Is the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) going to get away with it?
On October 1, 2021, USPS reduced first-class mail delivery standards ensuring mail service will be slower than it has been since the 1970s. Senior citizens, rural Americans, and the poor are hardest hit.
The USPS action has been widely criticized by business, labor, consumer, and other groups. The bipartisan Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), USPS’s regulator, was also highly critical of the proposal but unable to stop it since it legally can only offer an advisory opinion.
Congress is holding a subcommittee hearing related to these developments on Friday, October 15. To fix mail delivery and return it to the standards that all Americans deserve, it will be important for Congress to do the following.
Bipartisan Approach. Bashing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy or even having him replaced as Postmaster General won’t fix the problem. While DeJoy has led the charge for the October 1 reduction in mail service standards, USPS implemented a nearly identical plan in 2014 which had poor results. The focus and emphasis of USPS management has long been to prioritize its work in packages, a growing business, over mail, which is its public duty and will continue to be, even as mail volumes decline. All Americans, especially rural Americans, are impacted by the degraded standards, and partisan rancor will only distract from a solution.
Probe the Relationship Between Packages and Mail Delays. In a June 21, 2021 filing with the PRC commenting on the Postal Service’s proposal to slow down mail delivery standards, 21 Attorneys General said, “Under its new policy, the Postal Service seeks to degrade service in its market-dominant products 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 requirements that the Postal Service ‘give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.’” Congress should have the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigate if USPS is prioritizing package delivery over mail, a public service on which all Americans rely.
Document, Document, Document. The slowdown in mail standards that USPS implemented was done in a vacuum. USPS did not provide alternatives for meeting the reduced 2014 standards, i.e., saying what it would cost. USPS presented its mail slowdown proposal to the PRC on a stand-alone basis. Congress should require information from USPS about the cost to meet the 2014 mail standards and at least two other alternatives to the current program.
Patience and persistence are also essential. Replacing the Postmaster General, a step that itself will take some time even if it can be done, will not eliminate USPS’s focus on packages. Similarly, lawsuits take years. And longer-term changes in USPS’s Board of Governors are not likely to reverse the cultural bias against mail that is deep within management’s ranks.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia.
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