USPS is delivering 83% of First-Class mail on time during the current fiscal quarter, its worst rate since 2021.

USPS is delivering 83% of First-Class mail on time during the current fiscal quarter, its worst rate since 2021. Radila Radilova / Getty Images

As USPS institutes network reforms, mail delivery hits a 3-year low

The agency mostly blames isolated incidents, but acknowledges some changes have led to an "unacceptable level of service."

The U.S. Postal Service has continued to see slower mail delivery across the country, with delays picking up as the agency is in the throes of transforming its entire network. 

Postal management has repeatedly pointed to isolated incidents causing temporary disruptions—rather than any systemic issues—to explain the declining performance, though the trend has now persisted for nearly six months and is causing stakeholders and advocates to question the true root of the problem.

USPS is now delivering just 83% of First-Class mail on time during the current fiscal quarter, its worst rate in three years. That is down from 86% in the first quarter and 91% in both the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023 and the same period last year.

The Postal Service is in the midst of the most significant makeover of its operational structure in decades as it continues to implement Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year Delivering for America plan that it says will make the agency more efficient and eliminate its annual deficits.

That has included consolidating mail sorting away from individual post offices in favor of centralized centers and moving processing operations away from hundreds of cities and towns in favor of 60 mega-centers throughout the country. As part of a new initiative, USPS is also rolling out an “optimized collection plan” that will require mail to sit overnight at post offices instead of being collected each evening for transportation to a processing center. 

David Walton, a USPS spokesman, reiterated an initiative to bring in-house Surface Transfer Centers—buildings that serve as staging areas where mail gets dropped off before it gets rerouted elsewhere—caused mail delays, an issue the Postal Service also highlighted when performance started declining in December. Specifically, Walton said, the situation was exacerbated when one of its contractors went bankrupt. Walton also said delays occurred “in select communities” due to winter storms. 

Dave Lewis, president of SnailWorks, a company that helps businesses launch and track mail ad campaigns, tracks millions of mail pieces each week and his data show delays increasing since the summer and worsening in recent months. The severity of the delays are also increasing, he noted, as nearly 8% of First-Class letters were more than five days late last week. That was the worst weekly figure SnailWorks has found since it began tracking it in June 2021. 

Lewis was reluctant to speculate on the reason for the worsening performance, though he noted marketing mail—for which users typically bypass much of the Postal Service’s network by bundling their own mail and bringing it to a destination facility—has remained much more stable. 

That “would lead me to believe that the issues lie with Postal Service transportation and logistics, which would certainly be impacted by a network redesign,” he said. 

He noted that while postal management has cited winter storms for the delays, the weather was not “appreciably worse than it was last winter.” In the second quarter of fiscal 2023, USPS delivered 91% of First-Class mail on time. Average delivery time was 2.6 days rather than 2.9 days, meaning the time has slowed, on average, by 10%. 

One of the Postal Service’s worst-performing regions is Richmond, Virginia, which has prompted a bipartisan, bicameral delegation from the state to decry the situation as unacceptable. Less than 80% of mail is being delivered on time this quarter.

Richmond represented an early test case for the Postal Service’s plan to realign its processing centers and consolidate operations into a larger facility. It was also the first area to roll out the new optimized delivery, which led to just one morning drop off and pick up of mail at post offices for more rural facilities. Previously, drivers would pick up that day’s mail each evening to begin the process of getting it out to its destination. 

When the Postal Regulatory Commission pressed postal management on this initiative, which USPS plans to implement on a much wider scale, officials said it was “premature” to measure the impact of the program but it did not “anticipate material impact to service performance.” The agency was already falling short of its goals before the changes went into effect, they said, and will be “fine-tuning” the reforms to “solve any gaps.” USPS acknowledged, however, it was bound to encounter some setbacks. 

“While short-term impacts to service performance during the execution process may occur, the Postal Service will monitor any impacts that occur, and may make adjustments as necessary and warranted,” the agency said. The nightly pickups were forcing “underutilized and unnecessary trips,” it added, leading to higher costs. 

In a report on Thursday, the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank, was incredulous toward the Postal Service’s logic. 

“It’s hard to believe that if the mail spends a day sitting in a post office before going out to a processing center that delivery times won’t be extended at least a day,” the group said. 

It also detailed, as a case study, the impact that the consolidation of processing operations in Oregon could have on mail in the region by demonstrating the hundreds of added miles letters and packages must travel under the new system. The changes have elicited bipartisan concerns from lawmakers in the state—including a failed legislative attempt to block the consolidation—and IPS said USPS has provided few details to back up its claims that its performance will be unaffected by the changes. 

In Houston, USPS has also installed one of its new Regional Processing and Distribution Centers. It is now delivering just 71% of mail on time in the area, well below the declining national rates. An array of lawmakers from both parties in Texas have sounded the alarm on the issue and have blamed “poor planning by USPS management” for its new initiative. 

USPS acknowledged some customers in Richmond and Houston have received “unacceptable level of service,” and apologized for “any difficulties they may have experienced recently.” 

“The Postal Service is working diligently to not only restore service to pre-transition levels, but improve it to meet our own ambitious targets,” the agency said. 

Meanwhile, it is moving forward with reform efforts as it seeks to stand up hundreds of new Sorting and Delivery Centers and more of its regional mega-centers. It is also expanding the “optimized” pickup schedule that will leave mail sitting in post offices overnight to Wisconsin. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., wrote a letter to DeJoy this month expressing her concern the changes would “further exacerbate delivery issues in the state.” 

“At a time when the USPS is raising postage rates and losing mail volume, it is difficult to understand why you are taking further steps that will reduce the mail services that U.S. families and businesses deserve,” Baldwin said. 

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is probing the Postal Service for its operational changes and its impacts on mail delivery. An aide to Peters said USPS was responsive to the chairman’s initial request and he is continuing to follow up. 

Walton, the USPS spokesman, said ultimately all of the changes will work in concert to “improve processing, transportation, delivery networks and employee experiences across the country.” Mail will flow throughout the network more logically, he said, while eliminating waste and costs. Timely delivery, he said, remains a “very high priority” for postal management. 

“The urgent need to modernize our nation’s postal network is a result of years of inaction and bad policies,” Walton said. “These efforts will have no effect on delivery services and will ensure the Postal Service can better serve our customers and employees long into the future.”