More Postal Workers Affected By Downgrade of Charleston WV P&DC Than Union Anticipated

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

As many as 90 postal workers could have their jobs affected by the downgrading of a West Virginia mail facility — a figure notably higher than union representatives previously anticipated.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced Tuesday that it would carry out plans to transfer outgoing mail processing from the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center to facilities in Pennsylvania.

The decision followed months of deliberation, as well as intense pushback from union workers and state officials concerned with the fate of West Virginia’s only full USPS processing center.

Tim Holstein, vice president of the Charleston-based American Postal Workers Union Local 133, has been an outspoken opponent of the downgrade.

He said union workers worried that more employees would be impacted than the USPS initially estimated. “Multiple members could possibly be relocated or moved out of state, possibly uprooting families and lives,” he told West Virginia Public Broadcasting in February.

When the final report came out on Tuesday, Holstein said workers’ fears were actualized.

Read more: More Postal Workers Affected By Facility Downgrade Than Union Anticipated – West Virginia Public Broadcasting : West Virginia Public Broadcasting

What happened in Richmond won’t stay in Richmond: OIG audits the first RPDC

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Last week the USPS OIG issued its report on the launch of the Regional Processing & Distribution Center in Richmond, Virginia.

Eventually there will be sixty of these mega-facilities — the Postal Service calls them the “backbone” of the new network — and implementation is proceeding at a rapid pace. Consolidation reviews are currently underway for some 58 processing centers that will send operations to 36 new RPDCs. Since Richmond was the first RPDC, it provides a cautionary tale for what may happen as the rollout continues over the coming months.

The Richmond region has been experiencing severe mail delays almost since the RPDC launched back in July 2023. When questioned by the media and elected officials about the delays, the Postal Service has been less than responsive and offered only vague explanations, hoping that what happened in Richmond would stay in Richmond.

In comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission last week, the Postal Service claimed that the events in Richmond “do not indicate a broad nationwide service performance problem,” and now that those issues have been addressed, service performance will improve. “Moreover, having learned from experience, the Postal Service is better poised to minimize and mitigate local issues that may arise as it opens new RPDCs across the country.”

The IG’s report, however, suggests that the failures in Richmond point to bigger problems with the Delivering for America plan. Rather than reducing costs, the first RPDC increased costs, and rather than speeding up the mail, it caused performance scores to plummet. (More on that in this post.)

During the first four months of operations, the Richmond RPDC went through three different plant managers, and employee absenteeism increased. According to the IG, “staffing was not sufficient to effectively perform mail processing and transportation operations.” This led to late trips and extra trips, congestion, and delays across the region.

These “challenges,” as the IG calls them, caused the Postal Service to incur additional labor and transportation costs of over $8 million over the first four months of operations, and contributed to a decrease in service performance that continued months after launch (and that still continue).

Implementation successes

The Postal Service, notes the IG, did succeed in implementing the basic elements of the RPDC:

  • Operations were transferred to the RPDC from plants serving three ZIP code areas and absorbed package operations from the Norfolk P&DC.
  • Two new HOPS machines were installed in March 2023 to meet future package capacity requirements.
  • The Postal Service implemented a standardized workroom floor layout that will be repeated in other RPDCs.
  • Many tasks were completed without shutting down operations.

But descriptions of these “successes” occupy a small part of the IG’s report. Most of it is given over to discussing the failures. They include the following:

Not addressing pre-existing conditions

The Postal Service did not address known weaknesses at the Richmond (Sandston) P&DC before converting it into an RPDC. The IG had pointed out these weaknesses in previous reports, one on late and extra trips and another on improving service performance and processing efficiencies at historically low performing facilities like Richmond.

According to the IG, “Selecting a facility without identifying and addressing known issues created additional challenges to successfully implementing the RP&DC model, increased costs, and contributed to the decrease in service performance. As a result, we were unable to determine if the challenges are unique to the Richmond RP&DC conversion or tied to preexisting conditions.”

Mismanagement & staffing problems

The IG identified various sorts of management and staffing problems (some of which were pre-existing):

  • Local management didn’t take ownership of changes and were deficient in operational execution.
  • Management did not train all employees on standard work instructions for new processes.
  • A lack of supervisors and expeditors and the inability to locate mail handlers on the workroom floor caused delays on the dock and increased congestion.
  • Staffing was not sufficient to effectively perform mail processing and transportation operations.
  • Employee absenteeism increased after the launch.

Mail processing issues

The IG identified various problems associated with mail processing operations:

  • New processing equipment did not perform as expected.
  • Packages committed for delivery the next day required subsequent processing after operations were complete.
  • Package operations were shut down at the scheduled time for dispatch, and any packages left on mail processing equipment remained at the facility until the operation resumed the next day.
  • Collection mail arrived late at the RPDC, after sorting operations were finished for the day, so this mail remained unprocessed until the following day.
  • Collection mail arrived without proper separation (such as separating Priority Express Mail, Non Machinable Packages, and Hazardous Materials), which caused delays as mail was sent to incorrect operations.

Transportation troubles

According to the IG, the Postal Service did not adequately plan and establish new transportation routes to support operations at the Richmond RP&DC. As a result, extra trips increased dramatically compared to the same period in the previous year, as shown by this chart in the report.

The transportation schedules were being adjusted even until the day before the launch, resulting in insufficient time to set up and make changes to routes. Further, the implementation team did not account for all local needs — such as mailer and commercial package pickups — when it developed the new transportation plan.

Richmond was the first location where the Postal Service implemented its initiative to insource transportation from Highway Contract Route companies to USPS postal vehicle operators. But, says the IG, the Richmond RPDC was not able to hire sufficient PVOs to cover the newly created routes, so the Postal Service had to turn to outside contractors.

Additionally, the Postal Service hopes to eliminate 24 contracted transportation trips at the Norfolk LPC (packages originating in Norfolk are now sent through the Richmond RP&DC), but as of Dec. 1, 2023, only nine trips had been eliminated.

Increased labor costs

The Postal Service hopes to reduce workhours and positions to generate mail processing labor savings. This includes eliminating 238 positions at the Norfolk LPC and Rocky Mount P&DF. However, as of Dec. 1, 2023, the Postal Service had not reduced any mail handler or clerk bid positions in the Richmond region.

In fact, over the first four months after the launch of the RPDC, workhours and overtime increased by 2 percent, despite a 9 percent decrease in mail volume. This chart from the report shows workhours and pieces handled from July 29, 2023, through December 1, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.

The report also notes an increase in unauthorized overtime. During the four months after launch, nearly 83 percent of all overtime hours were not authorized.

Delays from Local Transportation Optimization

Richmond was the first place in the country where the Postal Service implemented what it calls Local Transportation Optimization, or Optimized Collections. Under LTO, mail and packages are not collected at the end of the day at the post office for transport to a processing center. Instead, everything sits overnight in the back of the post office, waiting to be collected in the morning at the same time that the day’s mail is dropped off. (This initiative has been described in several previous posts.)

The IG notes that “the percent of mail and packages delivered on time declined significantly beginning in October when the Postal Service implemented its Local Transportation Optimization initiative while simultaneously making changes to the RP&DC, handling Election Mail for local elections, and processing the increased mail volumes of its peak mailing season in the same area.”

While it seems clear that leaving the mail at post offices overnight will add a day to delivery times, the Postal Service has told the PRC that the initiative will have no “material impacts” on service. The OIG said it was “not able to isolate the specific service and cost impacts of the Local Transportation Optimization initiative,” but it will be issuing a separate report on that later.

Not-so-Priority Mail

If the mail isn’t collected until the day after it’s sent, meeting the service standards for Priority mail and packages will be difficult, if not impossible. Priority has a service standard of one to three days, with most local mail receiving next-day delivery. But how can that happen if the mail and packages aren’t picked up until day after they’re sent?

The Postal Service has apparently decided the way to fix this problem is by changing the service standards. That may be necessary anyway, since the new operating model apparently doesn’t support next-day Priority.

As the IG explains, “In the new Richmond RP&DC operating plan, package operations are scheduled to be completed before local mail would arrive at the facility to be sorted. Thus, this model does not support next-day service products such as local Priority Mail. In response, on October 16, 2023, the Postal Service added an extra day to local Priority Mail service, thus making it a two-day service standard.”

There doesn’t seem to have been any public announcement about this change. I haven’t found anything about it on Postal Pro, the PRC website, the National Register, or the Postal Service’s own news alert page.

One wonders if adding an extra day to local Priority will be restricted to Richmond on a temporary basis, or if this is going to be a permanent feature of Priority, nationwide. If that were the case, it certainly seems like the kind of change that would require a PRC advisory opinion, but don’t expect that to happen.

No public engagement

Federal regulations require the Postal Service to provide adequate public notice to affected communities when closing or consolidating a processing facility. Normally this notification takes place under the procedures for a Mail Processing Facility Review (MPFR), which also require a public meeting and comment period.

The Postal Service did not conduct such a review before consolidating mail processing from the Norfolk P&DC (now an LPC) to the Richmond RPDC. As the IG notes, these changes appear to have met the requirements to trigger an MPFR. Such a review might have anticipated and prevented some of the problems that occurred.

The Postal Service says no such review was necessary because MPFRs are required only when all operations move outside of a “service area.” But the definition of “service area” is conveniently ambiguous, and as the IG notes, using that interpretation of the trigger rule, the Postal Service could move one three-digit ZIP Code at a time as long the original processing facility retained some operations. This could be repeated until all mail processing has been moved to another facility, and there’d be no MPFR if the last move is within the same service area.

In any case, as the IG observes, “when the Postal Service’s policy for conducting MPFRs is not clear and service changes are not communicated to affected areas, it harms the Postal Services reputation and public trust.”

And that’s really the bottom line on what happened in Richmond. The delivery delays and the failure to communicate effectively are undermining trust in the Postal Service.

As we now know, most of the problems in Richmond were self-inflicted and caused by postal management. But rather than owning up, management preferred to blame external forces, like the bankruptcy of a contractor and a tight labor market.

From Richmond to Atlanta

As for the problems being restricted to Richmond, we’ve already seen delays caused by the next two RPDCs to launch, in Houston and Atlanta.

As Linn’s Stamp News put it this week, the brand new RPDC in Palmetto, outside Atlanta, has been experiencing “massive” disruptions: “The Atlanta metropolitan area replaced beleaguered Houston as an epicenter of infuriating and unexplained mail disruptions in mid-March, when a breakdown in mail processing at one of the United States Postal Service’s huge sorting and delivery centers left consumers bewildered, politicians fulminating and tractor-trailer drivers waiting as long as eight and a half hours to drop off their time-sensitive cargoes.”

