Around the Hub

The Post-Election Postal Service, Part 2

Part two of two in a commentary, originally published in the most recent issue of Mailers Hub News. Click here for part one

 

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The Post-Election Postal Service

As of this writing, it seems fairly clear who will be the president as of next January.  That person will materially impact the Postal Service by his support or opposition on a variety of issues relevant to it – such as eliminating (or not) the prefunding mandate, advancing (or resisting) postal reform legislation, and appointing additional members to the Board of Governors.  Regardless, the Postal Service can do little to avoid always being at the mercy of him or other politicians and what they may choose (or fail) to do.

Despite this fact of life, the agency isn’t without opportunities to improve its circumstances on its own and, in the wake of the election, and after the anxiety over possible delays in delivering mailed ballots has subsided, the USPS might want to reflect on what went well or not and what it should consider doing differently in the future.

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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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Questions Mailers May Ask

Commercial mail producers and others whose businesses have regular contact with postal services may be aware of a price increase but not really understand why it happens or what it means.  As we did last year, in an attempt to offer answers, below are some of the questions that commercial mail producers and their clients may have.

Price changes generally

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USPS Policy Allows DMU Employees to Refuse COVID Screening

Commercial mail producers continue to express concerns that, despite having protocols to screen visitors for virus exposure, postal employees coming into their facilities to work at detached mail units refuse to comply, often citing instructions from their union (the American Postal Workers Union).

As much as such a position may seem counterintuitive and potentially dangerous, it appears that the Postal Service sanctioned it in a policy statement issued last spring.  The April 1 Industry Alert itself (below) offered no explanation for the agency’s refusal to cooperate with screening practices, instead referring to a Q&A document (Coronavirus Updates for Business Customers).  Although that cited document referred to letter carriers, the same policy presumably was applied to all craft employees:

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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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If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride

The 400-year-old Scottish proverb used for the title simply translates into how easily things could be attained if nothing more than wishing for them were needed to make them real.

That adage was brought to mind when reading the documents discussed in the preceding articles of the July 20 issue of Mailers Hub News.  Assuming they’re legitimate, they first reveal a determination to act to reduce costs, the need for which cannot be disputed. However, at the same time, they also reflect not only an attitude that whatever is needed or desired will be made real by simply commanding it, but – of greater concern – a misunderstanding of the people to whom the order is being given.

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The Scorecard: A Business Tool, Not A Punishment!

Today's commentary was contributed by Scorecard expert, Mailers Hub webinar presenter, and all-around industry guru, Tom Glassman


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Advocacy Group Urges New PMG to Act on Old Challenges

When a new leader is appointed to any significant government entity, it’s not unusual for groups to contact that individual to urge action on the writers’ key issues.  So it was when Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative DC think tank, wrote on June 19 to new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, urging DeJoy to take his recommendations on topics of interest to that group.

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Mailer Groups Seek to Change PRC Ratesetting Proposal

In the latest installment in what’s become a years-long rulemaking by the Postal Regulatory Commission, a trio of industry associations has asked the PRC to delete a provision of its most recent proposal.

A brief recap

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High Costs and High Overtime: USPS Reports Challenge Insight

In its May financial data (see the article on page 8), the Postal Service reported mail processing costs that were 8% over plan and workhours that exceeded plan by 8.5%.  The agency commonly attributes this situation to the workload associated with higher parcel volume.  However, while it’s reasonable that more work hours are needed to handle surging parcel volume, there’s been no indication whether the USPS is concurrently capturing workhour savings because of greatly decreased letter and flat mail volume.

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Stepping Into the Fishbowl

Last Tuesday, June 16, Louis DeJoy was sworn in as the 75th Postmaster General. Since his May 6 appointment by the Postal Service’s Board of Governors he’d spend weeks working with retiring PMG Megan Brennan, getting briefed on the agency he would be leading. Now the job was his.

Thanks and greetings

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