Barring intervention by state Attorneys General (AGs) by September 1, mail delivery in the United States will soon take longer than it has in 50 years and slow even further. This will be particularly burdensome to senior citizens, the disabled, and rural Americans.
As part of its 10-year strategic plan, the U.S. Postal Service wants to slow mail delivery on 40 percent of first-class mail. In a July 20 Advisory Opinion, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) raised strong concerns with the proposal, including a lack of testing and minimal cost savings. At the end of the day, the PRC’s opinion is strictly advisory, and its options are limited should USPS disregard that advice.
The U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors, which approved the 10-year strategic plan, is unlikely to undo the mail slowdown. While bipartisan postal reform legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate, it does not address this matter.
Which brings us back to the AGs, many of whom in August 2020 also sued the U.S. Postal Service for mail delays that were a pittance compared to what will happen soon, and become permanent.
What the AGs Have Previously Said
In June, 21 AGs filed a Statement of Position with the PRC that USPS’s planned mail slowdown was illegal and harmful. The filing repeatedly cites USPS’s legal obligation, by statute, to “provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining.”
It also repeatedly calls out USPS for prioritizing package delivery, a competitive service, over mail delivery, the long-standing mission of USPS and a service that only it can provide.
The AGs said, “Under its new policy, the Postal Service seeks to degrade service in its market-dominant products in order to facilitate growth in its competitive products. But a policy that prioritizes competitive packages above First-Class letter mail cannot be squared with the statutory requirement that the Postal Service, ‘give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.’”
Seven Reasons Legal Action is Likely
Among the many reasons the AGs are likely to file suit against lower mail standards, and to seek an injunction, are the following.
They basically already said so. The filing with the PRC is replete with information contending USPS is violating the law and legal action is the clear next step.
They have sued for less. Last year, many of these same AGs sued the Postal Service over mail disruptions that were temporary in nature and far less consequential. To not sue now calls into question whether the prior legal actions were just about election year politics.
They have the resources. With annual revenues of $70 billion and approximately 300 attorneys, USPS has resources and power. AGs are a more formidable force to take on USPS than the PRC or even Congressional committees.
Mail crises are not a thing of the past. Give USPS credit for chutzpah: despite historic mail slowdowns this past holiday season it is pushing hard for a major, permanent reduction in delivery times. Mail delivery times could be worse this holiday season as mail volume will be much higher this year than during the pandemic. The AGs will not want to be asked why they stood by and let this happen.
It really matters. First-class mail is alive and well, with 52 billion pieces sent last year. Yet even mail going short distances would be impacted. As the AGs say in their PRC filing, “In all but 12 of the 48 continuous states, the proposed service standard changes would slow the delivery of in-state First-Class Mail, including election mail.”
The issue crosses party lines. The AGs cite an economic study that found, “The worst impact would occur in the western states, with significant increased delays in the Mountain, Southwest, and Plains states.” While Democratic AGs drove last year’s lawsuits and the PRC filing, they may have an opportunity to partner with some Republican AGs as many of their states will be dramatically impacted by slower mail.
It’s about preserving the mission of the Postal Service. The USPS proposal is about jettisoning its traditional work to bind the nation together through delivery of mail and periodicals in order to be an e-commerce delivery service predominantly for large retailers. By volume, USPS still delivers 16 times as much mail as packages and that should continue to be its primary focus, as that is a service that only it can provide.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
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