The Post Office in a Decent Society

The Post Office in a Decent Society

By Mark Jamison

In looking at the results of the recent lawsuits against the Postal Service — eight of which have led to rulings banning changes in postal operations until after the election — it is tempting to make a bad sports analogy.  After all, going 0 for 8 lends itself to comparisons with futility we often associate with the worst teams and players. But to do so trivializes matters of the gravest civic importance.

The lawsuits have been initiated to preserve our right to vote and do so in a way that preserves our health and safety during a pandemic. They have also served to highlight the politicization of a national asset and institution, one whose mission embodies the concept of one nation through the provision of universal service.

The Postal Service has repeatedly lost in court because there is no argument that can defend the clownish tenure of Louis DeJoy and the overt politicization of an infrastructure that should be totally nonpolitical by Robert Duncan and the other members of the Postal Board of Governors.

Duncan continues to serve as a director of a super PAC dedicated to electing Republican candidates to the Senate. Whatever insights or advantages Duncan’s experience might bring to the operations of the Postal Service, they are more than offset by his utter lack of respect for the institution. His continued partisan position during a contentious election in which the Postal Service is playing an essential role is inexcusable. A person with any sense of civic duty or public propriety would have stepped aside long ago.

But this is what we have come expect from the Trump Administration. From when he first started tweeting and commenting about the post office, his remarks have been not only ill-informed but aggressively ignorant. They arose not from a sense of managing a public institution to the best advantage of the American people but from petty personal grievance.  Read More

A New Agenda for Postal Reform

A New Agenda for Postal Reform

By Steve Hutkins

In late June of this year, a few days after the new Postmaster General took office and in the middle of a pandemic, the Postal Service initiated a plan to eliminate 64 million work hours, the equivalent of 33,000 jobs. It was one of the largest cost-cutting plans (perhaps the largest) in the history of the Postal Service, and leadership wanted to get a good start on it by the end of the fiscal year on September 30 — and without telling anyone about it, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to review all such plans.  Within weeks, unprecedented mail delays were occurring across the country, members of Congress were hearing about post offices closing early, and — given that half the country may vote by mail — even the integrity of the election was threatened.

The response was swift. People protested in the streets, Congress held hearings and issued a damning report, and a dozen lawsuits were filed, leading to injunction after injunction banning the operational changes. The leaders of the Postal Service were forced to step back. But those in charge are still in charge, and the Work Hour Reduction plan is just on pause, waiting until after the election.

In the meantime, there’s a crisis at the Postal Service. As of mid-September, almost 10,000 postal workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and over 52,000 had taken time off because they were sick or had to quarantine or care for family members. Those numbers are obviously much higher now, and they will get worse over the winter. Overtime hours, rather than being reduced, have gone way up, from about 11 percent of total workhours before the pandemic to 17 percent during the week of October 2 and 21 percent during the week of October 9.

The surge in packages caused by the pandemic is taxing the capacities of the system, resulting in continued delivery delays. First Class mail, which normally has an on-time delivery target of 96 percent and an average score of 92 percent, has been averaging about 85.6 percent since early July. When the quarterly results are posted next month, the fourth quarter of 2020 (July-Sept) may be the worst since the Postal Service first started reporting service performance data back in 2009.

The processing scores for Election Mail per se (explained here) also show signs of problems. As discussed in this OIG report on the 2018 election, processing plants are capable of achieving an on-time score of nearly 100 percent.  Recent on-time scores had been improving — 94.2 percent for the week of Sept. 12, 97.2 percent for the week of Sept. 19, and 97.9 percent for the week of Sept. 26 — but then for some reason they fell to 92.1 percent for the week of Oct. 3.

The problems at the Postal Service, coupled with the President’s comments attacking the post office, have made many people afraid to cast their ballots by mail, even though it may be the only safe way for them to vote. Just a few days ago, the states suing the Postal Service in Pennsylvania v DeJoy decided the situation was so bad that they’ve asked the court to appoint former Inspector General and BOG member David C. Williams to serve as a special monitor to oversee operations until the election.

