It’s that time again for our top ten postal stories of the year! While we do this every year, 2020 saw more than its fair share of important news stories about the Postal Service. Well let’s face it, it saw more than its fair share of front page news stories in general. Here’s our countdown, in reverse order, of the most important postal news reports in 2020. Please feel free to elaborate in the comments below on the ones we have listed or share any you think we missed.
10. Postal Board Shrinks and Grows Again – With the resignations of Governor David Williams in April and Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman in early June, the Board of Governors of the Postal Service fell below the quorum level needed to make a number of decisions. It was a short-term problem, for on June 18 the Senate confirmed the appointments of Lee Moak and William Zollars as Governors.
9. A STOP Sign for International Parcels – While the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act does not go into effect until 2021, the news story in 2020 is that many foreign posts are not ready to provide Advanced Electronics Data (AED), electronic information that can be used to identify packages that might contain illicit items. As of October 2020, just slightly more than half of inbound parcels included AED, and a Postal Service executive told Congress in December not to expect full compliance by the deadline. Instead, look for disruptions and delays to inbound international parcels.
8. Ten-Year Rules are Finally Final….Maybe – Four years after initiating its ten-year review, the Postal Regulatory Commission issued its long‑awaited final rules on the market dominant ratemaking system. Wary of the higher price increases the new rules would allow, a conglomeration of mailing organizations filed an appeal before the final rules went into effect, raising the question of whether the rules will be put on hold while the courts decide on the appeal.
7. USPS Delays Delivery Fleet Decision Again – With a fleet of delivery vehicles that continue to operate far beyond their lifespans, USPS was expected to award an anticipated $6 billion contract for up to 180,000 vehicles to one or more bidders in early 2020. The Postal Service postponed its decision to December, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, then again to early 2021. In the meantime, a number of bidders have dropped out, leaving three teams left competing for all or part of the contract.
6. The Push and Pull of Proliferating Packages – Package volume and revenue have been rising the last few years, but 2020’s one-two punch of the COVID-19 pandemic and the end-of-year holidays had the Postal Service and its competitors working overtime to get parcels to their far‑flung destinations. In fact, the surging volume in December resulted in FedEx and UPS refusing packages from some big mailers, pushing so much overflow onto USPS that it decided to enact moratoriums on receiving certain types of mail at some facilities — proving it’s sometimes possible to get too much of a good thing in too short a time.
5. Operational Changes Bring Scrutiny – The Postal Service implemented 57 cost-reduction strategies, including running trucks on time, designed to meet financial targets and reduce workhours. Unfortunately, the combination of the changes negatively impacted service across the country, more in some areas than others. In most years a decline in service would have raised concerns. In 2020, it brought congressional hearings and requests as well as lawsuits. Which brings us to news story number four . . .
4. Unprecedented Court Orders Oversee Postal Operations – Concerns over the Postal Service’s operational changes and its ability to handle election mail brought on 12 postal lawsuits filed against the Postal Service, Postmaster General DeJoy, and even President Trump. With most of the judges making preliminary rulings in favor of the plaintiffs, USPS was forced to temporarily stop operational changes and submit regular operational reports to the courts, including data on election mail service performance. With the upcoming January 5 Senate runoff in Georgia, many of the court orders remain in place.
3. Meet the New Boss – In May, the Board of Governors appointed Louis DeJoy as the nation’s 75th postmaster general. Unlike recent predecessors, DeJoy had never worked for the Postal Service. He did come with a background in logistics, including having owned a business that provided logistics support to USPS. Almost immediately, he announced intentions to right the Postal Service’s financial ship, causing some to cheer while others worried that his cost-cutting measures were slowing down mail processing and delivery.
2. More Election Mail, More Pressure – The combination of the pandemic plus a record‑shattering voting year resulted in the Postal Service handling an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. Throw in concerns about mail service and ballot tampering, as well as a surge in parcels, and the pressure was on. Our OIG auditors and agents were sent to the field to help oversee ballot handling and help the Postal Service quickly identify any issues. The Postal Service rose to the challenge, implementing extraordinary measures to prioritize the handling of ballots in the weeks leading up to the election. And speaking of being extraordinary, this leads us to our top postal story of 2020 . . .
1. Postal Heroes Rise During the Pandemic – As a worldwide pandemic caused many of us to stay safely in our homes for most of the year, we could only do so thanks to the dedication and commitment of the more than 600,000 postal workers. Throughout the pandemic, postal workers continued to process and deliver mail and packages including food, prescription drugs, benefit checks, election mail, and essential packages. While they didn’t always get the praise they deserved, there were many stories of neighborhoods thanking their postal carriers.