One employee at the Atlanta RPDC told 11alive.com, “There’s too much coming in. There’s too much automation. So there’s no room to store the mail….  I think the facility is just overwhelmed, and I don’t even blame local management because this plan was made, and they were told to go manage it. If they were given some input, maybe it would be different. We just don’t have space for all of this mail.”

I myself have heard from a postal employee in another location that so much mail was backed up in Atlanta that some of it was diverted to facilities in other states, where it’s been sitting for weeks, and these other plants may not be in a big rush to process mail that doesn’t count as their own.

The Atlanta problems are ongoing. During the third week of March, for First Class mail with a 3-day service standard, only 31 percent was delivered on time — compared to 85 percent during the same week last year and a target of 90.5 percent — and the average delivery time was 5.7 days, compared to 2.7 days last year. Those are dismal numbers.

The threat to election mail

For months now, the news has been filled with reports of delayed mail across the country, raising serious questions about the Postal Service’s ability to handle mail voting in November.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says he’s concerned about how the issues could impact mail-in ballots, and Keith Balmer with the Richmond Office of Elections is urging voters to make sure they get their ballot in early and drop off mail in person if possible. “This is not the election to wait until the end to decide that you want to vote by mail, unfortunately, because of what we’re hearing,” Balmer explained.

Consolidating operations to more new RPDCs and ending evening collections at thousands of post offices will continue to erode service, damage the Postal Service’s reputation, and threaten voting by mail. Perhaps it’s time for a moratorium on further changes, at least until after the election.

— Steve Hutkins

Related posts:

Postal Service explores reduced mail pickups in rural areas

Steve HutkinsNews

Daily Sentinel: The U.S. Postal Service is exploring a cost-saving measure that would involve picking up outgoing mail from some rural post offices once rather than twice a day, which a local postal workers union representative says would mean further delivery delays beyond those that could result from the proposed shift of area mail processing from Grand Junction to Denver.

The measure, part of the Postal Service’s “Delivering for America” strategic planning initiative, could put an end to afternoon trucks being sent to some rural post offices to pick up outgoing mail gathered locally over the course of the day by carriers and at collection boxes and post office windows. Instead, outgoing mail would be picked up only in the morning, when a truck also is bringing mail to a rural community for delivery.

“This means that mail accepted at a postal window in Ridgway, for example, will now sit at the post office overnight before being trucked to Grand Junction for processing the next morning. While the purported aim of saving money on trucking costs is understandable, the reality is that this measure will inevitably result in mail delays of at least one day,” said Shane McDonnell, vice president of the American Postal Workers Union Local #600 and a clerk at the Grand Junction Carrier Annex on Scarlet Drive.

Read more: Postal Service explores reduced mail pickups in rural areas | News | gjsentinel.com

Morristown backs out of Post Office purchase; mayor cites renovation costs

Steve HutkinsNews

morristowngreen.com: Municipal plans to buy the Morristown Post Office got stamped “return to sender” on Tuesday.

After a closed-session briefing by the administration, the town council quietly agreed to withdraw from a $3 million contract to buy the historic 108-year-old structure across from the Morristown Green.

Council members were told renovations would have cost around $24 million — about 12 times more than Mayor Tim Dougherty’s original estimate.

“It’s just not financially feasible for us to do what we wanted to do. We tried everything,” the mayor said after the council meeting.

The unanimous vote concluded a difficult dance with the Postal Service that began in 2016. And for the moment, at least, it dampened Dougherty’s dreams of moving municipal operations from town hall on South Street.

In 2022, the mayor had estimated the 17,000-square-foot Post Office could be renovated for about $2 million and transformed into a centerpiece of the downtown. “We can bring it back to its glory,” he said at the time.

But the town’s experts painted a different picture. Town Administrator Jillian Barrick said they predicted it would cost upwards of $7 million just to satisfy town building codes — repairing water- and structural damage and removing asbestos — plus another $17 million to expand and modernize the building with air conditioning, an elevator, and new heating, electric and fire suppression systems.

Read more: Morristown backs out of Post Office purchase; mayor cites renovation costs | Morristown Green

D. C. Circuit rejects UPS case against PRC on USPS cost allocation

Steve HutkinsNews

Justia: The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was tasked with evaluating a previous decision by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) regarding cost allocation between the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) market-dominant and competitive products. United Parcel Service (UPS), a competitor of the USPS, challenged the PRC’s formula for allocating institutional costs.

The USPS offers both market-dominant products, like standard mail (where it holds a near-monopoly), and competitive products, like package delivery (where it competes with private companies like UPS). The PRC’s task is to ensure that the USPS’s competitive products cover an “appropriate share” of institutional costs. In 2020, the court had remanded the PRC’s Order that adopted a formula for this “appropriate share”, and asked the PRC to better explain its reasoning.

On remand, the PRC revised its analysis but maintained the same formula. The court of appeals concluded that the PRC had adequately addressed the previous issues identified and reasonably exercised its statutory discretion in adopting the formula. Consequently, UPS’s petition for review was denied.

The court found that the PRC’s interpretation of the distinction between costs attributable to competitive products and costs uniquely or disproportionately associated with competitive products was reasonable. It also found the PRC’s decision to not include attributable costs directly in the appropriate share to be reasonable, to avoid double-counting. The court rejected UPS’s claim that the PRC was required to allocate all of the USPS’s institutional costs between market-dominant and competitive products, and it also found that the PRC had adequately considered competitive products’ market conditions. Lastly, the court upheld the PRC’s proposed formula for setting the appropriate share.

Read the full opinion here. There’s more about the case in this previous post.

Virginia has the worst mail service in the country, by far. We figured out why.

Steve HutkinsNews

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Last summer, United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy laid out what he called a “splendid vision” for the future of the Postal Service.

In his vision, one of America’s oldest agencies would shed the shackles of inefficiency and become greener, leaner, and finally competitive with logistics titans like Amazon.

DeJoy said his plan — Delivering for America — would save his agency from dire financial straits and give America “the best national delivery system in the world.”

But in Virginia, the opposite happened.

The Commonwealth became the worst state in the country for on-time delivery of first-class mail, according to the main watchdog agency that oversees the post office. Since October of last year, Virginia was last place for on-time mail delivery, with its “D” score a full 13 points below its nearest competitor. Virginia’s mail delivery rate dropped from 89% in 2020 to 66%, where it sits now.

Records reviewed by the Times-Dispatch and Lee Enterprises’ Public Service Journalism Team suggest that Richmond’s mail problem is directly linked to the rollout of Delivering for America, a key leg of which involves consolidating mail sorting into larger, centralized sorting centers.

Read more.

Delivery delays: Critics of new Postal Service policy say it could slow mail delivery, especially in rural Oregon

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

Baker City Herald:

A U.S. Postal Service policy that took effect in late February in Oregon means outgoing mail at more than two dozen mostly rural post offices in Northeast Oregon will be picked up later than it has been.

Critics say the change could result in some pieces of mail, including packages as well as first class letters, being delivered a day later than in the past.

They have also raised concerns about time-sensitive mail, including election ballots and tax returns.

Elections officials typically recommend that voters who haven’t returned their ballots by mail at least a week before election day instead take the ballots to a drop box to ensure they are counted.

Oregon’s U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have criticized the new policy, as have representatives from the American Postal Workers Union.

Some of the larger post offices in the region, including Baker City, Pendleton and La Grande, apparently are not affected, although the Postal Service has not released an official list.

A Postal Service official says the new policy, by reducing the number of truck trips, will “reduce costs and carbon emissions.”

The new strategy is known as Local Transportation Optimization (LTO).

It’s part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s “Delivering for America” 10-year plan intended to make the agency, which lost $6.5 billion in fiscal year 2023, financially sustainable.

“LTO is part of the Postal Service’s larger effort to optimize our truck capacity and reduce the overall number of carbon-wasting, duplicate trips,” Kim Frum, a Postal Service strategic communications specialist, said. “Our local transportation network often includes a large number of separate and underutilized trips to pick up and drop off mail and packages from Post Office locations and other postal facilities. LTO aims to improve the efficiency of our transportation network, in certain circumstances, by using one trip to drop off mail to be delivered and to pick up outgoing mail for processing.”

LTO launched in Oregon on Feb. 24, according to Postal Service documents. The new schedule started in October 2023 in Virginia, and in January of this year in Wisconsin.

Read more: Delivery delays: Critics of new Postal Service policy say it could slow mail delivery, especially in rural Oregon | Eastern Oregon | bakercityherald.com

CPWU Spring Newsletter

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

The Spring 2024 newsletter from Community and Postal Workers United has articles about DeJoy’s austerity plan to slash jobs and shrink processing centers and post offices; the surge of protests against the cuts; and the collections optimization initiative that ends evening collections at post offices. Read the newsletter here.

Evening collections end in Oregon and Washington: The threat to election mail and other risks

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Last week the Postal Service stopped collecting mail and packages at the end of the day at 170 post offices in Oregon and 30 in southern Washington.

The initiative is called Local Transportation Optimization (LTO), aka Optimized Collections. Without the traditional end-of-day collection and transport to the processing center, the mail sits overnight at the post office, waiting to be picked up the next morning, when the day’s mail is dropped off for carrier delivery and PO box distribution.

A presentation about LTO was shared recently with employees at the impacted post offices in Oregon and Washington. The presentation says that as of mid-February, 717 post offices had been optimized nationwide. The LTO initiative was implemented first in Virginia in October, then in Wisconsin and parts of Michigan in January. During February, evening collections ended at post offices in the Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta and Santa Clarita Regions. Alabama (Birmingham & Montgomery) will be optimized in March, and the Seattle Region, also in March.  [An earlier version of this post mistakenly said Seattle would be implemented in August.] (The implementation schedule is here.)

Over the next seven months, the initiative will be implemented at post offices served by 180 processing centers. By September, something on the order of 12,000 to 14,000 of the country’s 31,000 post offices will not get an evening collection.

Optimization in Oregon and Washington

According to the presentation, the initiative will “target any site over 50 miles from an LPC to capture our biggest opportunities.” In other words, any post office more than 50 miles from the Local Processing Center is subject to optimization.

Along with the presentation, the Postal Service shared a list of the 200 post offices in Oregon and Washington where the LTO initiative was implemented on February 24. That list is here. Our modified list with additional data is on Google Docs here. The presentation also includes a map of the impacted offices, but it’s not very useful, so here’s a Google Map version.

