WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s controversial, midsummer operational directives delayed nearly 350 million pieces, or 7%, of the country’s first-class mail in the five weeks they were in effect, according to a new report published Wednesday by the Senate’s top Democrat in charge of postal oversight.
Only a month after taking charge of the U.S. Postal Service, DeJoy implemented stricter dispatch schedules on transport trucks that forced workers to leave mail behind and prohibited extra mail trips, leading to well-documented mail bottlenecks. Managers under him also cracked down on overtime, which postal workers commonly rely on to complete routes, though DeJoy has denied having a role in those cutbacks.
The report depicts an agency whose leadership was barely prepared to implement the new policies, did not anticipate the upheaval they could cause and is still trying to find its balance as the November election draws near and millions of people continue to experience longer wait times for their mail and packages.
Before the changes, the Postal Service routinely delivered more than 90% of the nation's first-class mail on time, according to an analysis of USPS data by the office of Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Two weeks later, on-time delivery rates hovered near 83%, ensnaring prescription medications, benefits checks and ballots in midterm elections.
On-time rates continued to deteriorate, the report said, falling to 85.3% the week of July 11; 82.2% the week of July 18; 83.6% the week of July 25; 82.8% the week of Aug. 1; and 81.5% the week of Aug. 8. And in crucial regions that could decide the November election, service declined even more, falling 20.4 percentage points in Northern Ohio; 19.1 percentage points in Detroit; and 17.9 percentage points in Central Pennsylvania.
"The results of my investigation clearly show that Postmaster General DeJoy's carelessly instituted operational changes to the Postal Service resulted in severe service impacts that harmed the lives and livelihoods of Michiganders and Americans," Peters said in a statement. "I have repeatedly made it clear to Mr. DeJoy that his actions have had consequences for many of my constituents and people across the nation. My report shows his decisions were reckless and caused significant harm to the American people."
DeJoy suspended some of the Postal Service's cost-cutting maneuvers, including the removal of high-speed mail sorting machines and public collection boxes, until after the election, but said machines and mailboxes that were eliminated would not be replaced. He left in place his orders on transportation schedules, the most controversial changes, that postal workers and independent experts say are causing the most problems.
The Postal Service did not respond to a request for comment.
Peters's report recommends DeJoy reverse his policy directives, including the transportation schedule, and that the Postal Service commit to treating election mail with first-class privilege as the agency has in past years. It also recommends Congress pass the Delivering for America Act, which would prohibit the Postal Service from implementing operating changes that would affect delivery standards until the end of the coronavirus pandemic. That bill passed the Democratically-controlled House last month, but has not been taken up by the GOP-run Senate.
DeJoy "failed to conduct any meaningful analysis about how his planned changes could affect customers," the report states. John Barger, a Republican member of USPS's governing board, testified last week before Peters's committee that DeJoy did not inform the board of any changes he was considering, and he Postal Service for a month and a half refused to provide lawmakers any records of the decision-making process behind the policies.
As lawmakers began to ask questions of DeJoy while mail service declined, the agency denied making any large-scale operational changes, insisting instead that DeJoy was "re-emphasizing existing operational plans," according to a July 22 letter to Peters from USPS General Counsel Thomas J. Marshall.
When David E. Williams, the agency's chief logistics and processing operations officer, briefed the committee on the initiatives on Aug. 31, the meeting included a single slide on the policies, according to the report. Williams told the committee that the Postal Service was "expecting a service bump" simply because on-time "should mean better service," and that USPS did not use internal data to forecast improvements or declines in delivery times.
The report also argues that DeJoy misinterpreted an Inspector General study on transportation costs, then used that document as the underpinning of his directives. DeJoy in Senate testimony said the study found $4 billion in extra costs due to late and additional deliveries, and late dispatch times. But the Inspector General report identifies only $550 million in potential cost savings.
"Postmaster General DeJoy's changes appear to have been focused on cost-cutting based on an inflated estimate, and at a high cost to the American people in terms of delays," the report states.
Those delays appeared especially pronounced in prescription medications, according to another Senate report published last week by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa. Four prescription drug providers told Warren and Casey that delivery times this summer have increased by half a day or more, on average, compared with earlier this year or similar time frames in 2019, according to the report. Deliveries that might typically take two or three days were instead taking three to four, the lawmakers said, and one pharmacy in particular saw a "marked increase" in the number of shipping delays of seven or more days.
First-class mail delivery rates recovered some ground in the final week of August, up to 85%, but three of the Postal Service's seven geographic areas could not sustain those gains. On-time rates in the Southern, Western and Capital Metro areas, which include parts of 30 states, all dropped in the first week of September.
The Washington Post’s Tony Romm contributed to this report.