Hopefully in January a new administration will take office in Washington. How will it deal with this crisis, and how might it envision the future of the Postal Service?

First principles. The Postal Service is not a business. Its purpose is to provide a service to the nation. It is “the people’s post office” — we own it, and it works for us. As with other public infrastructures — the network of roads and highways, our parks and schools, water and electricity utilities — the postal infrastructure should not be asked to pay for itself. To do so limits the potential benefits it can provide. We should not succumb to the scarcity myth that the Postal Service has a broken business model and can’t afford to do anything but downsize. We should instead recognize that the postal infrastructure is an opportunity multiplier that expands the capabilities of individuals and communities. Investing in the Postal Service stimulates local economies by providing quality jobs that have been a gateway into the middle class. The economic and social benefits provided by the Postal Service are incalculable.  Read More

Documentary Film Reveals How The United Postal Service Has Been Systematically Dismantled For Decades

Documentary Film Reveals How The United Postal Service Has Been Systematically Dismantled For Decades

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds … until THE GREAT POSTAL HEIST

Established by the U.S. Constitution, the once-venerated agency has been thrust into a political maelstrom that is hampering its effectiveness in the days leading up to the election. Jay Galione, the son of a postal worker, has made the first documentary film that reveals how Congressional manipulation and privatization efforts have created a toxic and chaotic workplace.  Read More

Mankato, MN post office makes long-delayed move from historic home

Mankato, MN post office makes long-delayed move from historic home It was May of 2014 when the U.S. Postal Service announced it would sell its historic downtown Mankato home and move postal boxes and retail services to a smaller leased space.

Nearly 6½ years later, the relocation happened.

“It’s a shame they moved,” an elderly woman said Tuesday as she prepared to walk into the new “Main Post Office” near the intersection of Main and Broad streets. “I liked the old building. Kind of a landmark here.”

The two-story 1896 Kasota stone building at 401 South Second St. served as a federal courthouse and the base of most Mankato postal services for more than a century. In recent years, though, most postal operations moved to a distribution center on the north end of town, leaving only a fraction of the downtown building still in use.

In 2014, the expectation was the sale and move might take only a year or so. But the sale dragged on, with the Postal Service asking for $1.6 million for the 1.5-acre property. Even now, a year after the real estate listing was taken down amid reports of a sale, the buyer remains unnamed and the redevelopment plan undisclosed.

With the apparent sale in October of last year, the Postal Service announced in November that it would be leasing space in the renovated office building, about three blocks to the northeast, that formerly housed Carlson-Tillisch Eye Clinic. Read more.

Fall 2020 Newsletter from Community & Postal Workers United

Fall 2020 Newsletter from Community & Postal Workers United

The Fall 2020 newsletter from Community & Postal Workers United contains articles on “Outcry Halts New Postmaster General’s Attacks on Service…for Now,” “Target the Postal Board of Governors ! Dump PMG DeJoy!,” “Postal Service workers quietly resist DeJoy’s changes,” and “Postmaster General eyes aggressive changes at Postal Service after election.” Read the newsletter here.

Do It Now: A Timeline of the Postal Service’s Work Hour Reduction Plan

Do It Now: A Timeline of the Postal Service’s Work Hour Reduction Plan

By Steve Hutkins

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post exploring the possibility that Postal Headquarters has a large-scale, comprehensive plan to eliminate some 67 million work hours. (The Seven Percent Solution: The Not-So-Secret Plan to Downsize the Postal Service.) Thanks to evidence that has come out in the eleven lawsuits against the Postal Service over delivery delays and election mail, we’ve learned that the work hour reduction plan is very real.

The following timeline shows how the plan was shared inside the Postal Service while it was kept secret from everyone else. Most of the details come from the “Determination of Fact” section in Judge Gerald A. McHugh’s ruling in Pennsylvania v DeJoy (Sept. 28, 2020) and Senator Gary Peter’s Failure to Deliver: Harm Caused by U.S. Postmaster General DeJoy’s Changes to Postal Service Mail Delivery, prepared by the HSGAC Minority Staff.

