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Other Voices Heard About Proposed Service Standard Changes

 By late June, the Postal Regulatory Commission likely had received more comments than it had expected about the Postal Service’s proposal to change the service standards for First-Class Mail and some Periodicals.

Aside from the briefs and statements of position from the eleven intervenors in the case, plus the commission’s “public representative,” the PRC also got comments from other groups and interested parties, including from 478 individuals from all over the country.  (Whether there was a coordinated campaign behind those isn’t clear; many of the comments didn’t follow a pattern.)

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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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Suspension of Disbelief

For anyone reading a novel, or watching a play, television show, or movie, a requirement applies that the individual participate in the story by setting aside any logical analysis, in favor of accepting the premise of what’s being presented. This voluntary engagement is referred to as “suspension of disbelief,” a term coined by Samuel Coleridge in 1817, based on one used by the Roman poet Cicero centuries earlier.

Of course, the story need not be purely fictional; in The Crown, for example, the characters and general plot are factual, but “suspension of disbelief” is necessary to accept that events and dialogue occurred as re-enacted. For the viewer, how the writers and actors present the story can shape perceptions of the factual background and, in turn, the conclusions the viewer reaches about the history being portrayed.

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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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OIG Reports on Cleveland Drop Shipment Unloading Delays

In an audit report released March 10, Excessive Wait Times to Accept Commercial Mail Shipments at the Cleveland Processing & Distribution Center, the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General examined the circumstances surrounding the challenges encountered by the facility in late 2020.  As the OIG stated at the outset:

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2020 general election, the US Postal Service’s Cleveland Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) experienced earlier than normal Peak Season mail, including package volume.  This management alert responds to media and mailer concerns indicating that drivers experienced excessive wait times for drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC.  Our objective was to assess the efficiency of processing drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC in the Northern Ohio District.”

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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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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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Lack of Information Continues About Delays at USPS Facilities

As the latest wave of illness related to the ongoing pandemic sweeps across the country, the Postal Service, like other businesses, is suffering from staffing shortages as workers become sickened, or are absent to quarantine or care for family members.

Postal officials have stated that USPS facilities typically can have a 3-4% absentee rate – employees on leave for one reason or another – but that some are now facing staffing shortfalls of up to 20%.  For example, if an incoming dock operation at a plant had an approved staffing of 20, and could function with 19 or 18, it likely would be challenged to meet unload times if only 15 or 16 employees were available.

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Can Scan Data Be Believed?

One of the better features of many USPS mail categories and services is the use of a unique barcode on mailpieces that, when scanned by Postal Service machines or people, can yield information about the item’s location (and delivery status).  Of course, the value and accuracy of that information depend on whether the scan actually was captured at the time and location reported to the customer.

The USPS regularly details on its daily Link the percentage of expected delivery scans that actually occur.  For the week ending October 16, for example, the national score was 97.06%, down 0.14% from the previous week.  The areas and districts that do the best typically score in the mid- to high-ninety percent range, meaning that the others do more poorly; the agency doesn’t disclose them.

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The Postal Third Rails

As many people know, the third rail in a subway system is the one that’s electrified to provide power to the train motors; touching it would be fatal.  In politics, a “third rail” is an issue that’s equally dangerous and that, if tackled by a politician, can be fatal to the person’s political career.  Changing the social security system is often cited as a “third rail.”

The USO

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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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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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Not a “Partner” the USPS Needs: Across the US in Only 27 Days

According to Google Maps, someone driving from Inglewood (CA) to Ft Myers (FL) at a steady 70 miles per hour would need 38 hours to complete the 2,659-mile trip.

Of course, in the world of commercial shipping, an item being sent from Inglewood to Ft Myers wouldn’t travel like that, instead taking a slower, likely longer route, perhaps through intermediate transfer points along the way.

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April Results Show COVID Impact

As the economic impact of the COVID pandemic came into full force, the consequences for mail volume, and Postal Service revenue, were reflected in the agency’s April financial results. Overlaid on this was the burden of various prefunding obligations and the usual fluctuating valuation of the Postal Service’s workers’ compensation liability.

Volume and revenue

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The Five-Year Strategic Plan

Despite telling Congress early last year that it was finalizing a ten-year plan, and later explaining the delay in its issuance by the need for its review by oncoming members of the Board of Governors, the document released last week by the USPS, Ready-Now ➔ Future-Ready, The US Postal Service Five-Year Strategic Plan 2020-2024, was somewhat less than what was anticipated.

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Still Time to Make The Mailers Conference on September 20, 2019

There is still time to make the 2019 Mailers Conference.

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