This map shows the 200 impacted offices, color coded by LPC service areas for Portland, Eugene and Medford. The map also shows the four other transfer hubs in Oregon: Salem, Klamath Falls, Bend, and Pendleton. The offices marked in black are excluded from optimization (as are all the offices less than 50 miles from an LPC, which are not on the map). There’s more about the Portland Region implementation later in this post and in this previous post.

Nationwide, the LTO initiative will add a day to delivery times for billions of pieces of mail, and that includes First Class, Express, Priority, and ground packages. Nearly all this mail is sent by individuals and small businesses rather than large business mailers, and much of it is time sensitive. Some of it is time critical — like election ballots.

Threats to election mail

At a town hall last week in Virginia, elected officials heard from their constituents about the problems they’re experiencing with getting their mail. (The Postal Service declined an invitation to attend.) While there are many causes to the postal problems in Virginia, it’s also the first place where the LTO initiative was rolled out back in October. (More on that in this post.)

Richmond Town Hall (WRIC ABC 8News)

At the town hall, Keith Balmer, General Registrar of Virginia, delivered a speech warning people not to use the Postal Service to vote: “It’s imperative,” said Balmer, “that we safeguard our democratic process, and in light of the challenges posed by USPS’s delivery failures, I urge all voters who have requested or received an absentee ballot for the current Presidential Primary to consider alternative methods of submission.” (The full speech is here.)

The LTO initiative will be particularly problematic when it comes to election mail. Oregon and Washington are both vote-by-mail states where the date of the postmark is critical.

To ensure that a ballot gets a postmark, the voter needs to ask for it at the post office window. Otherwise, a postmark won’t be applied until the mail piece is scanned at the processing center. That’s normally occurs on the same day so it’s not an issue, but with the LTO initiative, the scan won’t occur until the next day.

As of July 2022, there were nineteen states that accept and count a mailed ballot if it is received after Election Day but postmarked on or before (sometimes only before) Election Day. Many states will also accept an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) as evidence when the ballot was sent, but with LTO, that barcode may not be scanned until the day after the ballot was mailed.

The voting-eligible population of Oregon is about 3.2 million. The population of the ZIP codes in Oregon losing their end-of-day collection — and the same-day postmark — is about 680,000, of which about 540,000 are old enough to vote. That’s about one in six of the eligible voters in the state.

In other states, a ballot must be received by Election Day, so the postmark may not be an issue, but not collecting the mail until the next day might cause ballots to arrive too late. That problem will be compounded by the consolidation plan now underway, which will cause local mail to be sent to a regional processing center, often hundreds of miles away, adding to delays.

Wisconsin, where the LTO was implemented in January, is one of the states where a ballot must be received by Election Day. Senator Tammy Baldwin has written the Postmaster General, expressing her concerns that the LTO initiative will delay the mail.

Baldwin asked if the Postal Service consulted with businesses before implementing the LTO initiative (the answer to that will be “no”). She also asked, “How will USPS ensure that mail has a postmark that correctly reflects the day when an individual drops their mail off?” And with respect to election mail, Baldwin posed this question: “How will USPS ensure that mail-in ballots for upcoming elections are not impacted by this change?” The senator requested the Postmaster General to reply by March 12. It will be interesting to hear his responses.

Don Cheney of the APWU Local 298 in Tacoma has been studying the LTO initiative in the northwest. “It is bad timing to be holding raw mail overnight during the primary election season without postmarking it,” says Cheney. “Even worse not to tell the people that use the affected offices. Voters will be disenfranchised if they are not informed. It is also unconscionable that political leaders were not informed nor consulted over this important change. The secrecy implies that postal leaders know this is wrong.” The potential impacts on election mail, says Cheney, make this “a replay of PMG DeJoy’s election interference in 2020.”

Notifying customers . . .  or not

When it comes to things like election mail, it would seem imperative for the Postal Service to keep customers well informed. But with the LTO initiative, the Postal Service is doing the opposite.

The LTO presentation includes a brief Customer Communication statement, but the Postal Service has told the Postal Regulatory Commission that this notice to customers was intended to be used “as a means of responding to customer inquiries at a retail facility or the customer call center.”

It’s basically just the script for what employees are supposed to tell customers if they ask about it. But if you don’t know anything about LTO, there’s no reason to ask about it.

The whole LTO initiative is being treated as if it’s Top Secret. Not only are customers not being proactively informed, but the LTO presentation directs employees not to respond to any media inquiries and to instead refer inquires to the Communication Specialist.

The LTO presentation also tells employees, “Do NOT talk to the drivers about the project.” The drivers are the Highway Contract Route truck drivers who deliver the mail to post offices in the morning and collect it at the end of the day. One reason it’s important to keep them in the dark is that they may be losing their jobs. I’m told that the contract drivers in one area in the Portland region — who have been doing their routes for many years — all got fired without notice. That’s unconfirmed, but it fits with the pattern of secrecy surrounding the LTO initiative.

Risk factors

The LTO presentation does not address the threat to election mail, but it does identify several other risks posed by the LTO initiative. These include the following:

Staging area for LTO, Source: USPS LTO presentation

Space constraints: To leave mail overnight for collection the next morning, the bags and containers need to be clearly identified (the office is often closed when the driver arrives). The presentation provides detailed directions to employees about how the mail is to be handled, including how special color-coded tape is to be applied to the floor showing the “staging area” where the outgoing collection mail and the incoming mail are to be placed. Most of the impacted post offices are small, rural offices, so some of them simply don’t have enough space, especially during peak season. In some cases, there may be safety issues with bins blocking passageways.

Express Mail: The presentation states that “morning dispatch adds a day to express.” This should be a matter of some concern, since Priority Express guarantees next-day (overnight) or 2-day delivery to most U.S. addresses and P.O. boxes. If Express mail and packages aren’t picked up until the next day, how will it be possible to meet this guarantee? It probably won’t be, so the presentation says it will be necessary to “update the RAU” — the Retail Acceptance Unit module – “to reflect the new dispatch time.”

Package Visibility: The presentation refers to “Customer Presentation package departing in the PM.” It’s not exactly clear what this means, but perhaps it refers to the fact that with Informed Delivery and USPS Tracking, mailers can follow the progress of their package toward its destination. One of the first things they’ll see is that the package didn’t leave the post office on the day they sent it. Perhaps in these cases the postmaster or clerk will have to tell the customer about this issue when the package is mailed. Or perhaps not.

Peak season and holiday dispatches: The space constraints of where to put the mail overnight will obviously become more of a problem during the holidays, when people are sending gift packages and so on. The presentation notes the special consideration that will need to be given to “Outgoing mail sitting for 3+ Days over Holiday weekends.”

Source: USPS LTO presentation

Registry Mail: Another risk of the initiative is that cash will sit overnight at the post office along with the mail. To deal with this problem, the Postal Service is directing employees to lock the cash in a safe or install a lock box.

Collection Boxes: The presentation states that the collection times on blue boxes will not change as a result of this initiative, and they will be scanned at the scheduled time. Normally, the mail is removed shortly after this collection time, but at the optimized offices, this mail won’t be on its way to the processing center until the next day. These collection times are on the box itself and they’re included in the Find USPS Locations website (under “Last Collection Hours”), but the Postal Service is not amending this information to indicate that the actual collection won’t occur until the next day.

Carrier start times: The presentation doesn’t get into this risk, but the LTO initiative will change the route schedule in another significant way. In some cases, the truck delivering the day’s mail — and picking up yesterday’s mail — will arrive later in the morning than under the current schedule. Carriers will thus start on their routes later in the morning and end up delivering after dark. That may cause some carriers to take early retirement or quit, and it will also add to the retention problem.

The aims of optimization

The purpose of the LTO initiative is obviously to reduce transportation costs. The Postal Service has refused to provide any data on the matter, but the savings could be hundreds of millions a year.

The LTO presentation says the initiative also increases “cube” — in other words, the trucks will be fuller. That’s a major preoccupation of logistics experts like the Postmaster General and his leadership team, several of whom (Kelly R. Abney, Peter Routsolias, and Ronnie Jarriel) come from his previous companies, New Breed Logistics and XPO Logistics.

The presentation also notes “earlier processing times.” That apparently refers to the fact that at offices under the hybrid optimization, some of the day’s mail will be picked up on the truck’s return leg, and that mail will get to the processing center sooner than mail collected at the end of the day.

In one of its responses to an information request, the Postal Service explains: “After implementing Optimized Collections, larger volumes of mail and packages will be available for processing in a late morning or afternoon window, spreading the volume arrival profile into the originating processing facility and removing some processing demand from peak operating hours, thus more effectively utilizing our overall processing capacity within our plants.”

Source: USPS LTO presentation

The Postal Service also points out that LTO initiative will have a beneficial impact on the environment. As the Postal Service stated in response to one of the PRC’s information requests about the LTO, “eliminating these unnecessary and underutilized trips would also reduce our carbon emissions, and therefore align with our carbon reduction initiatives.”

While the cost savings could be significant, much of the savings will simply offset the additional costs being incurred by another aspect of Delivering for America — the consolidation of carrier operations into Sorting & Delivery Centers. The longer routes to the S&DC will add millions of miles and work hours to the network, and thereby incur massive costs (as discussed in this post and this one)

The same goes for reducing emissions. Much of what the LTO initiative cuts in emissions will be canceled out by what the S&DC initiative adds by requiring carriers to drive an extra 10 or 20 miles back and forth to their routes, as well as commuting farther to their new workplace at the S&DC.

A true accounting of the pluses and minuses of the LTO and S&DC plans would require more transparency from the Postal Service and more cooperation with the PRC’s Public Inquiry. But that isn’t happening, and the Postal Service will not be releasing any data that undercuts its narrative of optimization and modernization.

Questions raised by the LTO list

The LTO presentation says that in the Portland region, 225 post offices are losing their evening collection. In addition to the LTO presentation, the Postal Service has shared a second pdf with a list of 200 post offices that will be optimized under the LTO plan. It’s not clear why there’s a discrepancy of some 25 post offices.

Full and hybrid optimization, Source: USPS LTO presentation

For 173 of the 225 offices, it’s “full optimization” — there will be no collection until the next day. For 52 offices, the optimization is “hybrid,” meaning that the truck that drops off the mail in the early morning circles back on the return trip later in the morning (or early afternoon) to pick up whatever has been mailed by that time. Hybrid offices are those that have 2 to 7 containers of mail.

The presentation also shows a dozen offices that are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but that have enough mail (over 7 containers) to be considered exempt from optimization. They’ll continue to get the end-of-day collection. A list of these offices is on the Google Doc, tab “Exceptions.”

