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Mailers Warn the USPS: Service Cuts, Price Increase Will Cost Business

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy may have just celebrated his first year in office but he remains resistant to customer input that differs from his perspective about the Postal Service.

Nonetheless, another group of commercial mailers has offered its own warning to DeJoy that his ill-advised service reductions, combined with an exceptionally large price increase, will cost the agency volume (and revenue) it can ill-afford to lose.

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Distilling Information from USPS Responses

Part of the Postal Regulatory Commission’s process for considering a Postal Service request for an advisory opinion – like the one now before it regarding changes to USPS service standards – is the opportunity for intervening parties to ask questions of Postal Service witnesses, based on their written testimony.

Last month, as an intervenor in the case, Mailers Hub submitted questions to three USPS witnesses: Logistics VP Robert Cintron; Stephen Hagenstein, Director, Logistics Modeling and Analytics; and Acting Budget Director Curtis Whiteman.  Some were about vehicle utilization and dispatch times, while others focused on the reasons for the changes that were proposed.  After some debate over what constitutes a “question” (the number that can be submitted is limited at 25), the USPS witnesses filed their responses on June 1.

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Operational Issues May Explain Service Standard Failures

A major focus of the Postal Service’s 10-year Plan, issued March 23, is the need to downgrade service standards for First-Class Mail because the current standards, which haven’t been met for several years, are “unattainable.” The Plan recites various reasons for this situation, including failures in air transportation and in compliance with facility operating plans.

The fundamental absence of operating discipline in USPS processing facilities was highlighted in two audits published in mid-April by the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General: Delayed Mail at the Lehigh Valley, PA Processing and Distribution Center, issued April 12, and Delayed Mail at the North Houston, TX Processing and Distribution Center, released April 13.

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Will Lowering the Bar Enable Success?

On April 21, the USPS filed its Request for an Advisory Opinion on Changes in the Nature of Postal Services, seeking the Postal Regulatory Commission’s input on changes to the service standards for First-Class Mail and time-sensitive Periodicals. The fifteen-page filing was accompanied by direct testimony from five witnesses and eight “library references” containing supporting data.

Proposal

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Exchange of Letters Shows Rift

Letter exchanged this month between a coalition of industry groups and the Postmaster General illustrate the gap between them regarding the Postal Service’s 10-Year Plan, released March 23.  The industry letter presents a series of concerns, to all of which the PMG takes exception.  Readers can form their own conclusions. Links below. 

Industry Response to 10-Year Plan

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How to Make a Plan, USPS Style

There was a commercial for Toyota that aired several years ago that had the tagline “You asked for it, you got it.”  What “it” was hasn’t been remembered as well as the tag line, but the utility of the line persists.

In this case, given that the Postal Service finally issued its 10-year plan last week, the agency can say “you asked for a plan, you got a plan.”  Congress and the mailing community have been waiting for years for The Plan that the agency’s been promising, and now we can all see whether the result has been worth the wait.

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More than Geography

It’s practically part of the routine: when a new boss takes over, a reorganization soon follows.  That step accomplishes many purposes, including setting up a functional and management structure that reflects the executive’s vision for the organization’s best configuration; reassigning or replacing members of the executive’s immediate and next level subordinates; redesigning territorial responsibilities; and revising reporting relationships.

A “reorg” happens at the Postal Service usually after a new Postmaster General is installed, if not more often, and typically impacts functional organization, executive team membership, field structure, or complement levels.  So it’s no particular news that Louis DeJoy began his own reorg shortly after being named PMG last summer.

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Kremlin on the Potomac: Postal Service Communications

Readers old enough to remember the Soviet Union also remember how skilled it was at saying nothing – about anything – no matter what.  If something happened, regardless of whether it was visible to the outside world, it simply wasn’t acknowledged.  A natural disaster?  Never happened.  The disappearance of an important figure?  He’s fine.  A bomber crash into a village?  No bomber, nothing happened.

If outsiders posed a question about any event, the basic answer, if there was one, was denial, deflection, or obfuscation.  The Soviets never admitted to anything going wrong, to any internal failures, or to any event or condition that might break the illusion they so ardently projected or that might provide an outsider a peek into what’s really going on.

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PMG’s Comments to MTAC Raise Concerns Over Price Increase

On January 26, speaking to the virtual meeting of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy gave a broad overview of his developing plans to get the Postal Service back on track after months of worsening service that culminated in a historically bad holiday season.  As transcribed from his recorded remarks:

“... Calendar Year 2020 has been a tough year for the nation and a tough year for the United States Postal Service.  The causal circumstances continue to plague us in early 2021.  As a result, the consequences to many Postal Service customers have been significant, and we acknowledge the impacts our service decline has had on your businesses and our responsibility to restore.

