Postmaster general says sorting machines removed to free space for packages, supports six-day delivery
When the U.S. Postal Service began decommissioning and removing mail sorting machines earlier this year, the agency was simply executing on a plan to free up space for processing packages, according to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
In testimony before a Senate committee last week, DeJoy defended the recent removals of public mailboxes and sorting machines as part of a long-planned effort to pare down the physical infrastructure at the Postal Service, which has been buffeted by a steady decline in letter volume and consistently reports monetary losses in the billions.
That strategy includes shifting more resources to support the growing package business, which, fueled by online retail, has been among the few bright spots for the cash-strapped agency in recent years.
“Package volume is growing,” DeJoy told members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee via video conference. “We really are moving these machines out to make room to process packages.”
DeJoy has come under fire — and faced pointed questioning from committee Democrats — over allegations that the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines is politically motivated, and that the postmaster general, a major Trump donor, is sabotaging the system in an effort to suppress mail-in voting. DeJoy called those allegations “outrageous,” and insisted that the removal of the equipment was part of an ongoing program that long predated his tenure at the Postal Service, one that he did not even know about until it became the focus of intensive news coverage.
“I was made aware when everyone else was made aware,” he said. “This has been going on in every election year and every year for that matter.”
DeJoy said there are no plans to reinstall the mailboxes and sorting machines, but vowed that there will be no more removals or other major changes to postal operations before the election.
But already, there have been widespread reports about mail delays stemming from funding shortages and restrictions on overtime work. That has impacted online sellers, and has taken a grim turn with reports of baby chicks dying in transit as packages languished in processing centers.
DeJoy insisted that his focus has been on boosting the Postal Service’s on-time delivery rate for letters and packages, which has entailed a realignment of the agency’s operations around its vehicle schedules.
“FedEx, UPS, everyone runs their trucks on time,” he said. “That’s what glues the whole network together.”
The Postal Service is working toward a 97 percent on-time delivery rate, which DeJoy said is reducing costs by eliminating return trips that would in turn cut down on employee overtime.
One area where DeJoy is not looking to make cuts is the Postal Service’s weekly delivery schedule. He said that he has considered calls to cut down weekly delivery to a five-day or even a four-day schedule, but ultimately concluded that such a move would forfeit one of the Postal Service’s most valuable intangible assets.
“As I’ve worked through the process and researched and studied the organization, I think the six-day delivery — the connection that the postal letter carrier has with the American people — that gives us this highly trusted brand, and where the economy’s going in the future, I think that is probably our biggest strength to capitalize,” he said.
While cutting Saturday delivery might yield somewhere around $1.5 billion in annual savings, DeJoy looks to his plan to optimize the transportation schedule as potentially saving $2 billion to $3 billion, while actually improving service and “the connection to the American people.”
Still, DeJoy said that the agency is projecting losses of $9 billion this year, and is appealing for legislation to help relax crippling financial obligations such as the requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits. Likewise, DeJoy is asking the agency’s regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission, to grant the Postal Service more flexibility to set rates and to expand its menu of products and services.
“When you have to delivery service, and you have to be sustainable, the operating model needs to cover its costs,” he said. “There is no other answer.”