The list of LTO implementation sites in Oregon and Washington is the only such list that has been made public thus far. A previous list of the implementation sites in Virginia was shared with the PRC, but as a nonpublic filing, and the Postal Service did the same for Wisconsin, again nonpublic.

The official list is similar to the one modeled here a couple of weeks ago in this previous post. The differences are due mostly to the fact that the model focused only on Oregon state and did not include 26 offices in southern Washington that are part of the Portland Region, and it included 14 offices in the eastern part of the state that are part of the Boise Region.

Here’s an updated map of the ZIP codes impacted by the LTO initiative. It’s a state map of Oregon, so it doesn’t show the Washington offices. The gray area to the east is part the Boise region, where LTO may be implemented in April.

The implementation list raises some interesting questions and points to where further information would be helpful.

While most of the optimized sites are small, rural post offices, the list shows that the LTO initiative also encompasses several urban offices serving large populations. For example, the Keizer Finance Station in Salem serves ZIP 97303, which has over 41,000 people. And the Brooks Finance Station, also in Salem, serves ZIP 97305, with a population over 43,000. One would think that’s more than enough people to produce enough volume to merit an exemption from LTO implementation, but both offices are being optimized. Whether that’s full or hybrid optimization is not clear because the official list doesn’t distinguish between levels of optimization.

The Postal Service has said that the optimization will apply to offices more than 50 miles from the Local Processing Center. In Oregon, the LPCs are in Portland (co-located with the RPDC), Eugene and Medford. The LTO list includes these but also four other “transfer hubs”: Salem, Klamath Falls, Bend, and Pendleton. In some cases, the optimized office is less than 50 miles from the transfer hub but more than 50 from the LPC. Apparently the LPC distance determines the optimization rather than the transfer hub distances, but this is not clear.

As the map shows, some areas of Oregon, like the central part of the state and southeast area, have post offices that are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but for some reason they’re not on the LTO list. This includes Prineville 97754, Mitchell 97750, Princeton 97721 and Fields 97710.

Conversely, some offices are less than 50 miles from the LPC, but they show up on the optimization list anyway. These include Cheshire 97419 (18 miles from the Eugene LPC), Harrisburg 97446 (21 miles from Eugene), Monroe 97456 (25 miles from Eugene), and Dexter 97431 (19 miles from Eugene). Why would these offices get optimized? They’re actually close enough to the Eugene facility to give up their carriers to the likely S&DC at the Eugene LPC, so they’d be serviced by carriers and not even need an evening collection.

There are other issues as well. For example, the Sisters 97759 post office appears on the optimization list, but it also appears on the “exceptions” list. It’s not clear if this is simply an error or a misunderstanding of the lists.

The PRC plods on, with lawsuits on the horizon

While the LTO initiative is clearly going to have nationwide impacts, the Postal Service claims it’s not necessary for it to request an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission. In response to an information request by the Commission as part of its Public Inquiry on DFA, the Postal Service said it “does not anticipate material impact to service performance.” In its view, the relaxed service standards implemented a couple of years ago now provide a “sufficient cushion” to allow it to meet the standards “even if mail is retrieved from candidate sites the next day.”

Last week the Commission finally issued an order responding to the Postal Service’s attempt to thwart the Public Inquiry by arguing that the latest questions were outside the Commission’s authority. The PRC order reaffirms the Commission’s responsibility to seek information about the activities of the Postal Service, but it also amends some of the questions “to seek more general or less granular information.” (The revised information request is here.)

Over the coming weeks, the Commission may interrogate the Postal Service further about the LTO initiative and the Postal Service’s rationale for not requesting an advisory opinion. But the Postal Service is not likely to change its position, and without a request, the Commission cannot begin an advisory opinion process.

In the meantime, LTO implementation is proceeding at a rapid pace, one state after another, which will soon make an advisory opinion irrelevant anyway. As the Commission states in the order, “Pre-implementation review, at least at a level that allows the Commission to determine if its jurisdiction is implicated, is necessary because there is little recourse should implementation of these initiatives conflict with the policies of title 39. For example, a post-hoc advisory opinion proceeding does not serve the public interest if substantial changes have already been made to nationwide postal services.”

If the Commission does not take a more aggressive position soon, it will have little to say about the LTO initiative. Once the collection routes are reconfigured, the contract drivers terminated, and all the other components of the initiative implemented, it will be almost impossible to undo the changes.

At this point, it appears that the only thing that might stop the LTO initiative is a concerted effort by elected officials or a lawsuit, like the way legal action halted the mail delays caused by DeJoy’s cost-cutting plan before the last presidential election. Back then the lawsuit filed by Oregon, Washington, and several other states quickly led to an injunction preventing further implementation of those measures while the litigation played out.

And maybe that’s just what will happen again.

—  Steve Hutkins

Related posts:

As USPS institutes network reforms, mail delivery hits a three-year low

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

Government Executive: The U.S. Postal Service has continued to see slower mail delivery across the country, with delays picking up as the agency is in the throes of transforming its entire network.

Postal management has repeatedly pointed to isolated incidents causing temporary disruptions—rather than any systemic issues—to explain the declining performance, though the trend has now persisted for nearly six months and is causing stakeholders and advocates to question the true root of the problem.

USPS is now delivering just 83% of First-Class mail on time during the current fiscal quarter, its worst rate in three years. That is down from 86% in the first quarter and 91% in both the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023 and the same period last year.

The Postal Service is in the midst of the most significant makeover of its operational structure in decades as it continues to implement Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year Delivering for America plan that it says will make the agency more efficient and eliminate its annual deficits.

That has included consolidating mail sorting away from individual post offices in favor of centralized centers and moving processing operations away from hundreds of cities and towns in favor of 60 mega-centers throughout the country. As part of a new initiative, USPS is also rolling out an “optimized collection plan” that will require mail to sit overnight at post offices instead of being collected each evening for transportation to a processing center.

Read more: As USPS institutes network reforms, mail delivery hits a three-year low – Government Executive

The USPS Network Consolidation Plan: What’s at Stake for Southern Oregon

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured, News

inequality.org, by Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger (Institute for Policy Studies): A core feature of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan, “Delivering for America,” is an initiative to restructure the nation’s postal network by consolidating processing and distribution operations in regional centers, mostly in urban areas.

In 2023, two years into the 10-year plan, USPS reported that the agency had committed $7.6 billion out of a total $40 billion restructuring budget and plans were on track to open 60 new Regional Processing and Distribution Centers across the country in the coming years.

Through this consolidation plan, many postal processing and distribution facilities in smaller communities will be converted to Local Processing Centers with reduced functions. USPS has not yet disclosed a full list of facilities to be affected by the plan. But in numerous reported cases, consolidation will result in packages and mail traveling long distances from outlying areas to urban regional processing centers.

How might this consolidation plan affect smaller towns and rural communities, where residents tend to rely most heavily on the public Postal Service? Unfortunately, USPS has published very little analysis to back up their claims about the expected benefits of the consolidation plan. This report uses available information to examine the potential impacts on just one facility: a postal processing and distribution center in Medford, Oregon.

Read the report: The USPS Network Consolidation Plan: What’s at Stake for Southern Oregon – Inequality.org. View the pdf version.

Chaos plagues USPS operations in Houston area

Steve HutkinsNews

Allen Abel, Linn’s Stamp News: In a rare display of bipartisan comity, Republican and Democratic politicians in the Houston area have joined forces against the United States Postal Service, which they hold responsible for more than two months of lost packages, delayed deliveries, helpless customers and an infuriating disinclination to speak the truth about what actually was going on.

According to local news reports, thousands of Texans have been affected since December 2023 by cascading equipment failures and staffing shortfalls at USPS processing plants in North Houston and Missouri City.

The most damaging episode, and the least farcical for beleaguered shippers and recipients, was an attempt by the Postal Service to install a new sorting machine at North Houston that proved to be too big for the building.

“The new sorter didn’t fit into the facility, and the old sorters had already been taken out to make space for the new equipment,” the Houston Chronicle reported Jan. 31, citing a meeting between Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, and senior postal and union officials.

“They were left without a lot of capacity to process parcels there due to whatever caused them to put that machine in there without knowing that it did not fit,” the Chronicle quoted National Association of Postal Supervisors executive vice president Chuck Mulidore as saying.

“Mulidore said he had personally never heard previously of a machine not fitting inside a facility,” the Chronicle reported.

Read more: Chaos plagues USPS operations in Houston area

(Photo: Patricia Ortiz/Houston Public Media)

Postal Service announces more Sorting & Delivery Centers coming soon

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has announced the launch dates for several more Sorting & Delivery Centers, along with the “spoke” post offices that will give over their carriers to these S&DC hubs.

The notification lists 16 new S&DCs and 52 spoke offices set to go live on Sept. 7, 2024.  That includes the Acworth S&DC, which had been announced previously. Here’s the basic list. A more detailed list is here.

  • Acworth GA Carrier Annex S&DC : Kennesaw Main; Kennesaw Carrier Annex
  • Carbondale IL S&DC: Carterville Main; De Soto Main; Murphysboro Main
  • Columbus GA Oakland Park Station S&DC: Columbus – Fort Benning Branch; Cataula Main; Fortson Main; Ellerslie Main
  • Washington OH S&DC (Dayton – Washington TWP Branch): Bellbrook- Main Office; Dayton – Wright Patterson AFB CAX
  • High Point NC S&DC
  • La Crosse WI S&DC
  • Lake Charles LA S&DC: Westlake Main; Lake Charles – Drew Station
  • Oakland Park, Ohio S&DC
  • Olympia WA Hub Station S&DC: Rainier Main; Mccleary Main; Dupont Main; Olympia Main; Rochester Main
  • Sarasota FL S&DC
  • Severna Park MD S&DC: Pasadena Main; Severn Main
  • Shawnee Mission KS S&DC:  Kansas City – Parkville Branch; Shawnee Mission – Shawnee Branch
  • Southern Connecticut S&DC: New Haven – East Haven Carrier Annex; Durham Main; Middletown Main; Southington – Trailer; Northford Main; New Haven – Hamden Branch; Meriden Main; Cheshire Main; New Haven – Mt Carmel Carrier Annex; Rockyhill Main; Portland Main; Wallingford Main; Cromwell- Main Office; Kensington Main; Plantsville Main
  • Vineland NJ S&DC
  • Wilkes Barre PA S&DC
  • York PA East Branch S&DC : Felton Main; Manchester Main; York Haven Main; Marietta Main; Glen Rock Main; Windsor Main; Wrightsville Main; Shrewsbury Main; Red Lion Main; Thomasville Main; Columbia Main; Etters Main; Mainuntville Main; Seven Valleys Main; Mainunt Wolf Main

A second notification has provided the launch date for the spokes at a few other S&DCs that had also been announced previously:

  • South Atlanta GA S&DC: Broadview Station, Cascade Heights Station, Morris Brown Station (all launched on Feb. 10, 2024)
  • Panama City FL S&DC: Downtown Station (March 9); Northside Station (March 23)
  • Everett WA S&DC: Bothell – Mill Creek; Seattle North City Annex (both on June 1)
  • Pompano Beach FL S&DC: Pompano Beach Main and Coconut Creek (both on March 9); Margate Branch and Coral Springs (on March 23). (There’s more on this S&DC here.)

