USPS sees mail delays amid network overhaul. Now lawmakers, regulator seek answers

The Postal Service is telling lawmakers in areas hardest hit by recent mail delays that the effects are temporary, and that on-time delivery will improve.

The Postal Service is telling lawmakers in areas hardest hit by recent mail delays that the effects are temporary, and that on-time delivery will soon stabilize in areas where the agency is modernizing its facilities.

But those lawmakers, and a USPS regulator, are pressing the agency for greater transparency into its reform plans, and whether these delays will persist as USPS continues to shake up its nationwide delivery network.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy met with members of the Virginia delegation on Monday — including Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), as well as Reps. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

Warner told reporters Tuesday that both lawmakers and DeJoy agree the mail delays in the Richmond area are “totally unacceptable,” after the agency opened its first Regional Processing and Distribution Center (RPDC) there.

“The good news of yesterday’s meeting was the Postal Service and the postmaster general agreed that the rollout in Richmond was a disaster. It was a mess, and it needs to be corrected,” Warner said.

DeJoy recently told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that USPS is seeing issues with on-time delivery in regions where USPS is opening massive new facilities meant to streamline local operations.

DeJoy apologized for the decline in service in areas such as Richmond, Atlanta and Houston, but told the committee he’s still “optimistic about the changes,” and expects service to stabilize in impacted regions by this summer.

“I was happy to see I didn’t hear excuses from the postmaster general,” Warner said. “He acknowledged they screwed up, that it was a mess, that consumers weren’t informed, and that the postal workers themselves were not adequately trained. He said that he wants to make this the best distribution center in the country, and we’re going to hold them to that.”

Warner said Virginia lawmakers plan to meet back with DeJoy in 60 days.

“What I have found in the past is this is going to require constant attention from the congressional delegation. It’s obviously bipartisan — we all depend upon the mail, and the folks in the greater Richmond area deserve better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service’s regulator is asking for more answers about these regional delays, and whether USPS will see on-time delivery drop in other regions as it rolls out its network modernization plans.

The Postal Regulatory Commission asked USPS last Friday to start the process of obtaining an advisory opinion on its network modernization plans or explain why such a review is unnecessary.

“It is clear that there has been a quantifiable decline in service across several regions during and after the implementation of new facility types,” the commission wrote.

The commission notes that on-time performance is declining nationwide and that less than 85% of all first-class mail is arriving on time.

“The Postal Service and the commission have a duty to understand whether, and to what extent, the network changes are contributing to this decline before further deployment of the network changes,” the commission wrote.

The PRC previously stated USPS didn’t need to obtain an advisory opinion for the entirety of its 10-year reform plan. However, the commission said an advisory opinion may be necessary for specific initiatives that impact on-time delivery.

USPS spokesman David Walton told Federal News Network that the agency is “very confident under the applicable law and the relevant facts relating to our transformation that we have complied with all our legal obligations.”

Walton said USPS at this stage is not required to seek an advisory opinion from the PRC on the reform initiatives the agency has pursued so far, but will respond to the PRC “in more detail in this regard.”

“That said, and as the Postmaster General made clear in his recent congressional testimony before our Senate oversight committee, we are currently in the process as a matter of our discretion of carefully considering whether to seek an advisory opinion from the PRC concerning some of the changes related to the DFA Plan,” Walton said. “We are working through the details, including the scope of any such request and the administrative requirements related to it, pursuant to a systematic, methodical, and deliberative approach.”

USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb Hull recently told the Senate committee that on-time service performance for first-class mail in Richmond fell to 65% — a more than 20% reduction compared to prior service.

The Regional Processing and Distribution Center in Richmond is the first facility of its kind USPS has opened.

The facility serves as a hub for long-distance transportation, where employees sort mail and packages going to other regions, as well as sort incoming packages for delivery in the region.

The agency plans to create 60 facilities just like it, in total, to consolidate outgoing mail and package processing.

USPS spent more than $25 million to convert the facility into the first RPDC, and expects this facility alone will help the agency save $186 million over 10 years by reducing operating and transportation costs.

USPS OIG, however, found that the rollout, so far, has increased costs and decreased service.

Auditors, in a report last month, found that after the launch of the RPDC, late trips increased by 30% and canceled trips increased by 185%

USPS OIG  found the Richmond facility didn’t have adequate staffing to handle mail processing and transportation operations. It said problems with the rollout “caused additional labor and transportation costs, and it is uncertain if expected savings will be achieved.”

“The Postal Service did a disservice without warning both the Richmond customer base and frankly, doing a good enough job of training the Richmond employees about these new processes and procedures,” Warner said. “I do think if this reform is successfully implemented, we will see better service.”

Virginia lawmakers, in a press release, described an “egregious lack of attention to detail,” at the new facility, including pieces of mail falling off conveyor belts and being lost, as well as mail processing not syncing up with trucks transporting mail to and from the facility.

USPS OIG found mail and packages were left on, or around, processing equipment after the machines were shut down.

“Package operations were shut down at the scheduled time for dispatch and any packages left on mail processing equipment remained at the facility until the operation resumed the next day. Richmond personnel should have run the mail processing equipment until all packages loaded on the machine were sorted,” USPS OIG wrote.

Warner said that part of this problem was not only the implementation of this new initiative, but also the bankruptcy of contractors in D.C. and Atlanta of contractors who did some back-office operations.

“It exacerbated the decline,” he said, especially between December 2023 and February 2024.

“We have seen some recovery. It’s still not where it needs to be. Folks in the Richmond region need to be able to know that if they mail something, it will be delivered on time, it’ll be delivered safely,” Warner said.

The inspector general’s office is reviewing USPS readiness for the November election, and expects to release a report in late summer.

DeJoy told the Senate committee that network modernization plans won’t impact the delivery of mail-in ballots and that he will “slow down a lot of the moves” that are still in the works prior to Election Day.

“There’s an awful lot of voters that their only way they can get their ballots counted is through the mail service, and we’ve got to have a dependable mail service,” Warner said.

While concerned about mail delays, Warner said he understands USPS needs to modernize its operations to improve its long-term financial situation.

“The Postal Service, across the board, is facing a crisis. We have seen a dramatic decline in first-class mail delivery, as more and more people communicate online. We have a Postal Service that, frankly, was built for a different kind of mail delivery system,” he said.

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