The U.S. Postal Service is in a terrible mess, partially because of the flood of unexpected business during the pandemic and staff shortages caused by the virus as well, but also worsened by its own decisions.
Less than a year after 91 percent of people told a Pew Research poll that they had favorable views of the agency, the service’s reputation is in tatters. Elected leaders, businesses and ordinary citizens are sharing nightmarish stories of lost or delayed packages, late holiday cards and missed bill payments.
The delivery is so bad, some people are resorting to tests to see for themselves the depth of the problem. An Adamstown woman, Chris Gregory, told News-Post reporter Steve Bohnel about her experiment.
She mailed two sets of cards on the same day in mid-January — one from her post office in Adamstown and one across the Potomac River in Leesburg – to family and friends in Reston, Woodsboro, and North Dakota.
Those in North Dakota and Reston got their cards within a week from the Leesburg location, but the mail still had not reached Woodsboro as of last week. As for the mail from Adamstown, no card had reached its destination as of late January, Gregory said.
It is a story that is being repeated again and again, here and around the country. More than a dozen people have called or emailed the News-Post detailing similar issues.
Christmas presents mailed in early December showed up in mid-January. Bill payments sent on time arriving weeks late, so that folks are being charged late-payment fees. It goes on and on.
The main problems were caused by the pandemic — an enormous increase in volume because folks shopped from home at the same time that many workers were falling ill with the virus. That really was beyond the control of the service.
But those issues were compounded by Louis DeJoy, a huge financial backer of ex-President Trump, appointed as Postmaster General last summer by the Republican-dominated USPS board of governors.
DeJoy immediately established new policies he asserted were needed to increase efficiency, including prohibiting delivery trucks from waiting for late mail or making extra trips, dismantling sorting machines, cutting overtime and reducing hours at retail post office locations. The changes created massive backlogs and rapidly diminished on-time delivery rates.
DeJoy said he wants to run the postal service more like a private business. If true, it is one of the worst-run businesses in history, driving away customers in droves.
The Washington Post reported this week that DeJoy is expected to soon “outline a new vision for the agency, one that includes more service cuts, higher and region-specific pricing, and lower delivery expectations.”
That really sounds like a winning combination. Not!
Democrats charge that DeJoy’s real mission has been to cripple the Postal Service, first to undermine mail-in voting in the November election, and in the long term to harm the service’s biggest customer, Amazon. The gigantic retailer is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, and as such became one of Trump’s worst enemies.
Whatever DeJoy’s true motivation, the damage done to the Postal Service has been immense and probably long lasting. People are changing their habits in ways that could be permanent. Many are using the internet to pay all of their bills, rather than mail checks. Birthday gifts are being sent by Venmo or other peer-to-peer services. Packages are going to UPS, even if the cost is a little more than the post office.
President Biden cannot step in to set a new direction for the post office because he does not have the power to fire DeJoy. That can only be done by the board of governors.
Trump appointees dominate the nine-member board because Senate Republicans refused to confirm President Obama’s nominees, leaving vacancies Trump promptly filled. Today, there are four Republicans and two Democrats on the board, plus three vacancies.
If Biden quickly filled the vacancies with Democrats, he might be able to persuade the board to fire DeJoy, but one of the two Dems on the board was appointed by Trump, and he approved of the DeJoy appointment. Would he now vote to remove him?
As we said, it is quite a mess, and one that is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.