For most of the S&DCs launching in September, the notification list includes just two or three spokes, and for six S&DCs, no spokes are listed at all. Over the coming months, new notifications will add more spokes to these S&DCs.

The Postal Service has said the main criterion for determining which carrier units will be consolidated is travel time to the S&DC, with a limit of 30 minutes. Using that limitation, one can determine which post offices could potentially become spoke offices.

While the list shows just 52 spokes, there are about 200 other carrier units within 30 minutes of the 16 S&DCs launching in September. Not all will lose their carriers, however. Other factors will come into play, like the capacity of the S&DC in terms of interior space for carriers and distribution cases, parking spaces for employees and delivery trucks, and so on.

Here’s a map showing the S&DCs launching in September (red), along with the spokes that have been announced (blue) and the potential spokes within 30 minutes of the S&DCs (purple).

A list of the facilities with addresses, carrier routes, distances between S&DC and post offices, and so on, is on Google Docs here. By the way, our regularly updated list of all the facilities in the new network — RPDCs, LPCs, S&DCs, and spokes — is here.

The Postal Service says that as of January 25, there were 31 S&DCs in operation, and carrier operations were “insourced” from 87 spoke post offices, serving 123 ZIP codes. A total of 1,379 routes have been relocated to these S&DCs.

There about 45 more S&DCs launching over the coming months, through September, which will bring the total to about 75 S&DCs. By the end of September and fiscal year 2024, approximately 178 posts offices will have given up about 3,200 routes, three-fourths of them city routes and one-fourth, rural.

The impacts of longer routes

The notification to employee organizations about the new S&DCs prefaces the facility list by saying, “The purpose of establishing S&DCs is to reduce transportation and mail handling costs as well as provide postal customers with additional services.”

The Postal Service has not provided any evidence that the S&DC system will reduce transportation costs. That’s because there isn’t any. Even with the reduction in trips between processing centers and post offices, the S&DCs will add millions of miles to the network, with all the costs for fuel, maintenance, and carrier work hours.

The average city route is 21 miles (transit plus route), and the average rural route is 35 miles. According to an OIG study on consolidating carrier routes, the current average transit between post offices and routes is 1.25 miles each way. For the carrier units being consolidated in September, the average transit distance will increase to 11 miles each way — about a 19-minute drive or more, depending on traffic.

If the average transit distance nationally were to increase by 10 miles and the drive time increased by 15 minutes, and if 100,000 routes were eventually relocated to S&DCs, as projected by the Delivering for America plan, the new network would require 600 million more miles and 15 million more work hours. (For more on the calculations, see this post and this post).

In the current network of 233,000 routes, delivery vehicles travel about 1.8 billion miles. So 600 million more miles represents an increase of about 34 percent.

The transportation costs of these additional carrier miles would be partially offset by lower costs for transportation between processing centers and post offices (the carriers will do that work). But the savings from eliminating this component of transportation will be dwarfed by the cost of all the additional miles in the routes.

The additional carrier work hours for longer routes will be offset by cutting clerk jobs at post offices and eventually closing and downsizing many offices. That’s the only way the S&DC system won’t add red ink. To offset 15 million additional work hours, the Postal Service would need to eliminate something like 8,000 clerk jobs.

No environmental impact study

Besides the additional costs of longer routes, there’s the environmental impacts to consider. The Postal Service included a “sensitivity analysis” in the supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) it did on the purchase of a new fleet of delivery vehicles, but it’s very brief. It showed, as would be expected, that longer routes cut deeply into the emissions benefits of a electrifying the fleet. (More on that here.)

The Postal Service could have done a more detailed analysis as part of the SEIS on the new fleet, but chose not to, explaining that “delivery facility network optimization is not considered part of the Proposed Action analyzed in this SEIS” because the “purchase of vehicles will not itself cause any meaningful change in average route length.”

The Postal Service could have done a separate EIS on the S&DC transformation, but it again chose not to do so, explaining that the plans to consolidate carriers “are still under development and are independent of the vehicle replacement program.” Therefore, said the Postal Service, “this SEIS does not address the environmental impacts from this delivery facility network optimization, which the Postal Service will consider in a separate NEPA assessment if deemed appropriate.” Needless to say, the Postal Service has proceeded with implementation of the S&DC plan without doing a separate EIS.

The Postal Service could have also requested an advisory opinion on network transformation from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which would have produced data relevant to environmental impacts, but it refused to do so, saying that the plan would not impact postal services from the customer’s point of view so the Commission’s opinion was not necessary.

The Postal Service has even refused to turn over data about transportation routes to the PRC as part of the Public Inquiry into Delivering for America. On December 20, the Commission filed an information request asking for details about transportation routes in the new network. On January 2, the Postal Service filed a “motion for reconsideration,” arguing the information request exceeded the Commission’s authority and implicitly threatening to go to court rather than sharing the data. It’s been seven weeks since then, and the Commission has yet to rule on the motion or to issue any further information requests. The Public Inquiry has come to a halt.

[Update, Feb. 22: Just hours after this post was published, the PRC finally ruled on the motion for reconsideration, granting it in part and denying it in part. The order is here, and the revised information request is here.]

Leave the commuting costs to the carriers

The S&DCs lengthen not only the carrier routes but also commuter distances for the carriers and other employees at the S&DCs. The Postmaster General doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. At a meeting on February 6, 2024, the PMG told reporters that as part of the consolidation effort, employees in some cases will have to drive about 5 to 15 miles farther. But that shouldn’t be a problem, he added, because “our employees are committed to the success of the Postal Service. I am sure they will do that.”

In that same meeting, or possibly another one the following week, DeJoy acknowledged that some carriers would have a longer commute to the S&DC than to their post office. But, he added, “If there’s an uncomfortable expectation, it’s that. And how uncomfortable is that — you’ve got to go an extra 30 minutes to go to work? We have to get new plants, we have to improve our plants, we have to align our work, so we can move it efficiently,” DeJoy said.

So whether it’s 5 miles, 15 miles, or 30 minutes (about 20 miles), it’s a sacrifice employees should be willing to make for the sake of the Postal Service. But the longer commutes are not simply “uncomfortable.” All the extra money on gas and maintenance comes out of the employee’s pocket, and there’s no additional compensation for the time spent in the car on the longer commuting.

Let the sunshine in

The Postmaster General recently told Federal News Network something to the effect that the new S&DC facilities are an upgrade for postal employees who previously worked in old, dark facilities that were a drain on workforce morale.

That’s the way the network transformation has been presented since the beginning, going back to July 2022, when an article in Eagle Magazine promised that the new network would let the sunshine in: “A better workplace for a brighter future.”

Eagle Magazine July 2022

That might make sense if most of the new S&DCs were in new facilities. But that’s not the case at all.

So far, the only S&DC in a new facility is the recently opened S&DC in Pompano Beach. All the others are in currently operating P&DCs, large post offices, and carrier annexes.

Over the coming months, about 150 P&DCs will be downgraded to housing a Local Processing Center and usually an S&DC as well. These are all currently existing facilities.

The new network features three new regional processing centers (RPDCs) in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Indianapolis, but there’s been no indication that they will also contain S&DCs, and the USPS presentations on the Atlanta and Charlotte region have not shown these RPDCs as housing S&DCs.

The Postal Service has indicated that there may be new facilities in several cities, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Louisville, Baton Rouge, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids, Seminole, Boston, and Billings. But these are designated as RPDCs with no sign that they will also include S&DCs.

There may also be other new facilities in the works, and some of these could contain S&DCs, like the one in Pompano Beach. Most likely, of the 400 S&DCs that are projected to be in the new network, maybe a dozen will be in new buildings.

Naturally the Postal Service is drawing the media’s attention to the shiny new facilities in order to advance its narrative of modernization, but the S&DCs are nearly all going to be located in currently operating facilities.

As for the old, dark post offices that will be consolidated to S&DCs, these are mostly small and mid-size post offices that probably have just as much light as the buildings where carriers are being moved, maybe more, and they are comparable in age as well.

Of the 75 or so S&DCs identified so far, the USPS owns 60 of the buildings, and their average age is about 42 years. Of the 177 spoke offices identified so far, about 60 are owned by the Postal Service, and they average 52 years old. In terms of “old” and “new,” that’s not much of a difference. The post offices in leased properties are probably “younger” than the owned properties, so the difference, if any, would be even smaller.

The only spoke post offices that could be considered “old” are actually beautiful historic New Deal post offices — the gems of the Postal Service’s inheritance of brick-and-mortar post offices. For most carriers moving from one of these post offices to an S&DC at a repurposed P&DC, it won’t be much of an upgrade.

In other words, it’s simply false to portray the S&DCs as an “upgrade” whereby employees are being moved from old, dark facilities to new, light-filled facilities.

Introducing Premier Post Offices, again

As for S&DCs providing additional services to customers, this apparently refers to the faster delivery that may be possible for customers within 30 minutes of an S&DC because the mail doesn’t need to be transported to a post office for carrier delivery — the system skips that step. But the Postal Service hasn’t really identified any other “additional services.”

One potential new service, however, was revealed at a recent presentation for business mailers described in a recent newsletter from Mailers Hub. The Postal Service announced that some S&DCs will also host upgraded retail post offices called “premier offices.”

These offices will showcase various forms of “retail technology modernization,” including 24-hour secure lobby access, self-service kiosks for mailing packages, parcel lockers, digital fingerprinting services, and kiosks for passport photos. Here’s an image from the presentation:

Source: USPS via Mailers Hub

Much of this self-service equipment has been featured in images of modernized post office lobbies that have been circulating in news reports since 2013:

Installing and upgrading retail post offices in S&DCs is one of the ways the Postal Service will be spending the $4 billion on post office improvements mentioned in the Delivering for America plan. According to the DFA, the investment will “provide a world-class customer experience with improved retail training, modernized uniforms, refreshed lobbies, and expanded self-service and digital options.”

