The Mail is Arriving Way too Late, Watchdog Reports

Maybe the Postal Service Should Not Have Lowered its Own Delivery Standards

More Mailboxes :Like These May Be Retiring Soon. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Even by the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) own recently lowered standards, mail delivery has become unacceptably slow, according to a federal inspector general.

In fact, the number of letters being delivered late has increased by 48% in the 6 months since January 1, 2015, USPS Inspector General (IG) Dave Williams noted in a Management Alert sent to the Postal Service on August 13, 2015.

In his investigation, IG Williams found that, “Mail was not being processed timely throughout the country.”

Why Is the Mail Slower?

On January 1, 2015, the Postal Service, in yet another attempt to save money it doesn’t have, lowered its own mail delivery service standards basically allowing mail to be delivered over a longer period of time than before. For example, where 2-day delivery of First-Class mail had been required before, 3-day delivery is now the acceptable standard. Or, “slow” is the new “normal.” 

The move also paved the way for the Postal Service to go ahead with the closure of some 82 mail sorting and handling facilities across the nation, an action 50 U.S. Senators had recommended against.

“The impacts on customer service and employees have been considerable,” Williams wrote of the lowered delivery standards and facility closures.

The IG also noted that the delays had been “compounded” by two other factors: winter storms and employee scheduling issues.

“Postal Service management stated a large number of winter storms disrupted service from January through March 2015, particularly for mail requiring air transportation,” wrote the IG. “Additionally, winter storms shut down highways on the East Coast and closed a contractor’s hub in Memphis, TN, delaying mail across the country.”

As a result of the reduced delivery standards and facility closures, over 5,000 postal workers were assigned new job duties and were forced to change from working night to day shifts. This required staffing realignments and training of mail processing employees on new jobs, creating an inefficient workplace, according to the IG.

How Slow is the Mail Now?

IG Williams’ investigation showed that letters classified and paid for as 2-day mail took at least three days to arrive from 6% to 15% of the time from January to June in 2015, a service decline of almost 7% from the same period in 2014. 

Five-day mail got even slower, arriving in six days or longer from 18% to 44% of the time for 38% service decline since 2014.

Overall, during the first six months of 2015, 494 million pieces of mail failed to meet delivery time standards, a late delivery rate 48% higher than in 2014, investigators

Remember when local First-Class letters were usually delivered the next day? Well, the Postal Service eliminated that service in January 2015 in preparation for its mail-handling facility closures.

For all classes of mail, the new “relaxed” delivery standards have allowed the Postal Service one extra day to deliver as much as 50% of all mail traveling outside the Zip Code in which it was mailed, according to the IG’s report.

Despite the predicted, but highly unlikely demise of “snail mail,” Postal Service statistics, show that the USPS handled 63.3 billion pieces of First-Class mail in 2014. Of course, that was 34.5 billion fewer pieces of mail than the 98.1 billion letters handled in 2005.

In 2014, a focus group representing a cross-section of postal customer, told Postal Officials they would be willing to accept lowered delivery standards if it meant saving the Postal Service. Be careful what you ask for.

What the Inspector General Recommended

While noting that mail delivery times had improved recently, IG Williams warned that the level of service is still not where it was during the same period last year.

To deal with the issue, IG Williams recommended the Postal Service put its plans for a second round of mail handling facility closures and consolidations on hold until it had corrected its staffing, training and transportation problems related to the

Postal Service officials disagreed with the IG’s recommendation to put the facility closures on hold until delivery problems are solved.

In May 2015, Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan put a temporary hold on further facility closures, but did not indicate when or under what conditions they would resume.

Could the Mail Get Even Slower?

On March 23, 2021, embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy released a 10-year strategic plan he hopes will end the Postal Service’s long and dismal record of financial losses. The bad news for postal customers—most Americans—is that mail delivery could become even slower under DeJoy’s plan.

The austerity-driven plan would raise priced while shifting the Postal Service’s delivery priority away from traditional mail, where demand is down, to parcel delivery, where demand—and revenue—is soaring. The USPS would stop transporting regular first-class mail by air, meaning letters sent coast-to-coast would take 4 to 5 days to get to be delivered, rather than the currently promised 3 days or less. According to DeJoy, the plan would emphasize delivery reliability over speed so that customers will become conditioned to expect slower delivery times.

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "The Mail is Arriving Way too Late, Watchdog Reports." ThoughtCo, May. 4, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, May 4). The Mail is Arriving Way too Late, Watchdog Reports. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "The Mail is Arriving Way too Late, Watchdog Reports." ThoughtCo. (accessed September 18, 2021).