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Philadelphia perfects 'fail mail'

Plant problems lead to delays, destruction of mail


O the President, members of Congress, postal customers, postal employees, and the American people: Your United States Postal Service had another excellent year! We achieved record levels of service . . .


-From the 2007 Annual Report

of the U.S. Postal Service

From a recent Daily News report on the performance of the USPO's Southwest Philadelphia distribution plant:

Chaotic conditions at a chronically understaffed plant has led to unsorted mail sitting for weeks in overflowing bins, stuffed into trailers, and sometimes even destroyed. And apparently, there have been numerous attempts to cover up the backlog of unsorted and undelivered mail by rigging reports and protocols.

"Snail mail" has become "fail mail."

Last week, after five days of Daily News stories about the plant, its manager was reassigned.

The problems reported by the Daily News aren't just the result of a few worker or customer complaints, although there have been plenty. An independent audit conducted by the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General claims that the distribution center is not following all the procedures it's supposed to, causing significant delayed mail.

How significant? In fiscal year 2006, when the facility began operating to replace the Postal Service's 30th Street site, more than 216 million pieces of mail -almost 11 percent of the total- were delayed.

Things improved only slightly in the next year. In fact in the first quarter of fiscal year 2007 alone, 144 million pieces of mail - 26 percent of the total - were delayed.

The inspector general's own chart illustrating a quarter-by-quarter account of the delayed mail underscores the idea of chaos. The figures vary wildly from quarter to quarter, ranging from more than a hundred million to less than a million.

It's not hard to see the factors leading to this meltdown. The new local plant was put online with 600 fewer employees than the old plant employed. Besides getting the new local plant online, the Postal Service was essentially reinvented by an act of Congress in 2006, to be more competitive and accountable, at the same time it's dealing with an $8 billion loss.

That's the result of an accounting requirement, though. The actual revenues of the service increased in the last fiscal year. Bottom line: Tight fiscal controls are compromising performance.

That's why we doubt that the distribution problems are limited to the Philadelphia plant. But how can any of the Postal Service's overseers - from the postmaster general, who writes the rosy annual report, to its board of governors - accept this situation? Why isn't anyone going postal?

The situation cries for more dire intervention than its own watchdog- such as from the U.S. Attorney's Office or even the FBI. Last we checked, mail tampering is a federal offense. Doesn't destroying mail that is your job to sort and deliver constitute tampering? It's time for members of Congress to take a closer look, and call for "jail mail" if criminal charges are warranted. *