New legislation from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would constrain planned USPS reforms unless the agency meets conditions such as retaining mail processing facilities in each state.

New legislation from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would constrain planned USPS reforms unless the agency meets conditions such as retaining mail processing facilities in each state. Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES

New bill would place restrictions on DeJoy’s USPS reform efforts

USPS is stripping rural America of reliable service without "legitimate justification," senator says.

The U.S. Postal Service would face new restrictions in implementing the reforms it says are necessary to save the mailing agency from financial ruin under a bill that adds to the mounting pressure on USPS management. 

The Protecting Access to Rural Carriers for Every Location (PARCEL) Act, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would prohibit the consolidation of mail processing operations unless the Postal Service met certain conditions. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's 10-year Delivering for America plan, USPS is in the midst of 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. 

In some cases, such as Tester’s home state of Montana, those changes will move major elements of mail processing out of a state entirely. Several lawmakers have voiced concern with that approach, citing the potential for increased delays as traffic and weather disrupt mail transportation. 

Under the PARCEL Act, USPS would only be able to proceed with its plans to stand up the mega-centers—known as Regional Processing and Delivery Centers—if mail processing remains inside of state boundaries or causes no harm to local mail delivery. USPS would also have to complete a geographical review of its changes, including the impact of moving mail through mountain passes, and receive public input in support of the consolidations. 

Lawmakers from states such as Colorado and Nevada have criticized USPS plans to move mail processing across or out of their states, noting the mountain passes in the new routes would likely cause significant logistical difficulties. 

During a Senate hearing last month, DeJoy defended his plan and said he was committed to seeing it through. He told lawmakers that a return to the previous status quo would mean a continuation of the “financial death spiral” that predated his arrival. DeJoy stressed that he is not closing facilities, but repurposing and investing in them to meet modern needs. He added the Postal Service maintains “a process to analyze the movement of mail” and makes data-based decisions. 

Mail delays have spiked across the country and performance has been particularly poor in areas piloting the new network structure, leading DeJoy to apologize and promise improvements. He added, however, that his efforts will bear fruit if given appropriate time. 

“It’s easy to criticize when you show up at the crime scene and see the damage, but the path there is long and people are working very hard to change minds and hearts in terms of how we perform,” the postmaster general said.

A recent inspector general report found the standing up of a new RPDC in Richmond, Virginia, led to worse service, an uninformed public, decreased employee availability and a spike in late and canceled mail transportation trips.

The changes have caused “additional labor and transportation costs, and it is uncertain if expected savings will be achieved,” the IG said. Previous IG reports have found prior efforts to consolidate facilities led USPS to perform worse while realizing just a tiny fraction of the cost reductions it had anticipated.

The Postal Regulatory Commission said last week that while postal leaders have said the negative impacts are temporary, they have not shown any evidence to support that contention. The watchdog is now seeking increased scrutiny of the agency’s reforms. 

USPS in recent months has faced a long series of letters and calls to explain or adjust its reform plans, including a recent demand from several Senate Democrats that the postal board of governors abandon DeJoy’s changes altogether. Tester’s bill, which the senator introduced as USPS plans to move processing operations from Missoula in his state to Spokane, Washington, marks a new effort to statutorily limit the postmaster general. 

“USPS leadership has failed to listen to the people of Montana time and time again, and it’s time to put a stop to their attack on service in rural America,” Tester said. He added his bill would “bring full operations back to Missoula and ensure that Postmaster DeJoy won’t be able to strip rural America of reliable service without public approval and legitimate justification ever again.”