U.S. Postal Service employees sort parcels for distribution inside the Los Angeles Mail Processing & Distribution Center, the largest in the United States, on November 22, 2021.

U.S. Postal Service employees sort parcels for distribution inside the Los Angeles Mail Processing & Distribution Center, the largest in the United States, on November 22, 2021. Mario Tama/Getty Images

USPS Is Heading Into the Busy Holiday Season With Far Fewer Employees Than in Recent Years

Still, postal officials and other stakeholders expressed confidence the agency will avoid the record delays mailers experienced in 2020.

The U.S. Postal Service is well positioned to deliver mail and packages during the peak holiday season this year, agency officials and employee groups said at a hearing on Wednesday, even as it is falling short of some goals and significantly scaling back its staffing levels. 

The Postal Service plans to hire 20,000 temporary employees for the holiday season, down from the 45,000 non-permanent staff it sought to hire last year. Postal management told lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s panel on Government Operations that the agency's increased hiring and conversion of 100,000 part-time workers to career personnel since 2021, in addition to changes to the network and other operational reforms, has lessened the need for an augmented workforce. The Postal Service has said it plans to convert 10,000 additional employees as it heads into the peak season. 

Even if it meets its hiring goals, however, USPS will enter its busiest period with fewer employees and less facility space than it had during the same time last year. Overall on-board staff will have dipped by around 5%, or more than 31,000 workers, even if USPS is able to staff up as much as officials have planned. 

Last week, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced USPS had reduced its seasonal hire target from 28,000 to 20,000, a nearly 30% decrease. After Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., asked about the change, Gregory White, USPS’ executive manager of strategic initiatives, promised the agency would be prepared. 

“The reality is this year we are less reliant on peak season heroics than we have been in the past,” White said without explaining the reason for the 11th hour change. USPS had planned for the 28,000 hires as recently as earlier this month and even the inspector general conducted its report under that assumption. A spokesman said the workforce stabilization effort has made the higher number unnecessary.

USPS could have some space issues as packages begin to flood its network, the agency’s inspector general said in a report accompanying the hearing. Of the 88 temporary annexes the Postal Service plans to rent during the busy season, it has only secured leases for 25, or 28% of its goal. If it is unable to find annexes to rent, postal management said, it will develop contingency plans to use tents and to shift mail around to other facilities. 

White said said postal employees and supervisors are now better trained and more available, which will allow it to operate more efficiently with fewer people. USPS has also noted it will add 50 new package processing machines in the coming weeks to enable the agency to deliver more quickly. White told lawmakers the agency can now deliver 60 million packages per day. He added USPS is also in a better position going into the holiday season, as its on-time performance is currently better than in the same period in 2020 or 2021. Package volume soared by 40% in December 2020 compared to the same month in 2019. The high demand, paired with employee shortages, led to unprecedented delivery delays.

Tammy Hull, the USPS inspector general, told lawmakers the agency had sufficient contingency plans in place to be able to operate without significant setbacks in the busy weeks and months ahead. Multiple leaders of employee groups said their members would ensure a successful holiday season for USPS, regardless of where the agency’s staffing levels wind up.

“We never have enough people, but we manage. We move people around and we use overtime,” said Edmund Carley, president of the United Postmaster and Managers of America. “It will be a successful season, I’m sure.”

Wednesday’s hearing got off to a testy start. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., was livid that the hearing started more than 20 minutes late and sought to adjourn it before it started. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., the panel’s chairman, sarcastically praised Keller’s “civility” before they conducted a vote to proceed with the hearing. 

“If you can waste time,” Keller said, “I can too.”