Postal Service provides an implementation update on the S&DC plan

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

A couple of weeks ago, the Postal Service shared a presentation with the management associations and unions showing the implementation status of the Sorting & Delivery Center plan as of May 4, 2023.

According to the presentation, 18 S&DCs will be launched in June and September of this year. With the half dozen S&DCs that have already been established, there will be 24 S&DCs by the end of fiscal year 2023.

The presentation shows 22 post offices will lose their carriers to S&DCs in June, and 29 more in September. Another eight will give up their carriers in February 2024, in what the presentation calls “wave 2.” With the 23 post offices that lost their carriers in November and February, the total number of spoke offices will soon be 82, with about 1,080 routes relocated to the S&DCs.

Here are a list and map of these 82 spoke offices and 24 S&DCs, based on the May 4 presentation. (View on Google Docs and Google Maps.)

The May 4 presentation shows a few spoke offices that have not appeared on previous lists: Rose Station in Terre Haute, IN; the Donaldson and Sheridan Stations in Tulsa, OK; and the Downtown Station in Waco, TX.

The presentation says that implementation of several S&DCs has been postponed or cancelled because none of their spoke offices passed what’s called a Financial Rigor Test. These include the S&DCs in Columbia, SC; Morgantown, WV; Owensboro, KY; Rockford, IL; Stockton, CA; and Williamsport, PA. The presentation does not explain what the FRT uses as criteria, but it says that these facilities are “still being modified with all the S&DC equipment updates.”

North Altanta Branch S&DC with 30-minute reach in green

In some cases, the presentation provides incorrect data. For example, a table shows the distance between the new S&DC at the North Atlanta Branch post office (in Atlanta, GA) and the Dunwoody Branch spoke office as 18 miles; Google says it’s 7.3 miles. The presentation shows the distance to the Briarcliff Branch spoke as 16 miles; Google shows it as 2.3 miles.  A map in the presentation shows that the Google numbers are correct.

Just getting started

In its Two-Year Report to Congress on the implementation status of Delivering for America, the Postal Service says it is currently looking at a hundred more potential S&DC sites. At the Postal Forum this week, the Postmaster General said he expected to deploy over 400 in the next three years.

Those 400 S&DCs would take on carrier operations from as many as 6,000 spoke offices, with over a 100,000 carriers relocated from post offices to S&DCs. That’s an average of 15 spokes and 250 routes per S&DC.

So far, the S&DCs are averaging just 3 or 4 spokes and 45 routes. Each of these S&DCs has many more post offices within a 30-minute drive, the maximum reach according to the plan. Apparently the Postal Service just wants to get the S&DCs established. More spokes can be added later.

The average distance between the S&DCs and post offices is 8 miles, and the drive time averages 15 minutes. When the plan is fully implemented, this average will increase to about 11 or 12 miles and 20 minutes, as discussed in this previous analysis. The averages are low now because the Postal Service is starting off with post offices, especially those with a lot of routes, that are relatively close to the S&DC.

Bryan TX Post Office, now an S&DC

For example, the College Station post office sent 68 routes to the S&DC in Bryan, Texas, just 7 miles away, and the Bridgeport, Conn., office sent 61 routes to the Fairfield Carrier Annex (which is presumably the Commerce Station), just 3 miles away.

Since July 2022, when the Postal Service began sharing details about the Sorting & Delivery Center initiative, it has identified about 40 potential S&DCs and 280 post offices that could give up their carriers and become “spoke” offices. A complete list of all of these facilities is here.

Over the past several months, most of these facilities have dropped off the update lists for reasons the Postal Service has not explained. Some have failed the Financial Rigor Test, whatever that is, some may have run into local political opposition, and others may have been postponed until the S&DC can be prepared for the carriers.

Whatever the reason, with just over a thousand routes being relocated in the first year of S&DCs, the Postal Service is a long way from the goal of transferring 100,000 routes to S&DCs.

No reduction of retail services

One detail in the May 4 presentation is worth noting. At the bottom of the slide that provides an overview of the plan’s goals — a slide that has been used on previous presentations — a footnote has been added saying, “Retail & PO Box Operations remain at the Spoke Sites and are not impacted by S&DC Operations.” The Postal Service also emphasizes this point in the two-year progress report on the Delivering for America plan.

Athens S&DC (Source: USPS presentation at Postal Forum)

At the House hearing on May 17, the Postmaster General was asked by Vermont Congresswoman Becca Balint about her constituents’ concerns that relocating carriers will be followed by cuts to post offices.

In reply, the PMG began explaining the rationale for the S&DC plan. Pressed by Balint for an answer, he finally said, “Rolling out this network will not result in reduction of retail services.” (video at 1:54) The Postmaster General has thus testified, under oath and on video, that the S&DC plan will not reduce retail services.

It will be useful to remember this moment when, sometime over the next year or two, the Postal Service starts cutting retail hours and closing post offices — both of which are explicitly identified as elements of the Delivering for America plan — because of all the excess space created by removing carrier operations. Clerk positions are already being eliminated at spoke offices due to the S&DC plan, which is bound to affect retail services.

Dramatic change, executed rapidly

The Postmaster General recently told the Board of Governors that “more aggressive action” is coming soon. At the Postal Forum this week, the Postmaster General boasted about the progress he’s made implementing the Delivering for America plan, but he emphasized the need for “dramatic change.” His “biggest initiative” — transforming the processing and delivery network — is just beginning.

“We must now execute rapidly on our plans to deploy our network,” said DeJoy. “This is the only way to achieve the service and cost improvements necessary for us to fulfill our mission to rescue this organization.”

While DeJoy pushes forward with his effort to save the post office, he has been openly hostile to those who want to learn more about the plan than he wants to reveal at any given moment.

The Postal Service is formally opposing the Postal Regulatory Commission’s public inquiry into the network transformations, claiming the Commission lacks the legal authority to conduct such an inquiry. If the Commission denies the Postal Service’s motion to shut down the inquiry, the case may end up in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the House hearing a couple of weeks ago, the Postmaster General complained that the Commission’s interference “is going to put this whole plan in jeopardy.” At this week’s Postal Forum, DeJoy went after the PRC again, describing it as “confused and confusing,” and lacking “an understanding of the developing crisis and an unwillingness to address the issues presented.”

The Postmaster General does not want anyone — Congress, stakeholders, the PRC, postal employees, or the public – to get in his way. But if his plan can’t withstand the scrutiny of the Commission’s public inquiry, one has to wonder why. What’s in the plan that the public will find so objectionable that it could sink the whole thing?

— Steve Hutkins

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