Postal supervisors tell postal leadership, Don’t blame us for DFA failures

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Resistance to the Postal Service’s implementation of the Delivering for America plan appears to be intensifying.

On Wednesday, twenty-six Senators wrote a letter to the Postmaster General calling on the Postal Service to pause network changes until the Postal Regulatory Commission does a comprehensive Advisory Opinion on the potential impacts.

“While USPS claims these changes overall will improve service while reducing costs,” says the letter, “there is evidence to the contrary in locations where USPS has implemented changes so far. USPS must stop implementation, restore service in those areas where changes were implemented, and fully understand the nationwide effects of its plan on service and communities.”

At yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Governors, Governor Ron Stroman said that the network design being implemented by the Postal Service, while beneficial in many regards, “poses some risks,” including additional opportunities for delays.

“To better manage these risks,” said Stroman, “I believe we need to slow down new network changes until service has gotten close to our service targets for 2024. We should then more gradually phase in changes over time.”

(The video of the BOG meeting is here; Stroman’s remarks begin at 18:00. His comments are discussed today in this article on Federal News Network.)

The National Association of Postal Supervisors (NAPS) has now added its voice to the growing resistance to the network transformation, or at least to the way it’s being implemented.

Yesterday NAPS filed comments with the PRC concerning the Postal Service’s responses to an Information Request about the causes of the poor service performance in the Georgia District (discussed in this post). The NAPS comments include a letter from Robert M. Levi, NAPS’ Director of Legislative and Polical Affairs, along with statements by NAPS executives in hearings before Congress in 2022 and 2024. (The NAPS filing can be downloaded from the PRC website here, and accessed directly here.)

Levi’s letter observes that the Postal Service told the PRC that one of the causes of the “woeful performance” in Georgia was “Supervisory Competency.” The USPS cited “a standing management competency gap, with many managers and supervisors providing insufficient supervision and accountability.”

NAPS did not like that explanation at all, calling it an “inaccurate, incomplete, and unsubstantiated claim.”

The Postal Service, said NAPS, “should not attempt to shift responsibility and deflect blame for its unsuccessful implementation of certain aspects of its DFA plan. The implementation failures have very little to do with intrinsic supervisory and managerial competency, but more to do with the resistance of the USPS executive leadership to the constructive input and appropriate training of its frontline supervisors, managers, and postmasters.”

NAPS goes on to say that its recommendations concerning complement and training issues have been, in most instances, “summarily dismissed.” In particular, NAPS points to its long-standing criticism of the ratio of managers and craft employees in Processing & Delivery Centers (i.e., there should be more managers). NAPS also says the USPS has “misused under-trained employees” and there should be “much more robust and comprehensive new supervisor training.”

Finally, NAPS says it has warned postal leaderships that “logistics realignments and consolidations associated with the DFA are moving too quickly and broadly, absent the opportunity to review performance and operational data.”

Included in the NAPS comments are statements by NAPS President Ivan D. Butts at a Sept. 7, 2022, hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations on Postal Performance, Safety and Theft. In that statement, Butts encouraged Congress to monitor postal delivery performance, noting that while on-time scores appeared to have improved over the past two years, that may actually be the result of the change in service standards in 2021.

Butts went on to express his concern about the potential effects of the DFA plan to consolidate and realign mail processing operations throughout the country. “We believe, consistent with the law, the Postal Service should be transparent with regard to the reasons it decided to initiate this plan. What are the specific goals of the plan? Are there costs savings? If so, how much will be saved? And, how will success be measured?”

Butts went on to say that the Postal Service should not proceed with the consolidations until it has provided the required transparency, including a PRC Advisory Opinion, to address these questions.

Yesterday’s comments also include Butts’ statement to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on April 16, 2024. Butts reminded the Senate that back in 2022 he had pointed to the Postal Service’s “lack of transparency, stakeholder engagement, regulatory review, and beta-testing regarding plant realignment and consolidations. NAPS anticipated the current performance challenges. At the House hearing, and subsequently, NAPS urged Postal Service leadership to take its foot off the gas pedal to consider the feasibility of the plans more carefully, and to evaluate how each consolidation would impact performance and expenses.”

“NAPS foresaw the unanticipated troubles that likely would occur during the rollout,” and shared it concerns with postal leadership, “but, for the most part, our cautions were dismissed.”

“If the USPS had complied with this provision,” Butts told the Senate, “the PRC would have solicited comments from stakeholders, issued an advisory opinion and made constructive recommendations on the proposal. Clearly, this was an avoided opportunity to solicit consequential advice. The mailing public and business community now are experiencing performance difficulties that could have been anticipated and prevented had the law been followed.”

Butts proceeded to review the service performance data over the past several months in Georgia, Virginia, and elsewhere, where scores have fallen well below their targets.

“I hope the committee can understand the angst shared by your constituents and the mailing community because the USPS is not pausing its DFA implementation in light of the performance issues. NAPS believes a temporary halt is necessary to better evaluate the feasibility of each planned consolidation and realignment.”

“The nature of consolidation plans,” explained Butts, “can and will create major pinch-points if something goes wrong at a particular plant; mail can be delayed for days. This happened at multiple locations. Facility modifications and staff quick fixes elevate implementation costs of the DFA. It would be appropriate to have an accounting of these additional expenditures. In addition, we have heard from our postmasters that rural services could be compromised by shifting postal services out of post offices and into larger facilities, rendering the post offices expendable.”

Butts concluded his remarks to the Senate by recommending that implementation of the network realignment be suspended while postal leadership constructively engages with supervisors, managers, and postmasters rather than “presenting the plan to frontline managers as a fait accompli.”

Butts also discussed the increase in crime mail theft and attacks on postal workers, and he again noted that postal leadership, rather than taking responsibility, has instead blamed others.

Butts concluded his statement by expressing concern that declines in service and security issues are deflating mail volume, as the mailing public and business community are “compelled to seek alternative channels to communicate and conduct business. Our goal must be to restore confidence in our national mail system…. Absent a viable Postal Service,” said Butts, “rural America will suffer, seniors will suffer, our friends and neighbors will suffer, and American businesses will suffer.”

A couple of weeks ago, the PRC directed the Postal Service to request an Advisory Opinion or “to show cause” why it believes an opinion is not warranted. The Postal Service has already indicated it will not request an opinion at this time, so later this month it will provide the PRC with comments explaining its decision.

Even with members of Congress and the Postal Service’s own supervisors calling for more PRC involvement, postal leadership is not likely to change its decision about an advisory opinion. But perhaps the Postal Service, as Governor Stroman recommended, will slow down or pause DFA implementation until service performance improves. That could take several months, so perhaps the Postal Service will proceed cautiously until after the November election and the peak holiday season. Or perhaps not.

— Steve Hutkins