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Blinded by the Light
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
In 1973, Bruce Springsteen—the “Boss”—released his debut album, “Greetings from Asbury Park.” The first song on side one was “Blinded by the Light.” Four years later, the song earned Billboard’s #1 rank, when it was covered by the British rock band “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.” According to Springsteen, the lyric and song title, “Blinded by the Light,” reflected an adolescent’s craving to act without regard to or knowledge of the consequence of his actions.
As we know, casting a bright light on public policy provides transparency, clarity and accountability. Illumination offers a prudent pause for uncertain actions. Indeed, enlightenment is what Americans expect of government institutions. When a federal agency or public official is either blinded by the light or resists its radiance, negative consequences are inevitable.
Since my previous column, Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) member Ann Fisher joined me on NAPS Chat (June 23 episode) to discuss the importance of postal transparency. In addition, NAPS engaged in a series of in-depth conversations with key members of Congress and participated in a Washington mailers’ conference.
Common to these interactions was the issue of postal transparency or, more accurately, the lack thereof. The consensus seems to be that significant portions of the “Delivering for America” (DFA) plan were, or are, being fast-tracked without necessary sunlight.
As I wrote last month, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee posed questions about the plan. Among those queries, first-term member Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) asked explicitly about community engagement prior to DFA implementation. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy retorted that the USPS complied with the law and regulations.
However, he did concede that he was unaware of the level of those communications. More importantly, Lee proceeded by questioning the Postal Service’s request that the PRC withdraw its public inquiry into the DFA. In response, DeJoy declared the PRC lacked authority to conduct the inquiry and, furthermore, accused the PRC of being complicit in the destruction of the USPS.
On June 21, the PRC formally responded to the USPS’ request to dismiss the DFA inquiry. Unsurprisingly, the PRC rejected the request and proceeded with a public forum on the DFA proposal. The commission is particularly attentive to the Sorting & Delivery Center (S&DC) initiative.
The PRC found that several DFA initiatives involve changes to the processing and delivery network, which may implicate federal law relating to USPS costs, service performance or changes to mail services. On the same day the PRC rebuffed the USPS’ request to dismiss, PRC Chairman Michael Kubayanda forwarded a series of questions to the USPS relating to the DFA.
In part, he asked for a complete schedule of activations for S&DCs, Regional Processing and Distribution Centers, Local Processing Centers, Destination Hubs and other logistic facilities associated with the DFA plan. The PRC is interested in location, facility type, list of impacted downstream facilities and ZIP codes served by implementation of the DFA.
Kubayanda also asked for specific cost data relating to the initiative, information relating to potential post office closures and changes to customer experience in impacted post offices, branches and stations. Lastly, the chairman asked the Postal Service to explain why it did not seek a PRC advisory opinion before implementing its processing and logistics network realignment and whether it will seek an advisory opinion for its ongoing network realignment. The responses were due at the PRC by June 28, but the USPS requested and received a three-week extension.
Concurrent with the PRC’s deliberation on the logistic facility realignment is growing congressional, stakeholder and employee concerns about the continuing decline in mail volume. Clearly, mailer and public confidence in our nation’s mail system has taken a hit. Notwithstanding the agency’s success in delivering absentee ballots in two successive national elections and fulfilling millions of orders for COVID-19 test kits, three years of eroding public confidence have been documented by the Pew Research Center and Gallup organization.
Indeed, the lack of postal transparency combined with mail insecurity, characterized by dismissive comments by postal officials about protecting the mail and its employees, have been harmful. In its most recent financial report to the PRC (May 2023), the USPS reported an 8.6% decline in year-to-date mail volume.
More depressing is an almost 9% drop in market-dominant package volume. While a possible mid-summer UPS strike could offer a temporary reprieve, it’s not certain the USPS would retain the bump in volume when the strike, if it happens, is settled. As we know, the USPS has been counting on package services to sustain its revenue stream; much of its logistics changes is predicated on that scenario.
Another strategy the USPS has employed recently is more frequent postage rate adjustments. However, it appears “price elasticity”—the higher the price, the less postage sold—is paying out. If this is accurate, postage increases will be incapable of covering revenue losses attributable to shrinking volume.
NAPS members must be on the front line to restore public confidence in our national mail system through aggressive and consistent advocacy and promote innovation that provides what the mailing public expects and deserves. We must encourage transparency, accountability and responsiveness. To do anything else we would be, as the “Boss” sang in his 1984 Billboard #2 hit, “Dancing in the Dark.”