On May 6, 2020, the USPS Board of Governors selected Louis DeJoy to be the next Postmaster General, and on June 15, he began his tenure as the 75th Postmaster General of the United States.

On June 26, David E. Williams, Executive Vice President and the Chief Logistics & Processing Operations Officer, presided over a conference call that included other members of Headquarters and the Area Vice Presidents (AVPs). At the meeting, Williams gave a slide presentation that covered workhour reductions in mail processing, delivery, and retail services. One slide read: “Work Hour Reduction Target, Do It Now.”

The presentation said that the Postal Service would be reducing work hours by requiring letter carriers to adhere to start times and leave on time. Letter carrier supervisors would be required to get higher-level approval for carriers to exceed 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. The presentation also said leadership sought to “zero out penalty overtime” and “minimize use of pre-tour OT” and standby OT for employees involved in mail processing of letters and flats.

The presentation indicated that changes with respect to penalty overtime would be implemented as of July 4, 2020. Control of overtime for mail processing supervisors would be implemented in the period from July 11, 2020 to July 17, 2020.

On July 7, Williams led another teleconference with the AVPs, and leadership reiterated the messages of the June 26th meeting: Letter carriers should leave on time, rural carrier should return on time, and so on. One presentation included a topline message: “64 Million Work Hours” and “T-86. Days.”

While the message may have been going around for days or weeks before, this is the first known indication that Headquarters had a goal to eliminate 64 million work hours, The “T-86” refers to the 86 days between July 7 and October 1, the first day of Fiscal Year 2021 — the target date for accomplishing the work hour reductions. (That would be today.) (Correction: An OIG report, released on Oct. 20, 2020, says the plan was “designed to save an estimated 64 million workhours in FY 2021. Executives noted that these strategies needed to be started in FY 2020 to achieve the FY 2021 targets.”)

One of the members of Headquarters at the meeting was Robert Cintron, Vice President of Logistics. In his testimony in Pennsylvania v DeJoy, Cintron said Postmaster DeJoy attended the July 7 teleconference to deliver general remarks for 15 minutes. It’s not clear if the PMG remained on the call while the workhour reduction plan was presented. (It’s difficult to say much about DeJoy’s whereabouts during this timeline because he won’t turn over his calendars; Government Oversight is suing for them.)

Also at this July 7 teleconference, Angela Curtis, who then served as Acting Vice President for Eastern Area Operations and is now Vice President of Retail and Post Office Operations, gave a presentation on new, reduced overtime targets regarding the manual distribution of mail to carrier routes. The Plan would cut city carrier hours by having carriers leave for their routes with mail left behind and limiting them to 8-hour days without higher approval.

Curtis also noted that overtime in post offices would be limited. The overtime utilization rate for clerks would be cut from 16 percent to 12 percent, and pre-tour overtime would be eliminated.  The Plan, as we soon saw, would also eliminate work hours in post offices by reducing window hours by closing for lunch, earlier in the day, and on Saturdays, as well as closing many post offices completely. And these are just the parts of the plan we know about.

On July 9, postal executive Otis Smith emailed Cintron to say that Postmaster DeJoy “was requesting a draft of the business plan for review.” Smith directed Cintron to provide preliminary financial estimates for “elimination of extra trips and change service standards to enable use of the most efficient transportation.”

On July 10, another teleconference took place with members of Headquarters and the AVPs. At this meeting, Williams gave another version of the work hour reduction presentation.

In his order on Jones v USPS, Judge Victor Marrero says that DeJoy participated in this July 10 teleconference. I can’t find anything in the published documents on PACER to support that, but there may be additional courtroom documents not available online.

This July 10 meeting was later the subject of a report by the Washington Post, which also published Williams’ PowerPoint presentation. It was among the documents turned over to the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro as part of Pennsylvania v DeJoy.

