One Year Later, USPS Restores Service to Pre-DeJoy Levels
On-time mail delivery still falls short of its historical standard, with the Postal Service blaming employee absenteeism and other issues.
The U.S. Postal Service said this week it has restored its on-time mail delivery rates to its highest level in a year, finally matching its performance level from before Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took office.
USPS delivered nearly 88% of First-Class mail on time from April 1 to June 30, a 9% increase from the previous quarter. The mailing agency has not achieved that level of service since June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lower-than-normal employee availability rates and reforms implemented by DeJoy. USPS boasted on Thursday that it achieved its best performance since the third quarter of fiscal 2020, which was the last quarter in which DeJoy—who took over in mid-June of that year—did not run the agency.
At the outset of the pandemic, mail delays ticked up slightly with on-time delivery falling from around 92% for First Class mail to around 90%. After DeJoy took office, however, and implemented reforms aimed at curbing late and extra mail transportation trips, delays spiked dramatically. DeJoy and other postal leaders have conceded his approach had a drastic impact on service levels, but said it has since taken steps to rectify that fallout. Court orders have also blocked USPS from fully implementing the changes.
Still, on-time performance has remained at unusually low levels, including record levels of mail delays during the 2020 holiday season. USPS has pointed to high rates of employee absenteeism and unprecedented increases in package business that has disrupted the normal mail flow. Postal workers have taken advantage of a recent law allowing all federal employees up to 15 weeks of paid leave to deal with issues related to the pandemic, exacerbating USPS workforce issues.
USPS employees have taken 5 million hours of time off authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act, accounting for more than 90% of the total hours logged across government. Those hours have cost about $127 million, which will be paid out of a special account funded by Congress.
Earlier this year, USPS projected for fiscal 2021 a reduced target of 88% on-time delivery for First Class mail slated for a two-day turnaround and less than 69% on time for mail in the three-to-five day window. That would mark a decrease from 2020—already a down year—when the agency delivered 91% and 79% of mail on time, respectively. USPS typically expects to deliver 95% of mail on time. Given the large-scale delays the Postal Service experienced in the first half of the year, even its improved performance could leave it short of its own, reduced targets.
Postal management has said it is fighting a losing battle in trying to meet targets for on-time mail performance, arguing its network is no longer capable of operating on the timelines for which it once strove. DeJoy put forward a plan earlier this year that included consolidating postal facilities and slowing down the delivery of about 40% of First Class mail. USPS has said it will reinstate its 95% on-time delivery goal if it can fully implement DeJoy’s vision.
Postal management has faced significant pushback to that plan, including tens of thousands of comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission opposing the proposed changes. PRC is expected to issue an advisory opinion later this month, though USPS will not be bound by it. Democrats in Congress initially sought to restrict the slower delivery windows as part of its postal reform legislation, but ultimately opted to remove those provisions to win bipartisan support for the measure. DeJoy is also raising postal prices at a much accelerated rate—about 7% for First Class mail—under a new authority granted to him by the Postal Regulatory Commission.
USPS said its service improvements to date are in part attributable to a "strategic diversion" of mail and packages from air to ground transportation. The agency also said it is "focused on stabilizing our workforce" and will continue hiring initiatives to support the upcoming holiday season.