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Parsing the Causes for an Historic Service Collapse – Analysis

Usually, after the busy fall mailing season and the holiday rush, things return to normal for the Postal Service and its commercial mailing customers.  As everyone knows, however, the current environment is anything but normal.

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USPS Issues Post-Election Report

In a perhaps unusual move, the Postal Service released a report in late December reviewing the 2020 election and its role in the vote-by-mail process.  Posted on its Link site on December 30, 2020, the 22-page document, Post-Election Analysis: Delivering the Nation’s Election Mail in an Extraordinary Year, summarizes the agency’s actions in support of the election process.

The report detailed its performance at the national level:

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PMG Comments Offer a Few Insights

As is typical of a meeting of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, the public session is a series of scripted formalities devoid of the candid remarks and discussion that likely were part of the preceding closed session.  So, during the open session on November 13, the chairman and postal executives read their prepared remarks that, as would be expected, said the right things but offered little of substance.

The closest anyone’s statement came to providing a look at where the agency’s leadership was taking it might be the remarks by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

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Still Paying the Price for Poor Communication

A commentary in the August 3 issue of Mailers Hub News opined on the Postal Service’s failure to offer meaningful communication during times when the popular media is regularly publicizing rumors, leaked documents, and union allegations about what’s going on in the agency.  In concluding that commentary, we urged the USPS to provide accurate and timely information before other parties told their story first.  Similar messages for better communication by the Postal Service came from others in the mailing industry before and since that commentary was published.

From all appearances, the urging has had little effect, and the consequences of the Postal Service’s silence continue.

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Evaluating Rumors About Potential USPS Changes

The possibility of Postal Service price changes was usually an issue discussed only within the mailing industry, but the politicization of the agency over vote-by-mail and other matters has resulted in postal news appearing in the general media.  However, this phenomenon has resulted in articles being published that are based on incomplete information, rumors, or speculation, derived from “unnamed” or unofficial sources, and produced by writers inexperienced in dealing with the arcane world of the USPS.

Changes ahead

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USPS Responds to Worries Over Vote-By-Mail

As has become all too apparent in the popular media, the viability of widespread voting by mail, and the Postal Service’s ability to timely process and deliver the associated volume, have become intertwined with other political controversies.

On one side, notably by the White House, vote-by-mail is portrayed as flawed or corrupt, and that regardless of its use, the Postal Service isn’t capable of handling the volume.  Concurrently, for that and other reasons, the administration is continuing its spiteful objection to any funds for the USPS being included in a COVID-related relief bill.

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Who Do You Trust?

There was a TV quiz show in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the grammatically incorrect title Who Do You Trust?  (The show became the springboard for Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, who later spent the next three decades together as fixtures on late-night TV.)  The premise was simple: three couples would appear on the program, and Carson would ask the male a question and he’d have to decide whether to answer it himself or ask the female contestant.  (Attitudes toward gender roles were different back then.)

Though that format may not be applicable in today’s postal world, the title question is very relevant.

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Delivery Changes Met by Media Criticism

Changes to mail processing and delivery procedures being adopted by the Postal Service have been met with criticism in the general media.  News articles frequently cite customer and labor union concerns over delays in mail delivery and fault the USPS for placing budgets ahead of service.

Many examples

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Paying the Price for Poor Communication

The current level of negative publicity about the Postal Service – notably for slow or infrequent delivery, the impact of reported changes in mail processing and delivery procedures, and the potential consequences of these changes on election mail – might not have to be what it is if the USPS simply were more communicative.

Institutional Reticence

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US Senator Asks PMG to Explain Reported Changes

As if to illustrate that running the Postal Service as Postmaster General isn’t like running a corporation as its CEO, Senator Gary Peters (MI), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote PMG Louis DeJoy on July 17 asking for “information about operational changes at the US Postal Service that have the potential to affect the quality of service for Americans.”

Peters’ letter was inspired by the reports of plans to modify delivery procedures that were contained in a PowerPoint leaked by a USPS manager in Ohio and other documents. (For more on this, see the July 25 post.)

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Leaked Documents Suggest PMG Seeking Cost Reductions

When the new Postmaster General took office last month, it was widely assumed that he would make significant changes, though the nature of what those changes would be was then no more than speculation.  However, if the information in a leaked PowerPoint presentation that appeared on postalnews.com last week is credible, change may be starting and is focused on cost reduction.

Quick reference links: "The Source", "Document Two", "Publicity", "Another Talk" 

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