USPS set to slow down almost 40 percent of First-Class Mail and 7 percent of Periodicals in October – August 20, 2021

USPS set to slow down almost 40 percent of First-Class Mail and 7 percent of Periodicals in October


The Postal Service has been bragging recently with weekly press releases saying that its delivery service is getting back to where it was before the pandemic in some cases.  But that’s only temporary, as the agency will purposely slow down (not so) First-Class Mail starting in October.


ABC News reported today that:


“Service performance continued to improve, but that was based on a comparison with a year in which performance has declined substantially,” said James O’Rourke, a management professor at the University of Notre Dame who has tracked the USPS for more than a decade.

But, because the Postal Regulatory Commission is powerless to do anything to stop the USPS from changing its service standards:

“The new normal is going to be disappointingly slow, and prices are not going to go down,” O’Rourke said. “What the Postal Service’s new plan is asking is that you get accustomed to the notion that two-day or three-day service is just not going to happen. It’s going to be more like a week.”


We recommend that nonprofit mailers work with their service providers to assess how much of their (not so) First-Class Mail will be affected by the slowdown of almost 40 percent of the class.  It will affect different Zip Codes differently.  The Washington Post published a handy Zip Code lookup tool on June 24, that shows how long mail entered at a specific Zip Code will take.


If a significant portion of your projected return mail, or outbound mail, looks like it will slow down to 3-5 days at best, a mailer might want to advance the outbound mailings to compensate, so that cash flow is not damaged.


The Postal Service published a very lengthy, defensive Federal Register notice that dismissed the 136,317 comments that it received in opposition to the mail slowdown.  The tone is that the USPS employees know mail transit times better than the customers who use the mail.  Their experiences were dismissed as “anecdotal.”  The rationale behind the slowdown is as simple as getting mail off trains onto trucks:


Current service standards require the Postal Service to rely heavily on air transportation, using air cargo transportation carriers and commercial passenger air carriers. Air transportation is subject to a number of factors that make it less reliable than surface transportation, such as weather delays, network congestion, and air traffic control ground stops; air transportation also tends to cost significantly more than surface transportation. The basic logic of the changes is that the addition of one or two days to current service standards for First-Class Mail and Periodicals would enable the Postal Service to convey a greater volume of mail within the contiguous United States by surface transportation, thereby achieving a better balance of on-time reliability and cost-effectiveness. It would also enable the Postal Service to enhance the efficiency of its surface transportation network.


Of course, the current Postmaster General comes from the logistics/trucking industry, so he might be biased.  The irony is that the early U.S. Post Office is credited as a pioneer in the use of aircraft that helped the airline industry get off the ground.  See the National Archives article, Daring Deliveries: The U.S. Post Office and the Birth of Commercial Aviation.  Now in the 21st century, the plan is to pull mail off airplanes and put them on the road in contract tractor-trailers.  That seems like regression rather than progress.


Three new Governors

Two of the three new Governors of the USPS argued against the mail slowdown at their first “public” Board of Governors meeting on August 6.  The strongest condemnation came from Governors Ron Stroman, who said in part:

At this critical moment in America’s history, with our country only beginning to emerge from a global pandemic, struggling with the Delta variant, and with our delivery service below pre-pandemic levels, intentionally slowing First-Class Mail and package delivery changing service standards is strategically ill-conceived, creates dangerous risks that are not justified by the relatively low financial return, and doesn’t meet our responsibility as an essential part of America’s critical infrastructure. This change also has the potential to disproportionately impact our seniors, middle- and low-income Americans, and small businesses, who are our most loyal customers, and most dependent on us.

From a financial perspective, I have deep concerns about the consequences of degrading service for our premier product – First-Class Mail. A product that is the most profitable, and most associated with the Postal Service’s outstanding reputation. Slowing the mail unnecessarily risks accelerating digital substitution out of the mail, especially when it is combined with one of the largest rate increases in the Postal Service’s history. While mail will continue to decline regardless of this change, this accelerates that decline and will erode the balanced network of mail and parcels needed to sustain our organization.


The three new Governors were not involved in the formation of the ten-year plan that was released shortly before they were named.   They also were not involved in the decision to maximize the August 29 rate increase and to move forward with the mail slowdown.  Indeed, it is obvious that the incumbent six Governors and postal management have been rushing things out to beat the clock on any disagreement.


The third new Governor who did not speak up at the August 6 meeting, Amber McReynolds, illustrated the learning curve and part-time disadvantage that new Governors face when they join USPS in an interview on MSNBC yesterday.  She made it clear that she is still assessing things about the ten-year plan, the mail slowdown, and the Postmaster General.  Indeed, to respond to sharp questions Ms. McReynolds was kind of forced to say positive things about the PMG and his plan.