An audit on USPS peak preparedness found the Postal Service is better prepared for the holiday mail surge than last year (which was a disaster, as online sellers likely recall), but it may not be able to meet all of its objectives. A November 19th USPS Office of Inspector General report outlined some of the USPS initiatives for preparing for peak season – including some permanent operational changes – along with the findings of its audit.
First the good news: the USPS has increased the number of full-time employees by 8 percent, facility floor space by 48 percent, and package processing capacity by 16 percent compared to last peak season. And Postal Service management expects those percentages to increase even more as its remaining initiatives are implemented.
In addition, all of the 23 sorting machines it planned to deploy at delivery units have been installed.
The not-so-good news:
- A nationwide labor shortage could impact the Postal Service’s plan to hire 45,000 temporary employees for this peak season.
- A nationwide shortage of commercial truck drivers could affect the Postal Service’s surface transportation capacity.
- Management secured leases for 40 of the 70 (or 57 percent) peak season annexes. (Postal Service headquarters management stated that limited availability of spaces to lease has made it difficult to acquire additional peak season annexes initially identified as a need. They will use nearby post offices with excess space, share peak season space with nearby facilities, reconfigure existing postal space, and lease tents to ensure they have the space needed to process the increased peak season mail volume.)
- The USPS has installed only 84 of the planned 89 package processing machines for processing facilities. (But management anticipated all package processing machines would be installed by December 2021.)
The Office of Inspector General also surveyed all 13 Processing division directors and all 13 Logistics division directors to assess their confidence in whether the Postal Service would be able to timely process and transport mail and packages during the upcoming FY 2022 peak season (FY 2022 stands for Fiscal Year 2022, which began on October 1, 2021 for the Postal Service). It found the following:
“Processing division directors felt very confident or confident that they would have sufficient facility space, sorting machines, and processing employees to timely process mail volume during the FY 2022 peak season. Logistics division directors felt very confident or confident that there would be sufficient air capacity to timely transport mail and packages during the FY 2022 peak season. However, they only felt somewhat confident there would be sufficient surface transportation to timely transport packages.”
While the Inspector General pointed out the challenge posed by the nationwide labor shortage, the audit did not address another challenge: low morale among postal workers who take heat from customers upset by the mail slowdown imposed by the Postmaster General.
According to a recent article in Federal News Network, a local president for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) in Iowa told the USPS Board of Governors this month that she and her coworkers have faced “increased hostility and potential for violence against employees” as a result of service delays that have cost customers late fees in bills and delayed delivery of prescription medications.
Government Executive wrote about the OIG report on Monday and quoted USPS executive Mike Barber who said, “Headquarters and field leadership are confident in our ability to deliver for our customers and the American people during peak and into the future.”
The USPS Office of Inspector General report is chockful of data, such as Table 2 on page 7, “Planned and Actual Hires for Peak Seasons 2019 through 2021,” though there are also many redactions. The report also provides a painful reminder of how bad things were in December of 2020 (which was Fiscal Year 2021), such as the following excerpt:
“When the Postal Service became overwhelmed with mail and package volume during the FY 2021 peak mailing season, it enacted embargoes or redirections at nine processing facilities across the country. In a subsequent audit, we found that those facilities accepted more packages than they could process and experienced crowded conditions on the workroom floors, which became so congested that employees could not move mail between the processing equipment and loading docks. Further, in another audit, we found increased parcel volume, challenges with transportation of mail, and low employee availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Postal Service’s ability to process, transport, and deliver mail and parcels timely.”
A link to the report on USPS holiday preparedness is available on USPSOIG.gov, where you can leave comments.