USPS Continues to Try to ‘Walk Back’ Federal Register Fiasco

October 10, 2018

The Postal Service’s latest attempt to save face on the recent Federal Register Notice (FRN) fiasco came at last week’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) meeting.  The first public attempt by USPS management to walk back, or back-pedal, its colossal error in previously announcing the potential ban of all merchandise in Marketing Mail had been this September 20 statement:

Clarification of the Federal Register Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Concerning USPS Marketing Mail Content Standards

The Postal Service is clarifying its intention behind the Federal Register advance notice of proposed rulemaking dated 8/23/18 (83 FR 42624).  We issued the advance notice to receive comments from as many stakeholders as possible on a potential change to the content eligibility standards of USPS Marketing Mail letters and flats.  The goal of the notice is to inform our decision-making by seeking broad feedback from all interested stakeholders with regard to potential changes we are contemplating to our content eligibility requirements.  An advance notice is the approved mechanism for the Postal Service to reach out to the American public to collect input on potential rules changes and to provide an opportunity for every interested person or organization to participate and to provide feedback.  To be clear, we are seeking stakeholder feedback to assist us in making an informed decision on whether to propose changes, but at this stage no decision has been made, and no alternative rule or rule changes have been proposed. 

We strongly encourage everyone with an interest in this matter to provide comments to by October 22, 2018.  Upon conclusion of the comment period, we will be working with the Mailing Industry to evaluate, define, and determine whether to propose any changes to USPS Marketing Mail content eligibility standards, and if changes are warranted to design the proposed rule.  This is part of an in-depth evaluation of USPS Marketing Mail.  We will seek necessary approvals from the Postal Service Governors and the Postal Regulatory Commission as warranted should any content changes be recommended at the conclusion of the evaluation process.  If the Postal Service decides to make content changes, and they are approved, the earliest they would be implemented is calendar year 2020.


MTAC Sleight of Hand

At the MTAC meeting, Postmaster General Megan Brennan both apologized for not giving enough advance notice, and defended the FRN as the “approved process.”  She tried to minimize the issue by focusing only on process and notification.  Brennan even defended it by saying that the proposal had been mentioned at a meeting of an obscure new MTAC “task team.”  The fact that the task team mention set off no alarm bells among mailers and service providers proves that it was not a reasonable or adequate way to get input or give a heads up.

More important than the notification process is the obvious fact that no business puts such a scare into its loyal customers in order to “receive as many comments as possible on a proposal.”  We enumerated the seven ways in which this notice was a huge mistake in a previous edition of this newsletter.

In other words, it’s not just how you say it, it’s what you say that matters.  And the demonstrated fact that USPS believes it has no better way to understand and get input from its customers is extremely troubling.


Some Progress but Extended Uncertainty

We should not ignore the fact that postal management and lawyers heeded part of our advice that changes to products and rates such as those contemplated must be approved by the USPS Board of Governors and the Postal Regulatory Commission.  They left these very important facts out of the original FRN.  USPS failed to heed the part in which we demanded that the notice be fully withdrawn.

In an attempt to cover their tracks, postal managers may have made matters worse by saying that the uncertainty about potential changes will extend to 2020.  Many MTAC participants made this point in conversations, and some asked about it during the general session.  Again, USPS leaders poo-pooed the concerns.  The risk-reward tradeoff for career postal employees is simply different from that of leaders and employees of private sector businesses and organizations.  This whole episode is an unfortunate demonstration of that gap.


Cost to Nonprofits is Substantial

As an alliance representing nonprofits, we need to mention that this FRN has been very costly to many.  Presented with an official government proposed rule change, nonprofits were forced to run draft comments through multiple departments and functions before receiving approval to submit them.  And for many it is a proposal what could put them out of business or severely cripple their revenues stream.  Many professional hours have been expended on this folly, some would say wasted.  As USPS officials wax positive about hearing from many customers that they normally do not, they should not discount the severe cost.  It’s not the best way to win friends and influence people.


One Area Where We Agree

We do agree with USPS that nonprofits and their partners should continue to send in comments with data and analysis of the potential impact of this proposal on their organizations and USPS mail volume.  As of last week, the Postal Service said it had received about 3,600 sets of comments, with over 1,000 coming from nonprofits.  While an unfortunate massive disruption and cost to the postal customer base, it must be done.  The deadline is October 22.