In a statement to the The Post, Williams said the July 10th presentation was meant to be “motivational” and encourage greater efficiency and accountability — not set new policy. Indeed, 10 of the 14 slides say things like “Belief that it is achievable and we can make it so,” “all in vs opt in,” “be purpose driven instead of fear driven,” and “overcome our resistance.” These slides suggest that the new Work Hour Reduction plan represented a big ask for management.

The Post focused on three other slides in the presentation, which were about changes in transportation policy. One slide said, “No Extra Transportation / No Late Transportation.” Another directed management to have an AVP ratify any extra or late trips, and the AVPs were directed to notify Williams about such trips on a daily basis. The directives, wrote The Post, stood “in contrast with agency accounts that lower-tier leaders outside USPS headquarters were mainly responsible for the controversial protocols.”

The Post doesn’t say anything about the first slide, but it’s the most important one in the presentation:

This slide makes it abundantly clear that the goal was to reduce 64 million work hours. As of July 10, the target date for reaching this goal, October 1, 2020, was now just 83 days away. (Note the correction: The plan was “designed to save an estimated 64 million workhours in FY 2021. Executives noted that these strategies needed to be started in FY 2020 to achieve the FY 2021 targets.”)

To reach the goal, postal leaders initiated the Work Hour Reduction plan by focusing on transportation. This is “The First Test” in Williams’ presentation. It involved cutting mail processing work hours by mandating no late trips and no extra trips. (Work hour reductions in the plants would also be facilitated by the removal of over 700 sorting machines.)

Read More

Voting by mail and the next election meltdown

Voting by mail and the next election meltdown

By Steve Hutkins

This post was written in 2016 and slightly updated on Oct. 31, 2018, exactly two years ago today. The update started like this:

According to this AP report today, alarms are already being raised about the rejection of many mail-in ballots in next week’s elections.  Several of these elections are likely to be very close, and in some cases, votes cast by mail may make the difference.  As the AP article notes, “nearly one of every four ballots cast in 2016 came through the mail or was handed in at a drop-off location, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.”  With more and more people choosing to vote by mail, controversies involving mail ballots are likely. Back in 2016, just before the November election, we ran this article about the potential for an election “meltdown” arising from voting-by-mail issues.

Following is the 2018 update, with no further revisions for 2020. Some of the details are out-of-date and incorrect, but much of the post is more relevant now than it was then.

In the November midterms, about one out of four votes will be cast by mail.  With control of the House and Senate in the balance, any election that is close is likely to be contested.  Arcane postal matters, like USPS postmark policies and service standards, could take center stage in a bitter fight to the finish.
In most elections, the margin of victory is large enough to avoid questions about how the votes were cast and counted, but when elections are close and contested, things like how the voting machines function and what constitutes a valid ballot can become very significant.

With voting by mail  becoming increasingly common — according to a recent study by PEW Trusts, more than 20 percent of votes are now cast by mail nationwide — the possibility of a major controversy involving mail ballots is also increasing.

Like other voting methods, voting by mail is not perfect.  Sometimes ballots are lost in the mail, sometimes they arrive at election centers after the deadline.  Mail voting is susceptible to fraud, there can be disagreements over whether a ballot is valid due to a postmark issue, and it may take days or weeks to count all the ballots, which can mean long delays without a clear victor.

A report issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) entitled “The New Realities of Voting by Mail in 2016” discusses several key issues, such as the challenges facing the Postal Service in delivering and tracking ballots and ensuring that voters know the deadlines for requesting and casting a ballot.  The report also makes a number of recommendations that would help avoid some of the problems with voting by mail, but implementing them will take time, perhaps more time than we have before the next election.

If the coming election is close in even just a few Congressional contests, the results may hinge on votes cast by mail and how they get counted.  Topics like the Postal Service’s service standards for on-time delivery and its postmarking practices may end up in the news the same way the hanging chads did in Florida in 2000.  Problems with the count could lead to an election meltdown similar to Gore-Bush in 2000.  It could get ugly.  Read More

USPS service performance data for 2020 shows improvement but not back to baseline

USPS service performance data for 2020 shows improvement but not back to baseline

The Postal Service has shared some weekly on-time service performance data with the plaintiffs in the Jones v. USPS case.

