Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister
Tony Rothwell of Pinehurst, N.C., asked a question that a lot of Americans are posing these days: “If the post office can’t be bothered to deliver the mail in a timely manner, why should we be bothered to buy the stamps?”
Rothwell posed the question in a letter published Jan. 23 on the website of the Pilot newspaper of Southern Pines, N.C.
He is not alone in asking “What’s going on with the [United States] Postal Service?”
Paul Steidler, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., and a steady postal supporter, said in a Jan. 22 blog post on the institute’s website, “The mail service is worse than it has been in decades.”
The numbers he cited back his claim.
For the week ending Dec. 26, 2020, the last week available in a court case, Steidler said the USPS “delivered just 64 percent of first-class mail within its target delivery times.”
“Throughout the fourth quarter, both before and after the Nov. 3 election, first-class mail never came close to the 96 percent on-time service standard,” Steidler wrote.
What he described as “the utter obliterations of first-class mail service standards occurred in December during the Christmas season when USPS had large volumes of packages to deliver.”
But he said ShipMatrix, a firm that rates delivery times, reported that 94.7 percent of USPS parcels were delivered on time during the week of Dec. 20-26 “versus 63.87 per cent of first-class mail.”
That troubles Steidler because the USPS is supposed to give priority to mail delivery over packages “as it is the only entity in America that can provide this monopoly service.”
Business mailers are “growing incensed with poor service and a sense that they are being treated as second-class customers compared to those who send packages,” Steidler said.
Two mail industry experts agree.
“Service is quite poor,” said Stephen Kearney, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. “People are losing confidence in mail.”
“It appears that the Postal Service is making progress in alleviating some of the most severe backlogs, but some trouble spots with delays remain,” said Michael Plunkett, president of the Association for Postal Commerce.
Kearney, a former postal executive, said: “Everyone is talking about Christmas cards that took a month to be delivered and bill payments that were late.”
“We’ve all heard the rationale — employee absences and resignations due to the pandemic, difficulties hiring more employees, huge increases in packages, and inadequate air lift on commercial and cargo airlines,” Kearney told Linn’s.
“Postal management doesn’t seem to have a good handle on it.”
And Kearney said more troubles lie ahead in the form of a “7 to 9 percent mid-year rate increase.”
“It’s time to call off any more postage increases in 2021,” he said.
I can attest from my family’s experience that the Postal Service’s parcel service has been less than stellar.
My son, Jon, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, sent me the time line on two holiday packages that finally arrived at his house in January.
One package, sent from Oberlin, Ohio, Dec. 11 arrived Jan. 21 after spending most of December in Ohio and Michigan, according to USPS tracking.
His other package, from Jamaica, N.Y, was picked up by the USPS Dec. 15.
USPS tracking indicates it went to Greensboro, N.C., on Dec. 29 and then to Philadelphia where it was delivered Jan. 11.
The USPS has blamed COVID-19 illnesses among its workers for the delays. It has also accused United Parcel Service and FedEx of cutting off parcel service to some of their customers, forcing them to divert large shipments to the Postal Service.
Steidler thinks Congress should address the mail problem as it did after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy changed some of the trucking regulations in July and caused a plunge in on-time mail deliveries.
Steidler said that for many postal customers “aged 50 and older this is a tipping point.”
“They have decided to stop using USPS for bill paying and items, saving postage costs, and accelerating a trend away from mail,” he said.
Asked to comment, Postal Service spokeswoman Kim Frum cited the difficulties the USPS has faced: “As the holiday inventory continues to drop, the Postal Service fully anticipates improvements in performance.”
“The United States Postal Service delivered a record number of holiday packages for the American people under some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve faced in the past century — specifically more than 1.1 billion packages were delivered this holiday season amidst a global pandemic.”
She said the USPS had faced “pressure on service performance across categories as it managed through a record of volume while also overcoming employee shortages due to the ongoing surge in Covid-19 cases, winter storms in the Northeast, as well as ongoing capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving historic volumes of mail.”
She said that as the problems mounted, DeJoy and his leadership team took steps to address them.
“Working with union leadership we adjusted and increased full-time career staffing by more than 10,000 positions in several facilities across the country which will stabilize our operations and improve performance.
“Consistent with past peak seasons, we have fully utilized overtime to allow employees to work the time necessary to process the record volume.”
“We extended lease agreements on annexes used to provide additional package processing and dispatch capacity beyond the holiday peak season.”
“Implemented in August 2020, we realigned organizational reporting structures, providing greater visibility by the executive team into operations, allowing for quicker responses to issues,” Frum said.
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