Premier post offices are not a new idea. About ten years ago the Postal Service selected 3,100 metro-area post offices for an upgrade to the “Premier Post Office” program. It focused on sprucing up the post office with improved maintenance and on providing extra training for retail associates, including a module on telephone courtesy. As part of the program, the Postal Service also launched something called It Begins With a Smile to improve the customer experience.

The premier offices also had preferred access to new stamp issues, like the Harry Potter, and extended hours during the holidays. A 2015 OIG study said the Postal Service could be doing a better job measuring and evaluating the success of the program, and many of the Premier post offices could also be improved in terms of their physical appearance.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the Postal Service will begin closing post offices, downsizing to smaller spaces, and selling buildings, many of them historic. You can almost hear the explanation now: The premier post office at the S&DC will be newer, more modern and more convenient than the post office being closed. Forget about the fact that you may have to drive an extra 10 or 15 miles to get there and your town or neighborhood no longer has its own post office. It’s all for the greater good.

— Steve Hutkins

Related Posts:

Senator Baldwin Raises Concerns Over USPS Operational Changes That Could Delay Mail Service In Wisconsin

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured, News

[Press Release from APWU Oshkosh Area Local 178, Feb. 15, 2024]  Senator Tammy Baldwin has reached out to the Postmaster General expressing concerns about the significant operational changes within the United States Postal Service (USPS) that are affecting Wisconsin, particularly with the implementation of the Optimized Collections Initiative. These changes include shifting from traditional to optimized collection routes, which could result in delays in mail pickup and delivery.

In her letter to the Postmaster General, Senator Baldwin highlights her concerns about the impact of these changes on Wisconsin communities, including Madison, Green Bay, and Milwaukee. The Senator emphasized the potential exacerbation of delivery issues in the state, citing the USPS’s history of significant delays in delivering mail to Wisconsin residents.

“At a time when the USPS is raising postage rates and losing mail volume, it is difficult to understand why further steps are being taken to reduce mail services,” said Senator Baldwin. “The Postal Service is vital for small businesses, seniors, and rural communities that rely on the prompt delivery of life-saving medications, bill payments, and other time-sensitive pieces of mail.”

Senator Baldwin has requested additional information from the USPS regarding the implementation timeline for the Optimized Collections Initiative in Wisconsin, as well as a list of affected postal facilities. She has also posed several questions to the USPS, seeking clarification on how businesses and individuals will be informed about these changes, whether customers will experience service delays, and what measures will be taken to ensure mail-in ballots for upcoming elections are not impacted.

The Senator has urged the USPS to provide a comprehensive explanation of the proposed changes and to respond to her inquiries by March 12, 2024.

“I believe the USPS must prioritize the needs of Wisconsin residents and ensure that any operational changes do not compromise the quality and efficiency of mail services,” stated Senator Baldwin.

Read the letter here.

Photo: Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a Senate hearing on April 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Related Posts:

The mail slows down, again

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

As you have probably noticed from personal experience and reading the news, the Postal Service is having a difficult time delivering on time. Mail and packages are delayed for days, even weeks, sometimes never arriving at all. For its part, postal management often seems unresponsive to complaints, and they have even refused to participate in town meetings with elected officials to discuss the problems.

Admittedly, not all the mail is slowing down. During the first quarter of FY 2024 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2023), Marketing Mail had an excellent on-time score of 93.7 percent. But First Class mail is not doing so well.

TV station KHOU says it’s heard from “tens of thousands of people in the Houston area” about their mail being lost or delayed, overwhelming its news tip email. A report in the Virginia Mercury says the late and missing mail in the Richmond area includes jury notices, contributions to a nonprofit museum, electoral ballots, utility bills, tax documents, medications, and testing samples used to screen veterans for colon cancer (rendered unusable by the delays).

While the log jams will eventually be cleared, the problems are not going away anytime soon, and in many respects, slower mail is simply a feature of the postal system being implemented by DeJoy’s Delivering for America plan. In other words, “get used to it.”

The mail slows down, again and again and again

This is the fourth time the mail has slowed down since DeJoy became Postmaster General.

Source: USPS and Washington Post, 2/6/2021 (Click to enlarge)

The first slowdown occurred in the summer of 2020, weeks after DeJoy’s tenure began, when the Postal Service initiated a workhour reduction plan to cut overtime and reduce late and extra trips for the trucks going between facilities.

By the second week of August, on-time delivery of First-Class mail nationwide had fallen nearly 10 percentage points, and scores for single-piece First Class mail with a service standard of 3 days were down over 20 percent compared to the same period the previous year.

As the November election approached and voting-by-mail became an issue, leading to several lawsuits against the Postal Service, service performance struggled to return to the pre-DeJoy averages. Then in mid-November, performance scores dropped even more precipitously, due largely to employee absenteeism and the package surge caused by the pandemic. For the week ending Dec. 26, 2020, only 33 percent of 3-day single-piece First Class mail was delivered on time.

The third time the mail slowed was on October 1, 2021, when the Postal Service changed its service standards — one of the first steps in the Delivery for America plan. About 40 percent of First Class mail slowed down, and 30 percent of the 3-day mail was turned into 4-day and 5-day, which allowed the Postal Service to cut costs by switching from air transportation to ground for long-distance mail.

The next big step of DFA was consolidating the processing and delivery network, and now that’s slowing down the mail yet again. Over the past several weeks, the rollout of Regional Processing & Distribution Centers (RPDCs) has been contributing to delays across the country. Two of the regions where there have been the most consumer complaints are Houston and Richmond, where RPDCs were launched last year.

In Houston, mail and packages have been backed up for weeks in the North Houston RPDC and the P&DC in Missouri City, apparently because there were problems installing a huge new package sorting machine in the RPDC. In Virginia, the problems have reached a crisis level, again at least partly due to issues launching a new RPDC at the Sandston P&DC.

Over the coming months, other elements of the DFA plan will slow down the mail even more. Many P&DCs are being downgraded to Local Processing Centers (LPCs) that handle only incoming mail, so local mail will need to be transported to an RPDC for processing, and then sent back to the LPC. That will lengthen delivery times by at least a day.

The Postal Service has also launched an initiative called Local Transportation Optimization, which will eliminate the evening collection of mail at most rural post offices over the next few months, so mail and packages will need to wait until the next morning for collection. That too will add a day to delivery times.

Invitation declined

Elected officials in Texas, Virginia, and across the country have been asking the Postal Service for answers. Congressman Al Green, who represents the Houston area, is calling for more transparency and a Congressional hearing. Virginia’s Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have been pressing the Postal Service to address the “alarming delays,” and they, along with several other elected officials, asked the USPS to attend a town hall about the issues.

The Postal Service “respectfully declined,” explaining that “significant attention and resources have been devoted to monitoring service performance and to providing customer service. Experience has proven that extraordinary or one-off customer outreach events complicate these efforts, rarely provide any meaningful insights to improve operations, and raise questions about basic fairness. Instead, the Postal Service relies on a robust program to collect, analyze, and act on service performance issues and customer complaints and questions.”

As part of this program, the Postal Service maintains a helpful service performance dashboard (as required by the Postal Reform Act) and provides quarterly service performance reports to the Postal Regulatory Commission. It also posts some of these reports on its website. The reports don’t encompass packages — that information is considered commercially sensitive and kept confidential — but they do include First Class mail.

Last week the Postal Service submitted its performance reports for the first quarter of FY 2024 (the last three  months of 2023). The reports show that the mail is in fact getting much slower nationwide and in almost every district. They also show that the delays in Virginia are among the worst in the country.

Percent on time

The following table shows the on-time performance scores for single-piece First Class mail during the first quarter of FY 2024 and for the same quarter in FY 2023.

The table merges data in the performance reports for Q1 FY2024 shared with the PRC last week, which can be found on the PRC website here, and the reports for Q1 FY2023, which are here. For easy access, all the reports used in this post are on Google Docs here. The table can be sorted by columns; to revert to the original order, refresh your browser.

Single-Piece First-Class Mail Percent On-Time Q1 FY23 - FY24

2-Day FY23 3-5-Day FY23 2-Day FY243-5-Day FY242-Day Change3-5 Day Change
Nation9081.887.570.5-2.76%-13.82%
Atlantic Area89.983.485.770.1-4.66%-15.99%
Connecticut92.284.389.171.1-3.37%-15.69%
De-Pa287.484.585.375.1-2.41%-11.15%
Ma-Ri88.380.380.961.9-8.41%-22.88%
Maryland83.882.182.269.1-1.93%-15.81%
Me-Nh-Vt91.983.989.369.2-2.80%-17.52%
New Jersey91.383.589.473.5-2.05%-11.99%
New York 187.283.183.469.9-4.33%-15.90%
New York 290.885.386.875-4.44%-12.07%
New York 391.884.593.275.61.54%-10.53%
North Carolina92.382.886.368.1-6.47%-17.76%
Pennsylvania 191.48691.977.30.59%-10.13%
Virginia8982.266.358.9-25.53%-28.33%
Central Area88.680.286.569.5-2.42%-13.30%
Ia-Ne-Sd8978.190.272.51.32%-7.15%
Illinois 186.683.482.373.2-4.92%-12.28%
Illinois 287.377.185.264.5-2.37%-16.37%
Indiana88.480.685.162.7-3.79%-22.23%
Ks-Mo90.578.386.564.1-4.38%-18.15%
Ky-Wv918389.772.6-1.46%-12.50%
Michigan 190.683.285.474.3-5.75%-10.68%
Michigan 292.683.791.375.3-1.39%-10.03%
Mn-Nd85.975.185.264.9-0.80%-13.54%
Ohio 187.881.482.270.6-6.35%-13.25%
Ohio 284.979.786.271.61.50%-10.21%
Wisconsin90.579.989.369.2-1.31%-13.42%
Southern Area90.380.488.468.9-2.13%-14.28%
Al-Ms91.680.489.262.5-2.61%-22.24%
Ar-Ok92.278.59266.8-0.26%-14.92%
Florida 190.879.391.8681.08%-14.25%
Florida 291.583.592.475.60.96%-09.49%
Florida 388.379.387.672.6-0.75%-8.44%
Georgia86.476.480.659.6-6.76%-21.94%
Louisiana90.779.287.665.7-3.41%-17.06%
Puerto Rico91.377.790.579.1-0.90%1.84%
South Carolina91.579.287.265.1-4.73%-17.80%
Tennessee88.277.989.164.41.07%-17.36%
Texas 191.286.587.878.2-3.74%-09.62%
Texas 289.1748666.5-3.44%-10.16%
Texas 392.682.791.471-1.31%-14.19%
Westpac Area91.783.89174.2-0.78%-11.45%
Alaska88.684.290.185.91.68%2.00%
Az-Nm92.181.391.270.3-0.93%-13.53%
California 195.488.594.474.4-1.05%-15.89%
California 294.187.992.275-1.98%-14.68%
California 39590.594.681.4-0.44%-10.04%
California 495.392.994.783.8-0.62%-09.75%
California 59188.991.280.40.18%-09.54%
California 694.989.693.979.5-1.05%-11.27%
Co-Wy81.172.48066.3-1.41%-8.37%
Hawaii93.883.793.783.1-0.13%-0.76%
Id-Mt-Or90.681.889.273.7-1.53%-09.88%
Nv-Ut91.283.38666.2-5.71%-20.51%
Washington88.676.691.770.53.52%-7.97%

Nationwide and district-by-district, the scores are significantly lower than they were last year during the first quarter. For mail with a 2-day service standard, 40 districts were slower, and for 3-5 day mail (a composite for mail with a 3, 4 or 5 day service standard), all but two districts had slower mail than last year. For the 3-5-day mail, the national average dropped from 81.8 percent on-time to just 70.5 percent.

