Top brass from USPS headquarters say slowdown was caused by local officials misinterpreting Louis DeJoy's initiatives.
Top U.S. Postal Service officials testified in court on Wednesday they were “appalled” and “concerned” about decisions made at the local level that led to widespread mail delays, though employees on the front lines said the late deliveries were a result only of workers following direction from headquarters.
The postal headquarters officials pointed fingers at local managers and employees for misinterpreting reforms implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy shortly after he took office in a manner that led to delays, though they conceded those interpretations at least in part reflected their own directions. They delivered testimony before the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York in the case Jones v. USPS, one of many lawsuits across the country in which plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against DeJoy’s changes.
DeJoy has acknowledged his reforms, which have stressed operating all parts of the delivery process on a set schedule while seeking to end late and extra trips, have caused significant mail delays. Robert Cintron, USPS vice president for logistics, said he never instructed local managers to ban the trips altogether, explaining he only communicated that as an “aspirational” goal. He acknowledged, however, that documents produced at the local level that suggested late and extra transportation trucking routes were banned reflected what he told regional leaders on a conference call after he met with DeJoy.
Cintron also said the initiative to emphasize that trips from mail processing plants run on time according to a set schedule should not result in mail delays, though he later acknowledged that they had.
Angela Curtis, vice president for retail and post office operations, called efforts at the local level to run trucks on time even if mail got left behind at the processing center a “misrepresentation” of DeJoy’s initiatives.
“I was appalled,” Curtis said of her reaction when she saw how the initiative was being implemented at the local level. “I was very, very concerned about what was being communicated.” She added that a local leader responsible for a widely publicized memorandum that instructed facilities to eliminate overtime and leave mail behind if plants were running behind schedule has been demoted.
Carlos Barrios, a local supervisor in San Antonio, testified the emphasis to reduce late and extra trips—which he said came directly from headquarters—led to the mail delays.
“They want to get the mail out by a certain time,” Barrios said, “so we can’t get it all out.”
Antonio Cuevas, a postmaster at several locations before he retired earlier this year, told Government Executive that plant managers were not just “randomly making these decisions,” but rather following instructions that trickled down from headquarters. The memos that Cintron and Curtis denounced “mirrored what was said on conference calls,” he added. Cuevas said USPS brass' suggestion that local supervisors around the country all misinterpreted the initiative in the same way and that is what led to delays, seemed unlikely.
“How could it be so well coordinated that the local managers are making the same bad decisions at the same time?” Cuevas said. “Managers and supervisors are following some instructions they are getting.”
Curtis said in her testimony that she left a conference call she held with local leadership to describe DeJoy’s changes with the impression they “would not happen overnight.”
“I walked away with the understanding, yes we wanted to operate trucks on time, yes we wanted to operate on schedule,” she said. “I also knew we would have to work through that.”
Doug Brown, a technician in Muncie, Indiana, and the American Postal Workers Union president for the state, also said the direction had come down from the top to end extra truck runs. He added the direction to drivers to deliver the mail they have whether their trucks are full or not has led to “empty trucks driving up and down.”
“It’s demoralizing to postal workers when we're told to just let the mail sit,” Brown said.
Justine Cool, a postal clerk in Montana who helps expedite mail and send trucks out, said her supervisors occasionally instruct her to personally deliver mail to other facilities even though that is outside of her job duties. While she suspected her plant managers were simply following instructions, she said she was not surprised to see headquarters pass the blame to local management.
“It’s an easy scapegoat for them,” Cool said.
The National Association of Postal Supervisors said in a statement it was "not true" that local supervisors and managers were responsible for recent mail delays and USPS was demonstrating irresponsible leadership by passing blame instead of addressing the root causes of the performance issues.
"Blaming hardworking front-line postal supervisors and managers does nothing to improve postal operations or service to the American public," NAPS said. "Rather, it hurts the morale of managerial personnel, who deserve clear communication of postal policies and instructions by top USPS officials, together with proper training, coaching, mentoring and staffing."
While the Postal Service’s on-time performance has rebounded in recent weeks, the trend has not completely made up for the dramatic dip experienced in July and August nor has it continued everywhere. Recent USPS data show mail delays actually ticked up in three of the Postal Service’s seven regions.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a report on Wednesday after soliciting feedback from thousands of postal employees and customers around the country. He accused DeJoy of shirking responsibility, citing front-line employees in Atlanta, Hawaii and other locations who reported DeJoy’s directives specifically led to mail being left behind each day.
“Postmaster General DeJoy failed to consider the likely service impacts of the transportation changes he ordered in July 2020,” Peters wrote. “Postmaster General DeJoy did not conduct any analysis of the service disruptions and delays his directives could cause.”
Victor Marrero, the judge presiding over the Jones case, did little to tip his hand on Wednesday and said he would issue a decision as soon as possible. In one of his few interjections he asked if election mail could get caught up in delays, to which Cintron responded it could.
This story has been updated with additional comment.