Auditors confirm that reforms led to mail delays, fault Postal Service for poor communication.
The U.S. Postal Service failed to examine the potential consequences of changes implemented by its new chief prior to putting them in place, which ultimately led to significant mail delays, a watchdog found.
The USPS inspector general faulted the mailing agency for launching operational changes without first studying or analyzing their impacts, saying the changes exacerbated service performance issues brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The IG also cited the Postal Service for inadequate communication of its plans, leading to widespread confusion and inconsistent implementation.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has acknowledged his reforms, which have stressed operating all parts of the delivery process on a set schedule while seeking to end late and extra trips, have caused significant mail delays. DeJoy has deflected blame, however, for other changes that came to light after he took office, including the removal of sorting machines and mail collection boxes around the county. While USPS has said—and reiterated after the IG report—those actions were routine, the auditors said those actions significantly increased since DeJoy took office.
The IG identified 57 different initiatives USPS deployed in fiscal 2020 as part of an effort to slash 64 million work hours. Many of the reforms were minor, it said, but combined they led to significant delays after being issued all at once.
“No analysis of the service impacts of these various changes was conducted and documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral,” the IG said. “The resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country.”
After facing a series of lawsuits challenging the changes, postal management in various federal courts blamed the miscommunication on “poor judgment” at the local level rather than insufficient direction by headquarters. While top USPS officials told various courts they were “appalled” and “concerned” by the manner in which DeJoy’s policies were implemented, front-line workers have expressed skepticism that management would be surprised by the results and said local staff were simply following headquarters’ directions.
On-time delivery has improved slightly since court orders went into place rolling back DeJoy’s changes, but mail delays still remain far above the levels seen before the postmaster general’s initiatives went into place.
In the first three weeks after DeJoy’s policies went into effect, the IG found mail delays reported by post offices spiked 143%. The auditors described the initiatives as “designed to eliminate late and extra trips,” though postal management has denied that was its intention. The IG criticized USPS for implementing DeJoy’s reforms without first piloting them, noting the agency was already facing “critical employee availability issues” due to the pandemic.
“Given the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced employee availability, increased package volume, and a heightened focus on voting by mail, these operational initiatives should have been analyzed and evaluated ahead of deployment to fully understand the impact of implementation,” the IG said.
Postal management also consistently withheld information from Congress as lawmakers began probing DeJoy’s reforms and subsequent mail delays, the auditors found, including by failing to disclose some USPS initiatives, hiding that some changes that pre-dated DeJoy were accelerated during his tenure and concealing a lack of communication with industry mailers. Removal of mail sorting equipment nearly doubled in fiscal 2020 compared to previous years, with most of the decommissionings occurring during DeJoy’s first three months in office. The USPS board of governors said those changes were routine and not “transformational,” and therefore it faced no obligation to disclose them to Congress.
"While we appreciate the ongoing efforts of the OIG to help the Postal Service improve operations, we do not agree with the premise that underlies the report: that the initiatives reviewed are strategic in nature, or that they are “transformational” to postal operations, either individually or collectively," the board said in a statement.
The IG stressed that what the Postal Service identified as “routine” had not been pursued at the same speed or consistency in previous years. The auditors found USPS was correct in concluding it did not have to receive approval for its changes from the Postal Regulatory Commission. It also cleared DeJoy of any ethical wrongdoing in the review it has so far conducted, but noted it must still examine some of his accounts.
While DeJoy has frequently cited previous reports by the IG that identified opportunities for savings to justify his initiatives, the auditors pushed back on the suggestion that the two perspectives aligned.
“While our reports have identified opportunities for cost control and improved efficiency, our recommendations did not prescribe implementation strategies that would have significant negative service impacts,” they wrote.