Single-Piece 5-day First Class Mail in January 2024 (Service Performance Dashboard)

The Postal Service’s service performance dashboard provides the weekly scores for the first few weeks of the second quarter, and it doesn’t appear things are getting any better. For the 3-5-day mail during January, the national average dropped to 68 percent on time. That’s over 20 percentage points lower than last January. (The dashboard doesn’t provide a composite for 3, 4, and 5 day, so that’s an estimate based on the individual scores.)

It’s worth remembering that when the Postal Service relaxed service standards in 2021, it said that changing some mail with a 3-day standard to 4-day and 5-day would enable it to reach an on-time score of 95 percent. Even though the mail would be slower, claimed the Postal Service, it would be more “reliable.” That seemed dubious at the time — 3-5 day mail was averaging a score of about 80 percent — but the Postal Service stuck by the claim, even as it was questioned by the PRC and postal advocate Douglas Carlson during the advisory opinion process.

The scores for the four months of FY 2024 aren’t even close to achieving that goal. Raising the scores for 3-5-day mail from 70 percent to 95 percent is looking more and more like a pipe dream.

Average Delivery Time

Average delivery time (days to deliver) is another metric used to analyze service performance. The Postal Service has been using the composite average in press releases for a couple of years now, typically touting that all mail and packages have been delivered in around 2.5 days, which sounds pretty fast. Last June, in fact, it was just 2.4 days.

The number in the press releases is a composite that includes pre-sort and single-piece First Class, Marketing Mail, Priority, ground packages, and so on. It doesn’t reveal the problems with single-piece First Class mail, the kind of mail sent by individuals and small businesses.

Average delivery time for this composite has been increasing, and during the first quarter of FY 2024, as well as the first four weeks of the second quarter, it reached 2.8 days. That’s about 17 percent more than it was in June.

The following table shows the average delivery time for single-piece First Class for each service standard for the first quarter of FY 2023 and FY 2024.

Single-Piece First-Class Mail Average Delivery Times Q1 FY23 - FY24

DistrictFY23 2-DayFY23 3-DayFY23 4-DayFY23 5-dayFY24 2-DayFY24 3-DayFY24 4-DayFY24 5-dayChange 2-dayChange 3-dayChange 4-dayChange 5-day
Nation22.83.74.12.13.14.254.2%9.9%12.3%22.0%
Atlantic Area22.73.84.12.13.14.25.23.6%14.7%11.4%28.1%
Connecticut2.12.73.94.12.134.25.21.9%10.8%9.0%27.5%
De-Pa21.92.53.73.822.94.14.93.1%17.1%11.5%29.3%
Ma-Ri2.12.744.32.33.24.65.59.9%18.4%15.6%28.3%
Maryland2.22.93.83.92.23.24.14.91.4%10.3%8.7%26.5%
Me-Nh-Vt22.83.84.223.24.35.32.5%14.7%13.3%26.6%
New Jersey22.73.74.32.13.14.15.15.7%14.7%10.4%19.0%
New York 12.12.83.84.12.23.34.35.34.8%16.6%14.2%30.4%
New York 22.12.73.74.22.22.94.15.26.6%9.1%11.1%25.2%
New York 32.12.73.94.12.12.94.25.21.8%7.1%8.6%26.6%
North Carolina22.73.74.12.23.14.35.210.0%12.9%15.4%27.9%
Pennsylvania 11.92.53.53.922.83.953.1%14.0%10.1%27.4%
Virginia22.93.742.63.64.45.426.9%25.0%18.6%36.6%
Central Area22.83.84.12.13.24.24.72.6%12.4%11.7%15.6%
Ia-Ne-Sd233.74.323.144.5-1.6%4.7%8.3%4.0%
Illinois 12.12.63.53.52.233.946.9%14.3%10.2%14.5%
Illinois 22.133.94.52.23.54.45.16.1%16.7%11.6%12.1%
Indiana2.12.93.74.62.23.44.45.36.7%16.5%17.4%16.5%
Ks-Mo22.93.84.22.23.44.35.29.1%16.7%13.6%25.0%
Ky-Wv1.92.83.74.223.14.14.93.8%10.8%10.9%17.4%
Michigan 122.73.74.12.1344.63.8%10.3%7.1%12.6%
Michigan 222.73.84.22344.71.7%10.1%4.6%13.2%
Mn-Nd2.13.13.94.12.23.34.35.13.8%5.8%9.3%24.7%
Ohio 122.73.74.12.23.14.358.0%12.9%14.7%22.4%
Ohio 22.22.83.74.32.13.144.9-2.9%9.3%8.6%14.1%
Wisconsin22.93.84.22.13.24.24.92.7%10.3%10.5%16.0%
Southern Area22.93.74.22.13.34.253.4%11.9%12.7%18.8%
Al-Ms1.92.93.74.123.44.55.62.7%15.8%20.2%36.8%
Ar-Ok233.74.823.34.35.2-0.8%9.9%16.8%9.0%
Florida 1233.74.323.34.25.20.3%8.5%12.1%22.3%
Florida 222.93.74.123.144.71.3%7.2%8.6%16.0%
Florida 32.12.93.94.32.23.14.24.83.1%5.4%7.9%10.9%
Georgia2.13.13.84.22.23.54.45.34.7%14.6%14.8%26.6%
Louisiana22.93.74.12.13.34.65.64.8%12.2%24.4%35.2%
Puerto Rico1.8N/A3.94.32N/A3.94.59.1%00.0%3.8%
South Carolina233.84.22.13.34.35.14.3%10.8%14.7%21.9%
Tennessee2.13.13.842.13.44.45.11.1%11.3%17.0%26.3%
Texas 12.12.73.53.92.233.84.55.0%9.9%8.7%14.8%
Texas 22.1344.82.23.24.45.36.7%7.4%8.9%10.1%
Texas 322.83.84.623.14.45.11.4%8.8%16.2%11.3%
Westpac Area1.92.83.74.122.94.153.2%5.3%10.6%22.2%
Alaska1.6N/A2.94.51.6N/A2.94.4-1.9%1.6%-3.3%
Az-Nm22.93.84.223.14.25.22.2%8.0%9.5%23.4%
California 11.82.63.73.81.92.84.25.24.0%8.2%13.5%36.1%
California 21.92.63.9422.74.25.16.5%2.8%8.2%28.7%
California 31.92.53.7422.644.94.2%3.2%7.4%24.0%
California 41.92.333.61.92.53.54.61.8%7.7%17.3%26.6%
California 522.53.53.922.63.84.8-0.6%2.1%7.3%22.5%
California 61.82.73.73.91.92.844.96.0%5.6%9.0%24.7%
Co-Wy2.23.13.94.72.23.34.252.1%5.9%8.8%7.3%
Hawaii1.82.23.74.21.92.444.47.1%6.9%9.4%3.7%
Id-Mt-Or1.92.93.74.2234.14.92.9%4.1%10.8%17.0%
Nv-Ut22.93.942.13.14.65.55.4%7.4%18.1%38.2%
Washington22.93.84.82345.4-1.6%3.7%4.3%12.7%

For First Class, the average delivery times nationwide for Q1 FY24 were just a bit above the service standards of 2, 3, 4 and 5 days (i.e., 2.1, 3.1, 4.2, and 5.0 days). That might seem okay, but historically the average delivery times have actually been lower than the service standards because a portion of the mail is delivered earlier than the standard. That’s why in Q1 FY23 the average delivery time nationwide for each service standard was lower than the standard (i.e., 2, 2.8, 3.7, and 4.1 days).

Nationwide, delivery times have increased across the board, by 4 percent for 2-day mail, 10 percent for 3-day, 12 percent for 4-day, and 22 percent for 5-day. To put these increases in context, when the Postal Service changed service standards in 2021, it acknowledged that increasing average delivery time by 19 percent would cause a volume loss of 1.72 percent, which would cost the Postal Service $110 million in lost revenue annually.

Looking at Virginia

If you sort both of the tables, you’ll see that the scores for the Virginia district are the worst, or almost the worst, by both metrics for almost each service standard, sometimes by a significant margin.

For example, for mail with a 2-day service standard, Virginia scored 66.3 percent on time compared to the next lowest district, 80 percent for Colorado-Wyoming, and compared to 87.5 percent for the nation. That’s a decrease of 25 percent from its score of 89 percent last year. For the 3-5-day mail, Virginia scored 58.9 percent on time, again the worst in the nation, and 11 percentage points below the national average of 70.5 percent, and a 28 percent drop from its score last year.

With respect to delivery times, Virginia averaged about a half day more than the nation in each service standard. For mail with a 3-day standard, for example, Virginia averaged 3.6 days compared to the nation’s 3.1 days. For 5-day mail, Virginia averaged 5.4 days, an increase of 37 percent over its score last year (4 days).

The following chart shows the recent history of the first quarter scores for single-piece First Class mail with a 3-5 day service standard, nationally and in Virginia. (The reports on which this table is based can be found on Google Docs here.)

The reports for FY 2016-2022 provide separate scores for the Richmond district (ZIPs 224-225, 228-239, 244) and Northern Virginia (ZIPs 201, 220-223, 226-227). For FY 2023 and 2024, the district borders were revised and the two Virginia districts became one (201, 220-246). (If the chart isn’t showing for you, try refreshing your browser or click here.)

For the most part, the Richmond and Northern Virginia scores track with the national scores, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. Even when there was a big drop-off in scores for Q1 FY 2021 (Oct-Dec 2020) — due, as discussed above, to the workhour reduction plan launched in that summer and employee absenteeism caused by the pandemic — Virginia’s scores were close to the national average.

