OIG Assesses USPS Peak Season Readiness

The Postal Service’s recent claims of readiness for the demands of the 2021 holiday shipping season may be more good PR than accurate, based on what the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General recently reported.  In that audit report, Fiscal Year 2022 Peak Mailing Season Preparedness, issued November 19, the OIG documented both the measures the Postal Service has taken and where those may be falling short.

Getting ready

The OIG listed the initiatives that the USPS planned or has implemented, including:

  • Increasing employee complement by 33,000 since January 2021 to help prepare for peak staffing needs.
  • Hiring approximately 45,000 additional temporary employees (30,000 processing employees and 15,000 retail and delivery employees) to start on or after October 9, 2021, and hiring 1,100 additional truck drivers.
  • Leasing 46 package support annexes with two- to five-year lease terms for use beyond peak season to help acquire space in high demand areas.
  • Leasing 70 temporary mail processing and logistics annexes to process packages during the FY 2022 peak mailing season.
  • Deploying and installing 112 package sorting machines, with 89 in processing facilities and 23 in delivery units.
  • Increasing air transportation capacity by 12% over last peak season.
  • Expanding six surface transfer centers and ensuring they are not co-located at processing facilities to help alleviate dock congestion and reduce transportation trips.
  • Better utilizing trailer space on surface transportation trips.

The difference between a successful peak season and one that repeats the troubles of last year’s may rest on how adequate the agency’s plans are, how fully they are actually implemented, and how well Postal Service managers (and employees) execute the USPS playbook.

Findings

As the OIG noted, not everything may be going as well as the agency would claim, noting that “some of the Postal Service’s initiatives are at risk of not being fully implemented before the upcoming peak season.”  Specifically, the OIG found that as of October 25:

  • The USPS has secured leases for only 40 of the 70 temporary annexes and 46 package support annexes planned for long-term use.
  • Only 84 of the planned 89 package processing machines have been installed, although “management anticipates installing all package processing machines by December 2021.”

  • The nationwide labor shortage could impact the Postal Service’s plan to hire 45,000 temporary employees.  “While the Postal Service was able to hire its planned number of temporary employees last peak season, it fell short in the two years prior.”

  • The nationwide shortage of commercial truck drivers could affect the Postal Service’s surface transportation capacity.  “The Postal Service is piloting a program to train current PVS non-Commercial Driver’s License drivers to become CDL drivers to mitigate the truck driver shortage.”  (USPS plans “to consolidate mail at the STCs to better utilize surface transportation by having more mail go on fewer trips” may reduce the need for drivers but could also increase handlings and add to delays in end-to-end transit time.)

The OIG also asked the 26 directors overseeing Mail Processing and Logistics in the agency’s thirteen divisions about their confidence in the agency’s planning and readiness.  The answers were unsurprising in reflecting the official position:

“... all processing division directors felt ‘Very Confident’ or ‘Confident’ that they would have sufficient facility space, sorting machines, and processing employees to timely process mail and package volume during the FY 2022 peak season.  All logistics division directors felt ‘Very Confident’ or ‘Confident’ that there would be sufficient air capacity to timely transport mail and packages during the FY 2022 peak season.  However, most logistics division directors only felt ‘Somewhat Confident’ there would be sufficient surface transportation to timely transport mail and packages.   Many noted in their responses they were unsure if they would have sufficient surface transportation due to the ongoing nationwide truck driver shortage.

Conclusions

The OIG ended its report on a relatively wait-and-see note:

“While it is unclear whether the Postal Service can fully implement its initiatives prior to the start of the FY 2022 peak mailing season, it has already increased the number of full-time employees by 8%, facility floor space by 48%, and package processing capacity by 16% compared to last peak season.  Postal Service management expects those percentages to increase even more as the remaining initiatives are implemented. ...

“Because the Postal Service has implemented several initiatives to address the causes of low performance during last peak season and are working to implement other OIG recommendations, we are not making any additional recommendations at this time. ... We plan to monitor conditions and evaluate service performance throughout the FY 2022 peak mailing season and issue a report on any challenges identified.”

The OIG noted that management “generally agreed with our report,” adding that “they took a proactive and unprecedented approach to peak planning this year.”  As would be expected in any statement from the USPS, management credited their confidence to the implementation of the Postmaster General’s 10-year Plan.  However, the success of the 2021 peak season will be judged not on the Postal Service’s devotion to The Plan but on its actual performance.

 

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