In the best of circumstances, the peak mailing season — typically from November to January — puts the U.S. Postal Service’s network to the test with higher volumes of mail and packages. Add in the effects of the pandemic — namely, increased package volume and decreased employee availability at the processing plant — and you’ve got more volume than the plants can handle.
During the most recent peak season (November 2020 through January 2021), these conditions led to the Postal Service instructing mailers to use other facilities (redirection) and sometimes even temporarily refusing mail or parcels without additional instruction (embargo). Embargoes and redirections of up to 17 days occurred for certain mail types at nine mail processing facilities across the country. This largely included different types of marketing mail as well as packages, depending on the location. Four of the plants employed redirection, and the other five implemented temporary embargoes.
In our recently posted audit report, we reviewed mail processing, employee availability, mail volume, and productivity data from October 2019 through February 2021 at each of the nine processing facilities. Increased package volumes led to overcrowded workroom floors and an inability to conduct everyday operations.
We identified several things USPS could do to fix the conditions that led to the embargoes and redirections. They include enhancing communications throughout the agency and with its customers, improving oversight of operations and conditions at processing facilities, and strengthening internal controls over employee availability. This would help reduce the overcrowding of the processing facilities and provide the ability to operate effectively and safely. While the Postal Service is in the process of addressing our recommendations, it has stated that it will incorporate lessons learned from this experience in planning for the upcoming peak season.