The stories are endless – Christmas letters arriving in February, packages still in transit, and some items bounced across the country before arriving at their destinations.
While the United State Postal Service would not specifically comment on why some mail has been sent on cross-country runs, or whether the Mid-Atlantic has had more backlogs than other parts of the nation, a spokeswoman said the USPS has had to overcome employee shortages due to COVID-19 along with winter storms in the Northeast. On top of it all, the USPS handled a record number of holiday packages this season – 25 percent more than last season. Moving historic volumes of mail was also affected by ongoing capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking, said Melissa Lomax, strategic communications specialist for USPS Corporate Communications.
“The United States Postal Service processed and delivered a record number of holiday packages for the American people under some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve faced in the past century – specifically, more than 1.1 billion packages were delivered this holiday season amidst a global pandemic,” Lomax said.
However, there is an upside. Amid the package surge, revenue increased by $2.1 billion over the holiday months, according to the USPS fiscal 2021 first-quarter report. The postal service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses; it relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations, Lomax said.
As USPS moves ahead to recover and stabilize operations, Lomax said its executives have allowed employee overtime, and extended leases on annexes to process and dispatch packages. Executives have also worked with union leadership to retain holiday peak-season employees until operations stabilized, and to improve long-term performance by increasing full-time career staffing in several key facilities across the country – more than 10,000 positions total, she said.
The American Postal Workers Union, one of six unions representing USPS employees, did not respond to a request for comment.
Throughout the summer, calls for the removal of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy rang across Washington, D.C., culminating in congressional hearings held by both the House and Senate. DeJoy, who began his tenure in June following approval by a USPS board of directors, was largely blamed for slowing down the U.S. mail through his efforts to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This included changing afternoon sortation of mail so employees were not paid for waiting around until mail had been sorted, and making sure delivery trucks left on time. He reversed his changes in August, largely to ensure the 2020 presidential election with its influx of mail-in ballots would not be affected.
The latest slowdowns have prompted a new round of congressional inquiry and demands for answers to the mail delays. Delaware’s congressional delegation recently joined 32 other senators in writing a letter asking DeJoy what he is doing to restore on-time mail delivery.
Inspector report examines ethics
A report released in October by the USPS Office of Inspector General concluded that the cost-reducing strategies were confusing because guidance was mostly given orally and little was written. “The resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country,” the report stated.
However, the report states, DeJoy met ethics requirements related to disclosure, recusal and divestment, and documentation of operational changes provided to Congress was accurate even if incomplete.
In August 2020, Lomax said, USPS realigned its organizational reporting structures, providing greater visibility for the executive team into operations, and allowing for quicker responses to issues.
“The postal service strives every day to provide excellent service to our valued customers, and we apologize for any inconvenience that may have been experienced,” Lomax said. “We have returned to pre-peak operational conditions in most areas, and we fully anticipate continued improvements in service performance.”
She said customers with questions or comments about their mail service can call 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to show there are six unions that represent postal workers.