It’s that time again — when we look back and rank what we think were the top 10 postal stories of the year! As it did in 2020, the U.S. Postal Service saw its fair share of important news stories in 2021. Some are obvious, like the pandemic’s ongoing impacts on staffing and service thanks to the arrival of yet another variant, while others might be less obvious. Here’s our countdown, in reverse order, of our view of the most important postal news reports in 2021. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and whether you think we missed anything.
10. Is Postal Reform Finally Arriving in Congress? The Postal Reform Act, with bipartisan support, will provide a number of financial reforms, including eliminating the prefunding of health benefits for retirees and integrating its health care with Medicare, while continuing six-day delivery. With agreements in place both in the House and the Senate, passage should be quick, right? Not so fast. With a crowded legislative calendar and details still being ironed out, the bill will likely not see movement until later during this Congress.
9. Better than Expected? Or Not as Bad as Expected? – The good news for USPS was that it did far better than expected in FY 2021. The Postal Service predicted an almost $10 billion loss for FY 2021, believing that mail volume lost due to the pandemic would not return. But mail volume did bounce back. So much that USPS realized over $6 billion more in revenue than predicted. The bad news? It still left a net loss in the amount of around $5 billion. Then again, that’s better than many observers expected.
8. The Postal Service has a Full Board of Governors…and Then It Doesn’t – Lots of activity this year. First, Ron Bloom took over the chairman position in February. Next, with the swearing in of Anton Hajjar, Amber McReynolds, and Ron Stroman in June, the Board had all nine seats filled for the first time in 10 years. Last but not least, there may soon be two new governors and a new chairman. In November, President Biden nominated Dan Tangherlini and Derek Kan to the Board, to replace Chairman Bloom (whose term expired December 8) and Governor John Barger (who’s serving a holdover term). There is now one vacancy on the Board until the new nominees are confirmed and sworn in.
7. New Labor Agreements Abound – The Postal Service just reached a tentative labor agreement with the American Postal Workers Union that will last through 2024. In March, the National Association of Letter Carriers ratified an agreement that expires in 2023. The agreements, which together impact over 400,000 postal employees, generally provide the Postal Service with some labor flexibility while workers received some raises and protections from subcontracting and layoffs. Additionally, the Postal Service has agreed to convert some non-career employees to career status.
6. The $10 Billion Side of the Pandemic – While there’s been a lot of draft reform bills designed to give the Postal Service financial relief, it took a pandemic to pass legislation giving the Postal Service a $10 billion infusion. At first the money was a loan, but subsequent legislation turned the much-needed cash into a grant, and USPS has officially received the full amount.
5. Needed: Trucks and Drivers – The Postal Service cited a lack of reliable air transportation in moving more of its mail to surface transportation, but there’s also a national shortage of trucks and truck drivers. The Postal Service has said it can deal with the shortages by putting more mail on the trucks it has. In recent OIG work, however, we reported that postal managers were not 100 percent confident that USPS was able to procure enough ground transportation to handle peak volumes.
4. New Vehicle Plan Not Electrifying Enough – In February, the Postal Service announced it had awarded a 10-year contract to Oshkosh Defense for new delivery vehicles, and around 10 percent of them would be electric. In response to Congressional concerns about why it wasn’t buying more electric vehicles, USPS explained it did not have enough funds to upgrade its parking lots with the infrastructure needed to charge more vehicles. Congress is considering new legislation that would give the agency money to help increase the number of electric vehicles it could purchase.
3. The Virus that Still Won’t Go Away – Just as it hit businesses hard throughout the country, the pandemic continued to cause problems for the Postal Service, particularly when the delta variant emerged in late 2020 and never abated in 2021. Employees out sick meant less capability to handle the significant increase in package volumes, which in turn meant service issues continued to plague the areas hit hardest. And with the arrival of the omicron variant near the end of 2021, there’s no telling whether things will improve in 2022.
2. Higher Prices + Lowered Service = Unhappy Mailers – As a part of its plan to reach financial stability, the Postal Service announced it would use the full amount of newly-allowable price increases for market dominant products. USPS also said it would start increasing prices twice a year starting next July. Mailers filed for an appeal of the new pricing rules, but it was rejected by the D.C. court. In addition, as part of its development of a more reliable ground transportation network, the Postal Service lowered service standards for some First-Class Mail and Periodicals. Lots of mailers were not happy with the combination.
1. No Time Like Now for a Ten-Year Plan – While it seemed a long time coming, the Postal Service wasted no time implementing its 10-year plan. In fact, some parts of it, such as restructuring the organization, were already partially complete when the plan was released in March 2021. The plan largely focuses on changes needed for USPS to be able to handle the new-normal level of packages.