Charles Krupa / AP

USPS At Risk of Falling Short on Space and Staffing to Support Holiday Season, IG Warns

Postal Service says it's in much better shape than last year, when it was overwhelmed and beset by delays.

The U.S. Postal Service is at risk of failing to meet its goals to boost its space and employees for processing peak mail and package volumes during the upcoming holiday season, according to a new report, though it has taken some steps to mitigate last year’s failures. 

USPS has already increased its full-time workforce by 8% since the 2020 holiday season, adding 33,000 workers. It has also increased its facility floor space by 48% and its package processing capacity by 16%. Still, supervisors recently told the agency’s inspector general they were concerned about an insufficient number of employees for trucking and management is falling short of its goals for leasing temporary spaces to process shipping surges. 

While the supervisors the IG surveyed said they did not have the same worries about staffing, the auditors warned the nationwide labor shortage could prevent USPS from hiring its planned 45,000 temporary workers. The Postal Service met its seasonal hiring goal last year, but fell well short in the previous two years. Due in part to a national shortage, USPS currently has 1,100 vacancies in its trucking workforce. It is seeking to address that by retraining some employees and putting more mail on fewer trucks. 

After experiencing unprecedented delays last year following a 37% spike in volume, postal management has moved to a year-round approach to addressing its peak season. It has boosted staffing, equipment and spacing through multi-year leases of annexes. Still, it has just 47 of the 70 planned temporary facilities to support extra volume. Management told the IG it has been difficult to find facilities and is making contingency plans, such as using excess space at post offices and renting tents under which employees can process packages. It said the additional machines it has installed will boost package processing capacity by 36% compared to the 2020 peak season. 

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy conceded earlier this year that USPS fell short during the holidays and promised his 10-year plan to stabilize the agency would address many of the problems it faced.  

“All in all, we threw everything we had at it,” DeJoy said in February of the previous peak season. “No cost cutting, no efficiency initiatives, no relaxation of any effort anywhere, and yet we missed our service standards by far and disappointed the nation.” 

USPS customers are facing higher prices during the holiday season, with a surcharge going into effect Oct. 3 and lasting through Dec. 26. Package rates are up between $0.25 and $5.00 per package, depending on the product and its weight. The Postal Service's permanent price hikes using new authority that allowed for unusually high increases also remain in effect after a federal appeals court earlier this month denied an effort by large-scale mailers to reverse it. Those changes increased First-Class mail rates by 6.8% and package services by 8.8%, and coincided with USPS slowing down its delivery windows for some mail. 

Mike Barber, the Postal Service’s vice president for processing and maintenance operations, expressed unmitigated confidence the agency would not face the same challenges in 2021 as it did in 2020. 

“Headquarters and field leadership are confident in our ability to deliver for our customers and the American people during peak and into the future,” Barber said.