The data set provided by the Postal Service provides the most complete picture of on-time performance that we’ve seen since the mail delays became an issue earlier this summer.  The exhibit includes the average on-time performance for First Class Mail, Marketing Mail, and Periodicals, on a week-by-week basis, on a national, area, and district level, from the beginning of 2020 through the week of August 29.

Unfortunately, the Postal Service has not broken out the numbers in the same way that it does when it publishes the quarterly reports. In the Jones exhibit, the Postal Service has merged the numbers for Single-Piece First Class and Pre-Sort First Class, as well as mail with a 2-day standard and mail with a 3-5 day standard. This makes it impossible to compare the new data with the historical data. The new data report also does not contain the variance data the Postal Service includes with the quarterly reports; they show how much mail was late by one day, two days, and three.

Still, the performance scores in the Jones exhibit do give us some idea of how things have been going.

As the Postal Service reported in a recent press release, there’s been an “uptick” in performance as of August 29th: 88.04 percent on-time for First-Class Mail, 89.56 percent for Marketing Mail and 78.24 percent for Periodicals.

Those numbers are better than earlier in the summer but still well below targets. For Single-Piece First Class mail with a 2-day standard, the target is 96.5 percent and for 3-5 day mail, 95.25 percent. The numbers, however, are not far from what the Postal Service typically posts for First Class: about 92 percent for 2-day single-piece and 81 percent for 3-5 day, as seen in this PRC report, p. 4.

In any case, service performance is still not back to the baseline of where it was earlier this year, before the operational changes implemented by the Postal Service in early July started slowing the mail. Here’s a chart showing First Class mail since June. The improvement begins in mid-August, when the Postmaster General put a “pause” on the changes.

Most of the areas and districts show a similar drop and partial recovery. Here’s a table showing the average score for First Class mail, by area, of the baseline period before the operational changes went into effect and the period after the changes. The table also shows the week of August 8, which in almost every case was the low point for service performance, and the week of August 29, the most recent week for which the Postal Service has provided data.

As the table shows, during the baseline period before the operational changes went into effect (January to July), scores were about 6 or 7 percent higher than they were after the changes, and about ten percent higher than the low point in mid-July. As of the week of August 29th, the scores were still 2 to 5 percent below where they were before the operational changes. On a national level, the score of 88.04 during the week of August 29th was still 3.5 percent lower than in January 4 – July 1.

The data set for the districts shows similar numbers. As of the week of August 29, about 46 districts out of 67 were still scoring below 90 percent. The scores for two districts were especially low: the Capital District was on time only 78 percent of the time, and Baltimore had an on-time score of only 60 percent.

The Senate also requested weekly service reports, and it appears the Postal Service shared data similar to what it provided to the plaintiffs in Jones v USPS. The Minority Staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has prepared a detailed report about the weekly service reports, the internal USPS documents behind the delays, and the impacts of the delayed mail on small businesses and deliveries of medication. The Washington Post has an article today about the Senate report.

The Senate report contains a chart similar to the one above, but with the y-axis foreshortened, which makes the delays appear even worse. For some reason it identifies July 11 as the date when the Postmaster General ordered the operational changes, but it’s probable that this occurred earlier, and perhaps there were several orders behind the delay. Anyway, here’s the Senate graph:

We’re still waiting for the more complete performance reports that the Postal Regulator Commission requested on Sept. 3 in response to a request by yours truly. The Postal Service has asked the Commission to simplify the request or to provide more time. The Commission has yet to rule on that.

We’ve uploaded the original exhibit provided in Jones v. USPS here. The Postal Service provided the data in pdf format, so we’ve converted it to easier-to-use Excel sheets, which can be found on Google Drive here. The national data is here; the data broken out by area is here; the data for the districts is here; the district data for the week of August 29 is here.

—S. Hutkins, ed.

(Photo: USPS OIG report on delayed mail validation)