Objective

On October 19, 2020, we issued a report to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors that addressed specific questions asked by Members of Congress regarding modifications to Postal Service staffing and policies, mail service impacts, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, communication with Congress and customers, and the Postmaster General’s compliance with financial conflict of interest laws and regulations (Operational Changes to Mail Delivery - Report Number 20-292-R21). The objective of this report is to provide our evaluation of those operational changes to management with recommendations for corrective actions.

In July and August 2020, newly appointed Postmaster General DeJoy implemented the following three operational and organizational changes:

  • Elimination of late and extra trips to transport mail: Started July 10, 2020, this initiative was to eliminate all late and extra trips outside of regularly scheduled transportation service.
  • Organization Restructure: On August 7, 2020, the Postmaster General announced a reorganization of field operations and headquarters functions to align functions based on core business operations.
  • Expedited Street Afternoon Sortation (ESAS): This initiative began as a pilot program at 384 facilities nationwide on July 25, 2020, and was designed to eliminate excessive pre- and post-tour overtime.

In addition to these three changes, Postal Service operations executives deployed 57 initiatives to achieve fiscal year (FY) 2021 financial targets and reduce workhours, one of which matched the Postmaster General’s strategies (Late/Extra Trips). These operational change initiatives were developed to achieve an estimated 64 million workhour savings.

Termed “Do It Now FY Strategies,” these initiatives outlined changes from current operations in each function including mail processing, vehicle and maintenance, and post office operations (delivery and retail). They included eliminating pre-tour overtime in city delivery operations, elimination of certain mail processing operations on Saturday, and alignment of clerk workhours to workload. These initiatives were generated from and executed by operations executives, and were discussed at an introductory meeting with the new Postmaster General on July 7, 2020.

As we have noted in a series of reports, the Postal Service has struggled in recent years to meet mail service performance standards, which it measures based on mail speed and reliability. In FY 2019, it met annual performance targets for only seven of 22 mail products (32 percent). Our recent reports have also noted that the Postal Service has numerous opportunities for greater efficiencies and cost savings.

Issues

The Postal Service’s implementation of operational changes and initiatives in June and July 2020 resulted in a significant drop in the quality and timeliness of mail delivery. We found the implementation of these initiatives was:

  • Communicated primarily orally which resulted in confusion and inconsistent application of operational changes across the country.
  • Implemented without completing a study or analysis of the impact of the changes on mail service, even though critical employee availability issues were being felt as pandemic cases rose following the July 4 holiday weekend.

The collective results of these initiatives, combined with the ongoing employee availability challenges resulting from the pandemic, negatively impacted the quality and timeliness of mail delivery nationally. The Postal Service’s mail service performance significantly dropped beginning in July 2020, directly corresponding to implementation of the operational changes and initiatives.

Most notably, service performance indicators declined significantly in July 2020, for all mail products we reviewed:

  • First-Class Single Piece declined from 90.1 to 79.7 (10.4 percentage points).
  • First-Class Presort declined from 92.2 to 82.9 (9.3 percentage points).
  • First-Class Packages declined from [redacted] to [redacted] percentage points).
  • Priority Mail declined from [redacted] to [redacted] percentage points).

We also noted:

  • Delayed mail reported in Postal Service systems for mail processing facilities increased 21 percent, from 2 billion pieces for the week ending July 10, 2020 to 2.4 billion pieces for the week ending July 31, 2020.
  • Delayed mail, which is self-reported at post offices, increased 143 percent, from 4.7 million for the week ending July 10, 2020, to 11.4 million for the week ending July 31, 2020.

To further evaluate these impacts, we conducted a non-statistical mail test of 300 mailpieces in August 2020. Our results showed [redacted] percent of Priority Letter Flats, 24 percent of Certified Letters, and 14 percent of First-Class Letters [redacted].

We also observed operations at five mail processing and eight delivery facilities in August 2020 and found delayed mail at all five mail processing facilities and significant amounts of delayed mail at seven of the eight delivery units. According to management at these facilities, the increased delayed mail was due to COVID-19 impacts, such as employee availability, increases in package volume, local directives to reduce overtime and a requirement for carriers to stop mail delivery at 8 p.m., and the restrictions on extra trips.

According to Postal Service officials, the service impacts caused by the operational changes were temporary. Based on our review of data from the first week of September, we noted service had improved from the July lows as follows:

  • First-Class Single Piece improved from 79.7 to 86.8 (7.1 percentage points) but was still below the target of 96.
  • First-Class Presort improved from 82.9 to 88.6 (5.7 percentage points) but was still below the target of 96.
  • First-Class Packages improved from [redacted] to [redacted] percentage points) [redacted].
  • Priority Mail improved from [redacted] to [redacted] percentage points) [redacted].

