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.

The majority of what’s been issued by the agency has been official statements by PMG Louis DeJoy, assuring he’s independent and not politically influenced, defending his actions or explaining that any changes were initiated before he was hired, or expressing confidence that the USPS will successfully handle the volume of election and holiday mail.  After being the center of political theatrics a few weeks ago during Congressional hearings, he’s also issued statements following-up on what he stated then, reinforcing his assurances about election mail in particular.

But given all the issues that never were mentioned in the general media before June, and how they’ve become easy fodder for uninformed (if not biased) reporting recently, the Postal Service still has more that it should be saying, and more misinformation that it should be correcting, but isn’t.

Issues

Judging from what’s become of interest to the media and politicians, the list of issues on which the Postal Service might want to be less silent ranges from mailboxes to processing machines to staffing and service.

  • A great deal of interest has been focused on collection boxes – where they are, or aren’t, or where they used to be – and why their absence or removal is occurring. The standing allegation is that mailboxes are being removed (or chained shut) under the PMG’s direction, in concurrence with alleged instructions from the president, to prevent people from mailing back ballots.
    Mailboxes are being chained shut during off-hours because vandals fish out mail or throw trash or flammables into them.  Some have been removed temporarily in areas of unrest; others that were removed were later replaced by more secure tamper-proof boxes.  And some have been removed simply because they’re not used enough.  Has the USPS explained any of this?  No, so critics and their opinions are left to make unchallenged allegations.
    (Of course, as past OIG audits have noted, the USPS has done a poor job of following its own policies about mailboxes – failing to take the required periodic usage tallies, and either not removing underutilized boxes or removing those that shouldn’t be.)

  • There’s also concern about taking mail processing equipment out of service.  Removing machines has fueled charges by union members (who would be assigned to work on them) that their removal will adversely impact USPS processing capacity during the election and holiday seasons.  Without further investigation, the media has repeated these claims, alarming the public and providing more fodder to Congressional critics who assume the objective is to further impair voting by mail.
    The USPS has failed to disclose supporting documentation of the obvious reason for sidelining the machines – because they’re no longer needed.  Instead, the PMG has thrown his predecessors and their staffs under the bus by telling Congress and others that the decommissioning process began before he was hired.
    It’s likely that substantial data exists in HQ Operations linking decreased volume and excess processing capacity – which would make taking out redundant equipment reasonable.  That it remains hidden in a drawer again exemplifies the Postal Service’s failure to clarify what it’s doing and rebut uninformed critics.
    (And, as critics link delayed shipments of medicine to the machines’ removal, among other factors, the USPS has failed to clarify that such items would not have been processed on the letter or flat sorting equipment being taken out of service.)

  • The dearth of commercial air travel and the resulting loss of capacity to move First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, and other products by air often has forced the use of slower ground transportationMail on the ground moves slower than mail moved by air, with a consequent impact on service, but has the USPS told its customers that?  It may be obvious to people in the mailing business, but not to average people, and certainly not to the general media.

  • Like other groups, the postal workforce has been impacted by the pandemic as employees quarantine, are ill, or are caring for others.  Accordingly, whether in processing facilities, retail outlets, or delivery units, fewer employees on duty can cause mail processing to take longer and miss deadlines, and short-handed carrier units may not be able to complete all deliveries.

  • This impact is not unique to the USPS, and easily can be understood if it’s disclosed.  The Postal Service knows where and to what extent its staffing levels are insufficient but keeps this data to itself.  In doing so, it allows the media to publicize uninformed complaints about slower service, and again allege it’s meant to slow balloting materials, when the USPS instead should refute these stories and keep people better informed of the facts.

  • Because of transportation and staffing issues, service is suffering.  The unions, implementing their own agenda, are eager to enhance stories of poor service caused by DeJoy’s actions and fan the fires of political suspicion.  However, data from private companies that track mail for clients shows that measured service declines aren’t as cataclysmic as critics and politicians allege.

  • Information about maintaining schedules and carriers leaving before mail arrived was disclosed through a series of leaked, unattributed documents that were reported in the trade press and the general media.  Their legitimacy as policy directives was not challenged at the time by the USPS.  However, in recent written testimony related to litigation in federal court, USPS VPs refuted what had been distributed, claiming it was not official policy, and that its contents and later actions reflected “poor judgment” and “ineffective management” by field facility managers and supervisors.  Why it took weeks – and litigation – for the USPS to disavow the accuracy of what was leaked, and clarify what is official policy, is a mystery.  Meanwhile, the damage was done.

But here’s the worst consequence of the Postal Service’s stoic silence: the loss of confidence by ratepayers.

The clients of commercial mail producers are asking whether they should still mail, or return to the mail this fall, or simply pull out and go digital because all they hear and all they read suggests the USPS has serious and irresolvable problems.  How much more evidence does the agency need before it understands that it has to provide clear, candid, and substantive information to refute disinformation and hyperbole?

 

The mailing industry can help translate to, and in turn assure, its ratepaying clients that the postal sky isn’t falling, as the unions, Congress, and the media would make it seem.  But first, the USPS needs to learn how to communicate.

Share this post:

Comments on "Still Paying the Price for Poor Communication"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment