circumstances that led to network congestion and significant declines in service.  Though some of those conditions have eased – such as a slowly stabilizing workforce and more air transportation availability – service remains subpar in many parts of the country.

The growing shortfall between established service standards and actual performance had been evident in the service scores for years, but that worsened as the pandemic took hold early in 2020, as shown in the quarterly scores beginning in PQ II/FY2020 (January-March 2020).

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Other Voices Heard About Proposed Service Standard Changes

 By late June, the Postal Regulatory Commission likely had received more comments than it had expected about the Postal Service’s proposal to change the service standards for First-Class Mail and some Periodicals.

Aside from the briefs and statements of position from the eleven intervenors in the case, plus the commission’s “public representative,” the PRC also got comments from other groups and interested parties, including from 478 individuals from all over the country.  (Whether there was a coordinated campaign behind those isn’t clear; many of the comments didn’t follow a pattern.)

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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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