It’s Showtime

After all the controversy, arguing, and heated exchanges, we’ve reached the point in postal matters that really counts. We’ve been told how the Postmaster General’s 10-Year Plan will make everything right, and how, as part of that Plan, the Postal Service is going to have an outstanding 2021 peak season. But now, less than seven weeks before Christmas, the hanging question remains how much of that will come to pass; will the 2021 peak season live up to the hype?

The faithful

In the six months since he released his plan, we’ve all heard how the Postmaster General, upon his arrival, found postal management and operations in disarray, suffering from a lack of direction, drowning in red ink, and focusing on a dying product line while ignoring the booming package business.

We’ve all heard how, Moses-like, he came down from the mountaintop (the Board of Governors) with his Plan and that he liberated (his word) management to think and act in new ways (as his Plan would show them) to save the Postal Service from financial and operational damnation.

And we’ve all seen how executives and managers have become acolytes of the Plan and are zealously implementing it. Seldom if ever do we hear or read anything from the USPS that doesn’t include a plug for, or reference to, The Plan; everything that is happening at the agency is presented as emanating from some aspect of it.

OK, we get it. We can see that there’s a single-minded commitment to the Plan regardless of any doubts that may be injected by nettlesome customers. For the managers and executives of the Postal Service, they’re either on board or, perhaps literally, off the ship. The PMG and his team are, as he stated at MTAC, all-in.

Appearances

However, for months, many observers have dealt with a conflict between what they see and what they read. Specifically, they see (or learn about) service issues – mail taking too long to be processed and delivered – while at the same time reading official announcements from the USPS that service is getting better by the week and that any improvements are based on – here it comes – implementation of the Plan.

People have looked at the quarterly data filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission and listened to reports from commercial mailers, then read what the Postal Service is claiming are the true measurements of its service performance. More mail is being moved – allegedly at lower cost and with greater efficiency – by truck than by air yet somehow is experiencing more timely service. Assertions by the USPS and experience by mailers aren’t aligning, and this disconnect cannot be attributed simply to the observers’ lack of statistical sophistication in reading numbers.

Similarly, the commercial mailing industry has been told that, despite the appearance of being all-in on growing the package business, the USPS is still dedicated to traditional mail. Yet what’s heard and seen is a focus on packages – winning more package business, buying more package sorting equipment, leasing annexes to handle packages, buying new vehicles to deliver packages etc etc. The USPS seems to be sending conflicting messages: acknowledging the dearth of mail volume while admitting it supports the costs of the network, striving to build package volume while recognizing the added labor and cost associated with those items.

Non-postal persons who understand the mechanics of the agency’s costing and pricing are concerned that there will have to be an eventual shift of institutional costs from traditional mail to packages as the proportion of each changes. In turn, that may upset package pricing strategies and leave the USPS in a less competitive position in the package market.

But like the concerns expressed by ratepayers about higher prices and declining service, those issues are brushed aside as unwelcome noise by Plan loyalists.

Enough already

So, at this point, it should be clear that sides have been taken, positions established, and minds made up.

It’s highly unlikely that Louis DeJoy, or his backers on the Board of Governors, or the loyal apostles in his inner circle, are suddenly going to have an epiphany and realize that parts of The Plan are flawed; they’re all-in no matter what. Besides, too much has been said and done to change course now. The Plan is being implemented and there’s no turning back, no matter what customers may say or what the PRC may advise.

Similarly, those outside the USPS who truly believe that The Plan has flaws – that aggressively raising prices and paring back service are wrongheaded and self-defeating strategies, and who are experiencing service that’s nowhere as exceptional as the USPS is claiming – are not suddenly going to have their own epiphany and see transcendent wisdom in DeJoy’s plan. Events have advanced too far to undo what’s been done.

After months of pointless and frustrating exchanges, therefore, it may be time to give it all a rest. Nothing is going to change, and The Plan will continue unimpeded to its ultimate conclusion. Whether success or disaster will be its outcome can’t be foretold, despite each side’s predictions.

Peak

As we’re told annually, the Postal Service began planning for the upcoming peak season right after last year’s was over. The difference this time is that peak season planning is occurring within the embrace of The Plan and peak-related measures are dovetailed with The Plan’s longer-term initiatives – notably regarding packages.

For peak, and for the months and years thereafter, the USPS is expecting higher parcel volume, and so it adding employees, equipment, and facilities to handle it, in turn freeing traditional mail processing and movement from the clogs of packages witnessed last season.

According to the PMG and every postal executive allowed to speak publicly, the agency is better prepared this year than ever in the past. Its field leaders, employees, and facilities are ready, plans and resources are in place, and everyone’s ready to execute The Plan. So it would seem timely for the industry to step back, and for USPS to stop telling and start doing. Preparing is over; now it’s showtime.

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