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USPS Delivery Network Is a National Asset
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. One of my “presents” was contracting COVID-19. Fortunately, it was a mild case. Nevertheless, my brief convalescence gave me the opportunity to reflect on the current state of postal affairs and four decades of engagement with the postal and federal employee community—the overwhelming majority representing the legislative, political and regulatory interests of managerial-level postal employees.
Indeed, postal supervisors, nonsupervisory managers and postmasters enjoy extraordinary opportunities to shape postal policy in collaboration with Congress, the White House, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), other members of the postal community and the American public, as well as legally through the prescribed consultation process with L’Enfant Plaza.
A number of months ago, I hosted Dr. Kevin Kosar of the American Enterprise Institute on NAPS Chat. He pondered why postal policymakers—the Postal Service included—have yet to implement or propose changes that acknowledge the fundamental trait of the agency as an essential part of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
Platitudes of USPS success in fulfilling and distributing millions of COVID-19 antigen tests and two praiseworthy election cycles under its belt aside, emerging public policy and the “Delivering for America” (DFA) plan fail to implement necessary changes to solidify and further develop the USPS’ prominence as a critical part of the nation’s essential infrastructure. It is crucial to reinforce the effectiveness of our Postal Service, particularly in the near term.
According to a recent Washington State University study, a vibrant Postal Service increases voter turnout in all states, regardless of voting laws. The study projected that faster service would increase voter turnout by almost 3.5%, even in restrictive states such as Alabama.
The two most visible and pervasive elements of our vast postal network are its delivery and retail functions. These two components provide citizens universal access to basic postal services. Moreover, these functions are the most politically penetrating. To prove my point, delivery and retail are the two functions underscored in postal law.
Six-day mail delivery was codified in the Postal Reform Act of 2022 and previously protected in annual appropriations bills. Rural post office protection also has been included in appropriations language for decades, as well as a legally prescribed post office closing process. The delivery network, in particular, has proven to be an invaluable national asset, evidenced by its exploitation by most-of the-time postal competitors UPS, FedEx and Amazon.
Yet the disproportionate focus the DFA places on the logistics elements of the postal network—sortation, processing and transport among large postal facilities—renders vulnerable two of the network’s most valuable and essential assets. The exposure of postal employees to assault on our nation’s streets as the result of USPS-imposed restrictions on postal police officers and the relocation of letter carriers to remote mail sorting centers illustrate the preeminence of postal logistics over postal service in the DFA.
The consolidation of retail facilities resulting from personnel relocation reduces communal access to the full menu of postal products and services. Furthermore, there remains substantive and genuine questions about the goals of the DFA and the metrics on which to evaluate it. Congress, the PRC, Government Accountability Office and Postal Service’s own inspector general are taking a closer look at the evolving DFA.
Clearly, members of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee are deeply concerned about implementation. At the long-awaited confirmation hearing of renominated PRC Commissioner Robert Taub, Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sens. James Lankford (OK-R) and Tom Carper (D-DE) posed questions reflecting their concerns.
Peters underscored the importance of the PRC by declaring the commission must exercise aggressive regulatory oversight and take proactive steps to ensure mail service is not undermined. In response to committee exploration of the Postmaster General’s assertion that the PRC was jeopardizing DFA implementation through regulatory interference, Taub posited that providing a public forum for discussion that sheds light on a plan that impacts postal customers and employees and affects service costs is a legitimate and statutory role the PRC should play. He suggested a natural tension should exist between a regulatory agency and its regulated agency.
Lankford probed the Postal Service’s failure to meet short-term financial and operational goals set forth in the DFA. He pondered how the PRC ought to address those issues. Carper expressed concern about postal performance deficits.
Taub affirmed he is alarmed by the failure of the USPS to meet its performance standards for approximately one-half of its market-dominant products. In response to questions, Taub identified the PRC’s “Annual Compliance Review” as a means of evaluating performance and speculated the PRC may consider performance shortcomings as part of future PRC postagerate deliberations.
Taub’s nomination—approved by a unanimous committee vote of 12-0 and awaiting a vote by the full Senate—is linked to the Sept. 11 nomination of former USPS Senior Vice President Tom Day. President Biden nominated Day to succeed outgoing PRC commissioner Mark Acton, whose term expires mid-October.
As NAPS members may recall, Day spearheaded the successful efforts by the USPS to secure congressionally approved funds to protect the U.S. Mail against anthrax contamination in late 2001. He was a NAPS Chat guest on Sept. 16, 2022. As this column went to press, Day’s hearing was scheduled for Sept. 21.
As NAPS partners with postal policymakers and influencers, we will continue to ensure the interests of managerial-level postal employees are reflected in the legislative and regulatory decisions that impact our members, our customers and our communities.