Postal delays are causing widespread concern as the election approaches, sparking worry that mail-in ballots won't be counted.

Postal delays are causing widespread concern as the election approaches, sparking worry that mail-in ballots won't be counted. John Minchillo/AP

USPS Is Fighting to Block the Release of Data on Mail Delays

The Postal Service is fending off pressures before its regulator and federal courts, but it's already suffered one setback.

Facing mounting legal challenges against reforms undertaken by its new leader, the U.S. Postal Service is seeking to prevent weekly public disclosure of mail delay data. 

USPS is facing an effort to force it to make public its performance data, with the aim of demonstrating the depths of the current mail delays that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has admitted have accelerated in recent weeks. Postal management has pushed back, filing an objection to its regulator saying such disclosures are unnecessary and would buck the standard timing for their release. The effort to obtain data comes as the Postal Service is fending off at least a dozen lawsuits around the country looking to block changes DeJoy has put into place, including one states-led effort that has been fast tracked in federal court. 

Steve Hutkins, a long-time gadfly for postal management, filed his request for weekly reports on USPS on-time performance to the Postal Regulatory Commission earlier this month. Hutkins noted that DeJoy’s emphasis on operating each step of postal delivery on a set schedule—even if that leads to mail getting left behind—has caused delays, which the postmaster general repeatedly acknowledged in recent congressional hearings. He also suggested in his filing that DeJoy’s reforms and the subsequent mail delays could amount to a de facto change in service standards, which would normally require an advisory opinion from PRC, heightening the need for disclosures. Additionally, he said, the upcoming election puts delivery data in the public interest. 

Typically, the Postal Service reports its performance data to the PRC quarterly and the regulator conducts a review of it on an annual basis. The next quarterly report will not be made public until November, however, and PRC’s review would likely come out in December. 

“Under normal circumstances, quarterly reports and the annual review are sufficient to satisfy the relevant statutes,” Hutkins said. “And under normal circumstances, the extent to which performance is meeting targets and standards does not change dramatically on a week-to-week basis. The current moment is different, however.” 

Presentations to the Postal Service’s largest customers and internal reports made public by House Democrats show dramatic upticks in delayed mail, supporting anecdotal reports by large-scale mailers and USPS employees. Slides prepared for DeJoy on Aug. 12 show on-time delivery declining by between 8% and 10% across the Postal Service’s mail offerings. On Monday, the Postal Service proactively released data that showed on-time performance starting to rebound in mid-August. 

“This recovery took place while still adhering to our existing transportation schedules," DeJoy said Monday. "In other words, we are improving service performance while more consistently running our trucks on time.”

Despite releasing the new data, USPS submitted a rebuttal to the PRC Friday, saying Hutkins erred in seeking to attach his request to a 2019 compliance report. It also said PRC reviews are conducted on a pre-set schedule and there are no regulations that require more frequent reporting. While USPS released data nearly in real time Monday, it said the current quarterly timetable is necessary to allow the agency to ensure the accuracy of its information. 

PRC has not yet ruled on the matter. It can effectively block Hutkins’ efforts by remaining silent. 

USPS is facing multiple additional efforts to make more of its data public. The House Oversight and Reform Committee, led by Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said on Monday it will subpoena documents from DeJoy related to mail delays, the decommissioning of mail sorting machines and overtime use. Democrats on the committee said DeJoy has ignored requests to produce such information and Maloney reminded the postmaster general the subpoena “makes clear as a legal matter the production of these documents is mandatory.” Maloney also issued a document request to Robert Duncan, who chairs the USPS board of governors. 

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the oversight committee, said Democrats were forcing USPS to spend “hundreds of hours” producing documents as part of an effort “to promote a baseless conspiracy theory about the Postal Service.” 

USPS said it is working with the committee to provide it the information it is seeking, in addition to providing a briefing Monday on the most recent service statistics. 

"Given the straightforward and cooperative nature of these communications with the Committee staff, we were frankly surprised and confused by Chairwoman Maloney’s statement today about her intent to issue a subpoena to the Postal Service," the agency said in a statement. "We will continue to cooperate with the oversight committees in both the House and Senate, and we fully intend to comply with our obligations under the law."

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted a request for expedited discovery in a case in which Washington and 13 other states sued USPS seeking to block DeJoy’s changes and other cost-saving efforts previously underway at the agency. The lawsuit alleged that USPS has taken actions that would slow the delivery of election mail, creating an urgency for document production. The court ruled the states’ request was “not unduly burdensome” and was necessary due to their plan to file for a preliminary injunction. 

In their lawsuit, like those filed by dozens of other states and outside groups, the attorneys general quoted President Trump disparaging the Postal Service and mail-in voting. They alleged DeJoy’s changes were “procedurally and substantively unlawful,” as USPS failed to go through the PRC and could be disenfranchising voters. DeJoy has already pushed back on some of the allegations in the lawsuit, pausing the decommissioning of sorting machines and removal of blue collection boxes. He has also maintained that he never issued an edict to cut overtime, though many local supervisors around the country have implemented reductions. 

The Justice Department, arguing in support of the Postal Service and against expedited discovery, had said much of the information would be coming out “imminently” anyway and the plaintiffs’ request was overly broad. The court rejected those arguments and gave USPS 10 days to produce its data.