Communications with Congress and Customers

We also found the Postal Service’s communication with Congress and customers was lacking in completeness and clarity. Although information was generally accurate, the Postal Service’s did not:

  • Fully respond to questions and document requests made by members of Congress in July 2020.
  • Share information on many of the specific initiatives implemented beyond those the Postmaster General initiated directly or was specifically asked about by members of Congress.
  • Indicate that some of the initiatives that started prior to the arrival of the Postmaster General were being accelerated to more quickly achieve projected savings.
  • Broadly communicate the planned changes with mailing industry customers or coordinate on potential service impacts.

Looking Forward

According to Postal Service officials, the service impacts caused by the operational changes will not impact election mail for the upcoming 2020 election. The Postal Service has established processes for handling election mail and efforts have been ongoing to train and prepare their employees on Election Mail policies and procedures. Training includes proper postmarking, proper handling and processing, and recognition and use of Tag 191, which identifies ballots. The Postal Service is now also subject to preliminary orders from at least four federal district courts imposing additional requirements on the handling of election mail.

On August 18, 2020, the Postmaster General announced that he would cease removal and reconfiguration of mail processing equipment and postpone collection box removals until after the 2020 election to avoid the appearance of any impact on Election Mail. The ESAS pilot in Delivery Operations was also cancelled on that day.

In a September 21, 2020, memo to officers, executives, and managers, the Chief Retail and Delivery and Chief Logistics and Processing Operations officers disclosed that beginning October 1, 2020, the Postal Service would make additional resources available in all areas of operations, including collection, processing, delivery, and transportation to satisfy increased demand and unforeseen circumstances. They also provided clarifying guidance in the areas of overtime, hiring, retail hours, collection boxes, late and extra trips, mail processing, and election mail.

Recommendations

We recommended the Postmaster General instruct management to:

  • Conduct a service impact analysis to identify risks and mitigating strategies considering the effects of the pandemic and expected volumes during the upcoming election and peak season, prior to implementing further cost-cutting strategies.
  • Suspend ongoing and additional cost-reduction efforts until after the election and holiday mailing season and after an analysis of service impacts has been completed.
  • Develop and implement a strategy to communicate in writing to all employees the status of ongoing and suspended operational changes to promote message clarity, alignment, and saturation.
  • Develop and implement a communication strategy to inform Congress and customers of planned and ongoing operational changes that may impact mail service.

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Comments (12)

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  • anon

    I've been trying to figure out all day why my 2 day express shipping mail wasn't here for 3 today. It's only my medicine that I need. Of course there aren't going to be any deliveries tomorrow on Thanksgiving so now I get to wait until Friday or Saturday. I really hope it's in by then because I have to get on a ship in the Gulf for a few months and I need my freaking medication. After reading all of this and all of the other comments, no wonder I didn't get it. No wonder I couldn't get anyone on the phone. No wonder it's still said as "in transit to destination" for the last 13 hours even though the place it's coming from is only 30 miles away. Clearly the PMG is a joke.

    Nov 26, 2020
  • anon

    I haven't gotten my mail in 2 months. Nice operational rollout. Good thing I was able to vote.

    Nov 24, 2020
  • anon

    Should look further into the logic of how costs will supposedly be cut with machine reductions proposed. Suffice to say, I think there are glaring issues with the logic that reality will reveal that the reductions will not work while maintaining current service standards. If HQ folks are ok with having lower service standards then sure the proposed machine reductions that were halted could work. Otherwise, for everyone else working in a plant with automation through this election season, could you imagine if all those machines were actually taken out as was being planned? The delayed mail volume would have been far far higher than the time period of what was sampled in this audit. You'd have to be delusional to think it wouldn't have significantly impacted the election. Our service score already sucked with having retained some of our processing capacity by halting the machine reductions. I'm hopeful to see a cost comparison from the OIG on how many positions were actually reduced ($ saved) from the area consolidations. Not that I'm enough of a big shot to see every move of these folks, from what snippets I have seen every single one of them is now working for another 'division' or what not (during an EAS hiring freeze nonetheless, people are being awarded jobs unrelated to restructuring... didn't you folks just do an audit recently about how selections are being done in the USPS?). Did this change really do anything to actually result in cost savings then? Is it some made up idea that now we're more streamlined as a result? Because frankly I've never seen the reporting structure in such a state of disarray until these changes occurred. Not that I really mind on that front, most of the time Area/HQ seemed to exist to setup telecons/meetings and do basic data entry or review via a 'cadence meeting'. So, less interaction with them is a net positive in getting more meaningful work accomplished IMO. I think I see the real plan once these folks all get their cushy landing spots. Charge forward with the same changes, blame local management when it fails, and justify reducing positions at every facility with all these new divisional directors and what not to setup the cadence meetings so that made up timelines (that disregard the recommendations in this audit fully, which is why they disagree) a layer above can justify their positions. It is another shot at network rationalization essentially. When the cost savings aren't there and we drive away more customers due to worse service we'll just be in a worse spot for the future. Only thing that will save us from this stupidity is congress miraculously passing meaningful legislation to protect the usps. Probably isn't going to be a better time for us with the new administration and popularity from what we've managed to accomplish during the pandemic/election.

