Objective

Our objective was to evaluate mail service during the early stages of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, the President of the United States issued a national emergency declaration concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. With many Americans following stay at home guidance during the pandemic, the Postal Service’s mission to provide reliable, affordable, and universal service is more important than ever. To accomplish this mission, the Postal Service relies on key operational functions including mail processing, transportation, customer service, and delivery.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Postal Service provided vital service, including the delivery of critical items such as medications, stimulus payments, and Social Security checks. Further, the Postal Service is the leading delivery service provider for online purchases. A May 2020 Harris Poll survey on America’s 100 essential companies’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, ranked the Postal Service as number one, based on its resolve, integrity, responsiveness, and permanence.

On March 27, 2020, the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included a provision for the Postal Service to prioritize delivery of postal products for medical purposes. This law also allows the Postal Service to establish temporary delivery points to protect Postal Service employees and individuals receiving deliveries.

To lead its pandemic response, the Postal Service established a COVID-19 Response Command team at Postal Service Headquarters to help ensure a comprehensive approach to its response to the pandemic. The team provided employees a COVID-19 playbook focused on employee safety, maintaining operations, and customer communication.

The Postal Service also updated its Pandemic Influenza Plan, originally created in January 2007 to include COVID-19. The plan discusses the importance of a Continuity of Operations Plan to ensure essential service can be provided when employee availability falls below 60 percent. The plan also outlines the agency’s four goals — protecting employees, providing mail service, communicating with stakeholders, and supporting the federal response to COVID-19. Our audit focused on two of the four goals: (1) sustaining essential services during times of significant absenteeism and (2) communicating guidance to stakeholders during a pandemic. To further assess the impact of the pandemic at a local level, we evaluated seven judgmentally selected processing and distribution centers (P&DC) and 14 delivery units.

Findings

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Postal Service faced unforeseen and uncontrollable challenges, including higher package volumes and employee absenteeism. Specifically, national package volume from March through May 2020 increased by 30 percent compared to the same period last year (SPLY) and was greater than 2019 holiday peak season volume. In addition, while employee availability at the national level stayed above the Postal Service’s 60 percent threshold needed to keep essential operations running, some areas of the country were hit harder by the pandemic and experienced lower employee availability.

Despite these challenges, we found that Postal Service management modified normal operations in mail processing, customer service, and delivery operations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic to meet its obligation of universal service. In addition, the Postal Service generally coordinated and communicated regularly with commercial mail customers.

While we generally found management was able to keep operations running, we also identified opportunities to improve the process for prioritizing the delivery of postal products for medical purposes, improve the employee availability dashboard by including rural delivery carriers, and improve the process for alerting units of late mail arrivals from P&DCs. In addition, we identified an opportunity for the Postal Service to improve communications with commercial mailer customers.

Recommendations

We recommend management:

  • Establish a working group to perform a feasibility study on the potential implementation of a standardized automated process to identify and prioritize medical mail.
  • Integrate rural carrier employee data into the employee availability dashboard.
  • Establish a tool to obtain timely feedback to evaluate the effectiveness in communicating with commercial mail customers during extraordinary situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Comments (6)

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  • anon

    I believe us as in the carriers should get some extra pay. We are the ONLY ONES that haven’t got any help . And we been working the whole time. It is sad to work for the post office and we are essential, and all we get is a thank you ,one Oreo cookie . I love my job but feel like we need help like everyone else has gotten !!!!

    Mar 24, 2021
  • anon

    I have had problems with the mail and Ga. State and local jail/prison for some time. Because of COVID,it is worse. I understand rigid rules, but I have had several letters returned, after I was OK'd for visitation, for my full name not on the return address. Letters returned as undeliverable and could not forward and the address is identical to others that were delivered and no explanation given. This has happened locally in Houston County as well as Arrendake State Prison and Whittworth Womens Facility. Some were opened and some weren't. The incarcerated have the right to mail. Their rights are being violated. I have reposted leters only to have them returned as well.

    Jan 26, 2021
  • anon

    The post office was holding my mail due to neighbor in front hone stealing my mail for 3 weeks I got no mail even though it showed me having mail delivered so in put a hold mail request and after 2 weeks same person who was stealing my mail was able to slip through the system and reversed the hold mail I had initiated and was able to retrieve my mail and steal a settlement check and a stimulus card that was sent to me from the mailbox I share with her. No one was able to take responsibility for that action therefore nothing was done to press charges or anything when i pursued it and spoke to the supervisor at the post office. In other words I lost out on a lot of money and no one could help me to prosecute the wrongdoer.

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    I have never complained about the USPS but I have to mention what a Extremely poor job the USPS is doing at this time. I sent a package to a customer with three day delivery indicated and it took over three weeks. I spent weeks trying to get answers as to where my package is and when it will be delivered. Not one of your employees or tracking systems was useful or provide an answer. My customer was upset but understood once they learned I sent it through the USPS. In Dec, I mailed a bank payment on 12/18/20 . The payment was due to the bank by 01/02. The USPS delivered it on 01/20/21 causing a late fee to be charged to my account. Late fee was $29.00 I truly don't think the USPS understands the Problems and Frustrations they are causing for their Customers but I am 100% sure they don't care. If you know before hand you are going to be unable to perform your jobs correctly and efficiently you should be telling us before we use your services ! I will never use the USPS again to ship a package and start using electronic payments to pay my bills. By the way you owe me $29 dollars for the late fee charges and $8.25 for the botch three week delivery .

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    Dear Sir, We have an online business and are struggling to keep our business going during our retirement. Currently we have multiple packages that are lost including one that we will have to reimburse today for $238.14. We purchased insurance but are unable to file a claim due to the problems that the site is experiencing. We have literally spent over 2 hours trying to file a claim but keep getting the error message. The packages have been lost and damaged to the point of us constantly issuing refunds of smaller amounts. Please help us to get this straightened out. Thank you

    Jan 11, 2021
  • anon

    I have had boxes sitting in the Hazelwood Mo. post office more than a month now. I have lost business and good will with my customers. How is it as a business you do not have a rotation plan for packages. First in first out. I mail things and some sail right through while others appear to be stored for months. I wouldn't mind if everything was delayed, but to just sit on packages is a real problem

    Jan 09, 2021