In Q1 FY 2022, the scores went back up — thanks to the changes in service standards that were implemented as the quarter began, which added one or two days to the 3-day mail. In Q1 FY 2023, when Virginia became one district, the scores were almost identical with the national scores. But in the first quarter of FY 2024, there’s a clear difference between the national scores and Virginia.

Causes and explanations

The Postal Service has offered several explanations for the problems with service performance.

At the meeting of the Board of Governors on February 8, 204, the Postal Service showed a few slides with the service performance numbers for the first quarter of FY 2024. Here are the slides for First Class mail with a 2-day service standard and a 3-5-day standard.

These charts show composite scores that merge single-piece mail with pre-sort mail. Since pre-sort always scores much higher, the composites don’t really convey how bad the scores were, especially in some districts like Virginia. But they were bad enough to require an explanation.

The Postal Service explained that the low scores were due to “operational disruptions within our network due to the insourcing of several Surface Transfer Centers after a supplier declared bankruptcy and the extended shutdown of a critical St Louis, Missouri, processing facility due to a mercury leak.”

The mercury leak occurred at the St. Louis NDC on Oct. 26, causing a two-week disruption. The bankruptcy probably refers to Matteson Flight Extenders (MFE), a company that had provided logistic support to the Postal Service since 1998. In May 2022, MFE declared bankruptcy following a dispute with the Postal Service over a STC it was operating in Brandywine, MD.

The Postal Service claimed MFE wasn’t keeping up with the mail flow according to the contract, while MFE blamed the faulty sorting equipment it had inherited from the previous contractor and the Postal Service’s decision to divert peak holiday mail to the facility when it wasn’t prepared to process it. The result was a four-mile long log jam of tractor trailers trying to get into the facility. The lawsuit, by the way, also involves XPO Logistics, DeJoy’s former company.

In its comments at the BOG meeting, the Postal Service makes it sound as if the closing of STCs was a result of the bankruptcy, but in the 2023 Annual Report, the Postal Service offers a somewhat different explanation: “shortcomings with adequate staffing and unanticipated complications with readiness” at contractor-staffed STCs “impacted our ability to meet our service targets,” which led management to make “strategic decisions to insource some of these contract operations.”

The Postal Service has also offered other explanations for the recent delays. In the letter to Virginia’s elected officials (Jan. 17, 2024) declining the invitation to attend a town meetings, the Postal Service cited “operational complications” setting up the RPDC in Sandston, the “unanticipated dissolution of a transportation vendor” (it’s not clear if this refers to the MFE bankruptcy or something else), and a tight labor market that makes it difficult to hire.

In December, when it was already clear that mail delays were spiking, the Postal Service also cited “supply chain issues,” and over the past few weeks, it’s been blaming winter weather.

All of these factors have no doubt contributed to delaying the mail across the country, but there’s one more possible cause for the slower mail in Virginia. You won’t hear the Postal Service mention this explanation, however.

Ending evening collections

The Richmond region was the first in the nation to experience what the Postal Service is calling Local Transportation Optimization (LTO). This initiative involves eliminating the evening collection of mail at post offices — most of them small, rural offices — for transport to the processing center. The mail waits until the next morning, when it’s picked up by the drivers dropping off the day’s mail.

The Postal Service implemented the collections optimization initiative in the Richmond region on October 28, 2023. About 300 post offices no longer get their mail collected after the post office closes. The Postal Service has told the PRC that the initiative would have no “material impacts” on service performance, but it’s possible that at least part of the problem in Virginia is the LTO implementation.

Fully and Hybrid Optimization (USPS PRESENTATION))

The Postal Service has provided the Commission with data on the impacts on single-piece First Class mail in the Richmond region: About 9 percent of this mail was subject to full optimization, and another 22 percent was subject to “hybrid optimization.”

At the “hybrid” offices, there is no evening pickup, but the next morning the trucks out collecting mail stop, on their return trip to the processing center, at some larger post offices to pick up whatever mail had been mailed by that hour — whenever that might be. The Postal Service has shared collections hours with the PRC, but only as a non-public finding. (For more about the initiative, see this previous post.)

In any case, that’s not enough data to determine how much the LTO initiative may have impacted Virginia’s low service performance scores. But during the first quarter of FY 2023, that’s the only place in the country where LTO was implemented.

The LTO initiative is rolling out across the country over the next several months, so time will tell how much it’s impacting service performance. One thing’s for sure: Having the mail sit at thousands of post offices overnight will not improve service performance scores.

— Steve Hutkins

[Update, Feb. 20, 2024: The Postal Service discussed the problems in Richmond in response to an information request today. It doesn’t mention the rollout of the LTO initiative and instead focuses on issues that occurred when converting the Sandston P&DC into a RPDC, the first to be activated in the DFA plan.]

(Featured Photo: Mail on the dock of the N. Houston RPDC, KHOU)

For more about Local Transportation Optimization:

Historic Sheboygan post office heads for the auction block

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Last week the Postal Service issued a news release announcing the proposed relocation of retail services at the historic post office on North Ninth Street in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

According to the news release, the post office suffers from a “space deficiency” — whatever that is. The announcement doesn’t say it explicitly, but the clear implication is that the historic building will eventually be put up for sale.

It appears that the Sheboygan post office will be yet another casualty of the Postal Service’s 10-year austerity plan, aka Delivering for America — along with slowing mail delivery, raising prices, cutting jobs by consolidating processing plants and carrier operations, reducing retail hours, closing stations and branches, ending evening collection at rural post offices, relocations to smaller retail-only offices, and a fire sale of postal properties.

The relocation options

The Sheboygan post office employs about 95 people — 75 letter carriers to cover 52 routes plus 20 customer-service and carrier-support clerks — perhaps about 60 at a time. The building has 43,000 square feet, and the parking has about 60 or 70 spaces, mostly for delivery vehicles. There seems to be plenty of on-street parking as well.

That’s a very large building, and that’s probably enough parking for employees and customers. It’s not clear why the site or building is inadequate for current operations.

Aerial view of Sheboygan property (Source: Google Earth)

The news release simply says, ”Due to a space deficiency of the current Post Office, the Postal Service is now considering relocating retail services within three miles of the current location.”

The Postal Service says it’s looking for an existing building that has about 3,400 square feet with at least 22 parking spaces where it can put a small, retail-only office (aka a finance station). If retail were moved to a smaller location like this, the Postal Service would consider keeping carriers in the current location on Ninth Street.

Another possibility would be to keep the retail operation where it is while relocating the carriers elsewhere. To do this, the Postal Service wants an existing building that has about 7,400 square feet with at least 47 parking spots. Presumably this facility would house only carriers (aka a carrier annex).

Yet another alternative would be to move to an existing building that as about 21,100 square feet and 161 parking spaces “to add the carriers to the new location.” The wording is not quite clear, but apparently that means moving both the retail and carriers together to the same new location. This building would be half the size of the current facility, but with more parking.

Sheboygan PO, triptych over entrance (Source: David Gates Jr)

Perhaps inadequate parking is the “space deficiency” at the Ninth Street post office, or perhaps the issue is something else.

But all the attention to square feet and parking in the announcement shouldn’t obscure the obvious: The Postal Service is planning to sell the Sheboygan post office.

Once all the relocating is done, why would the Postal Service hold on to the property? If carriers are removed and there’s just a small retail-only operation, it will occupy about a tenth of the building. That won’t make sense. And why would it be necessary to remove the retail while keeping the carriers in the building?

The process could take several months, maybe a year or more, but it can only end one way. The question isn’t will the building be sold, but what will happen to it after that.  A government building? A corporate office? Or maybe a boutique hotel and/or restaurant — with a postal theme, of course.

No public meeting

The news release says that customers can submit comments by mail over the next 45 days. This will be the only way for the public to share its views.

Sheboygan PO Lobby (Source: Wisconsin Historic Society)

That’s because last June the Postal Service revised the federal regulations on post office relocations and eliminated the requirement for a public meeting.

As the Postal Service explained when it changed the regulations, during the pandemic (when meetings weren’t possible) “written notification proved to be a more effective means of communicating and provided community members with a more accessible method of providing comments.” (Of course, that doesn’t explain why written comments and a public meeting aren’t a better way to hear what the community has to say.)

Now the only way the public can comment is by writing a letter to the Postal Service. It won’t be possible for the public to view these letters, and there will be no opportunity to meet with USPS representatives face-to-face. It doesn’t matter that the post office is a historic landmark in downtown Sheboygan.

If you’d like to comment, write United States Postal Service, ATTN: Sheboygan WI Relocation, PO BOX 27497, Greensboro, NC 27498-1103. Comments are due by March 15, 2024.

A highlight of the New Deal in Wisconsin

The Sheboygan post office was constructed from 1932 to 1937. Unlike many New Deal post offices, which were usually based on standard plans from the Department of the Treasury’s design office, the Sheboygan office was designed by an architect, Edgar A. Stubenrauch, a native of Sheboygan (b. 1894). He also designed several other large buildings in Wisconsin and Michigan.

“Present City” (Source: Wisconsin Historic Society)

The post office has five murals painted by Schomer Lichtner (b. 1905 in Peoria) funded by the Treasury Relief Art Project. One of Lichtner other works was selected by President Roosevelt and hangs in the White House. The murals depict the growth of the area from the time of the Native Americans to the present: Indian Life, The Pioneer, The Lake, Agriculture, and Present City.

The interior lobby’s work tables, moldings and column capitals, done in the Art Deco style, were designed by Elizabeth Tuttle Holsman, (b. 1873 in Nebraska), a painter and sculptor, married to Henry Holsman, a pioneer automaker and one of Chicago’s most famous architects.

The post office was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The nomination form has an extensive description of the building and murals, including several black-and-white photos. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a page on the post office as well.

According to the NRHP form, “The richness of the materials and of the architectural detailing, together with the abundance of murals, create a setting not found anywhere else in the survey. Schomer Lichtner’s murals are an integral part of the building and are good examples of this Wisconsin artist’s work. The extent of the commission also presents a rare collection of five canvases of Schomer’s work. Together, the art and architecture of the Sheboygan Post Office mark this building as one of the highlights of the Treasury Department’s post office projects in the state.”

There’s an excellent photo essay about the post office and its murals, as well as a video, on Post Office Fans, a site maintained by postal historian David W. Gates Jr., author of a book about Depression-era Wisconsin post offices and their murals.

— Steve Hutkins

(Featured photo: Sheboygan Post Office, David Gates)