    Nov 12, 2020
  • anon

    hits nail on the head.......

    Nov 29, 2020
  • anon

    this report is a followup to your report 20-292-r21.....same baloney, different words..management messed up royally. You are trying to tiptoe around that... dejoy is supposed to be from business. OK. If i brought him in to run my business and he proceeded to mess up delivery of my product like he has done here, he'd be out the door immediately... I would be on the phone to customers begging them to stay with my company... You just don't cut the stream of product to customers...and worse--dejoy et al did not even consider any ramifications of their actions... That's an immediate fire.. Your report should have ended with a statement that you have no confidence in dejoy and the board...and you know that is true......ps...oh, you didn't look into how these changes affected rural delivery...Why not?....you get an F grade on this audit....

    Nov 12, 2020
  • anon

    Postmaster General Bill DeJoy is an unqualified partisan hack who tried to politicize and hamstring the U.S. Postal Service. Thankfully, the civil service employees did yeoman's work to secure and deliver in timely fashion a record number of mail-in ballots. The nonpartisan professionalism of USPS employees is a credit to and a bulwark for American democracy. Furthermore, the investigators for the USPS Office of Inspector General have proven indispensable in investigating crimes and debunking conspiracy theories involving the U.S. mail. Hopefully, the next Congress and the incoming Biden administration will see to it that USPS receives the substantial financial support and high quality oversight that it merits. America is grateful to the women and men of the USPS who uphold its ethical standards and who labor tirelessly to deliver every piece, every day.

    Nov 10, 2020
  • anon

    The Postmaster General is correct there needs to be change, as an employee watching the lack of dedication of management permitting OT & Penalty OT when its not needed. The employees themselves slowing the system down purposely - it is absolutely disgusting and I call it stealing. Making deals with the union personal.

    Nov 10, 2020
  • anon

    As a fourth generation but now retired postal employee, this is very sad to see. During my 35 years of service, willful obstruction of mail was considered a federal offense.

    Nov 10, 2020
  • anon

    These words are nice; however the immediate problem should include stopping changes that resulted in this problem. A reputable panel overlooking these changes, and guidelines to prevent this from happening again. Politics should have no place in operation of American Essential Services.

    Nov 09, 2020
  • anon

    The mail has essentially stopped!! First class mail IS being treated as BBM (bulk business mail=junk mail). Customers who have received 10 PLUS pcs mail a day for YEARS , are now getting only 2pcs or even ZERO. EBAY sellers are fit to be tied!! Many have lost their "status" as a EBAY seller, including myself!!! WHY??? because parcels HAVE to be mailed out in 24 hrs and tracking has to be used in order to show this. MANY MANY parcels are NOT getting properly scanned from the start. This has caused my status to drop and now my ads appear way below others instead of at top, which it was for all these yrs...UNTIL NOW. Not only am I a customer, but I am a 26 yr USPS carrier. I was proud to work here. Today I am not. First class mail, which was always a "big deal" has been reduced to the same level as junk mail. Leaving bulk mail behind was a given, but leaving first class mail was NEVER !! DPS has now declined and raw letters are filling up tubs because the sorting plant employees are being told to dump and load up trucks WITHOUT running letters through sorting machines. This alone slows up clerk hours and carrier office hrs. Running around with my head cut-off because we get "dumped" on mail/parcels which turns out to be way more then 8 hr day. Start times at 845??? NUTS!! Dispatch is still 530 pm. There is no way to finish all before 530. Mistakes are being made on the street because of the pressure to get done by 520 and back to office 530.

    Nov 07, 2020
  • anon

    The mail has been a NIGHTMARE since Postmaster General DeJoy took over !! Mail volume has been from one extreme to another. I suspect that sweeping errors ( mail for another town is included in each mail pull from machines) is increasing delays in mail. It takes 2 days for a pc of missorted mail to actually get to the correct office. There is ZERO communication from closest sorting facility to the post offices they serve, as far as what kind of mail volume is coming, so the PM can schedule the correct amt of hours/people needed to get the mail sorted in a timely fashion. How can anybody actually run labor hours according to what is needed , when there is zero communication ??? Carriers are leaving at different times each day and this creates hardship on customers who need daily mail to conduct business. There is NO cut-off time. Carriers cannot leave until ALL mail, including standard mail (junk) is sorted. Having 2-4 different door -to-door to deliver in addition to DPS, Flats, and parcels is CRAZY !!! I have seen a HUGE INCREASE in the time a letter is taking from point A to point B. Mail carriers are being scheduled later start times and this is also causing delayed mail. Darkness is not any carriers friend. I cannot for the life of me, see how the mail carriers can even deliver after sunset, without having a safety issue.

    Nov 06, 2020
  • anon

    both of juju's posts are spot on..... usps is the poster child for the truism.... When the bosses are not at work, work goes better.... usps's real motto...when things go great it is because management is great...When this go wrong, it is those damn ingrates below screwing everything up...

    Nov 29, 2020