The Postal Regulatory Commission is calling on USPS officials to either accept an advisory opinion on improving its reforms or detail why one isn't needed.

The Postal Regulatory Commission is calling on USPS officials to either accept an advisory opinion on improving its reforms or detail why one isn't needed. Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

USPS regulator weighs intervening on DeJoy reforms

The American people want to know "how to stop this decline" in mail service and "how to keep it from spreading," watchdog says.

Updated May 2 at 9:57 a.m.

The U.S. Postal Service is facing pressure from its regulator to justify the major reforms the agency is implementing, with the watchdog suggesting the changes are having a larger impact than leaders had predicted. 

The Postal Regulatory Commission order comes as USPS leadership is facing pushback from lawmakers in both parties and a wide array of stakeholders over its overhaul of the mail network and delivery practices. The PRC directive called on the Postal Service to either submit to an advisory opinion from the watchdog or explain why such a review is unnecessary. 

Postal management is unlikely to accept that an advisory opinion is required, as doing so would amount to an admission that the changes in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s Delivering for America plan amount to a meaningful change in the nature of postal services on a national level. DeJoy and his team have repeatedly argued their reforms are simply realizing efficiencies in the system, but will ultimately not negatively impact mail users. 

PRC’s order is focused on the Postal Service’s consolidation of mail sorting away from individual post offices in favor of centralized centers and the moving processing operations away from hundreds of cities and towns in favor of 60 mega-centers throughout the country. It also relates to USPS' new “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.

In its order, PRC said the changes could result in mail delays and a “significant loss” in employees. Postal management has failed to provide evidence or supporting analysis that the reforms will not result in slower mail delivery, the regulator said, noting that on-time delivery has declined this year. 

“I think the American public, postal stakeholders and Congress want to understand the impact of the Postal Service’s network transformation plans,” said PRC Chairman Michael Kubayanda. “They want to know what is happening to mail service, how to stop this decline, how to keep it from spreading and how to restore service to targeted levels of performance.”

David Walton, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said the agency is confident it has met all of its legal obligations.

"At this stage we are not required to seek an advisory opinion from the PRC regarding the implementation of the Delivering for America Plan initiatives that we have pursued thus far," Walton said. "We will respond to the PRC’s order in more detail in this regard, consistent with the schedule that the PRC has established."

He added, however, that USPS could still seek an advisory opinion for forthcoming reforms under the DFA. 

Postal management has 40 days to request an advisory opinion, or 20 days to submit a response arguing that one is not necessary. PRC expressed skepticism the latter option could prove successful, noting it was “hard to see” how the USPS initiatives would “not involve a change in the nature of services” that would statutorily necessitate a review. 

“Although the Postal Service states that the DFA Plan initiatives will result in efficient operations and improved service once the changes have been implemented, the Postal Service has not provided any analyses, data or modeling showing that these changes will improve service,” PRC said. “Nor have preliminary results from areas most affected by the DFA Plan initiatives demonstrated improved efficiency or service.” 

The watchdog went on to highlight several areas where USPS has spearheaded the reforms and service quickly declined significantly. A recent inspector general report found the standing up of a new Regional Processing and Delivery Center—one of the 60 USPS plans to launch in the coming years—and the new collection plan in Richmond, Virginia, led to worse service, an uninformed public, decreased employee availability and a spike in late and canceled mail transportation trips. PRC said while postal leaders have said the negative impacts are temporary, they have not shown any evidence to support that contention. 

“The Postal Service and the Commission have a duty to understand whether, and to what extent, the network changes are contributing to this decline before further deployment of the network changes,” PRC said. 

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. The postmaster general has feuded with his regulator since taking office and at a recent hearing Kubayanda said USPS is trending in the wrong direction. 

Members of the Virginia congressional delegation met with DeJoy this week to express their frustration with the rollout in Richmond. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the postmaster general acknowledged there were problems and accepted responsibility for them. He added there have been some improvements, but USPS “has a long way to go in regaining the trust of Virginians.”

This story has been updated with comment from the Postal Service.