A new government report is likely to fuel concerns that mail deliveries are suffering because the United States Postal Service continues to struggle with what its regulator has termed “the new normal.”
The July 7 report comes from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which found that the USPS has failed to fully meet the four standards it set for itself in the last fiscal year.
Those goals included “high-quality delivery services,” “excellent customer experiences,” a safe workplace and sustaining “controllable income.”
While the Postal Service’s financial troubles have received considerable attention, the commission found that on the all-important delivery times, the Postal Service failed on seven of eight of its “performance indicators.”
Because it met one of the indicators — a 97 percent rate of overnight deliveries of presorted first-class letters — the commission held that the USPS had “partially met” its overall “high-performance” goal.
A closer look at the numbers reveals a failure to achieve targeted improvement in overnight, 2-day and 3-5 day single-piece letters.
The delivery rate for 2-3 day letters was 87.7 percent, down from 91.6 percent in fiscal 2013 and well below the projected 95.25 percent for fiscal 2014.
By USPS’s numbers, many standard, or advertising, mail pieces slowed in fiscal 2014.
The composite for all advertising mail was 86.4 percent on-time deliveries instead of a target of 91 percent.
For first-class letters, 93.6 percent were delivered on schedule compared to a goal of 96 percent delivered on time.
For an agency that has made much about its past efforts to speed mail deliveries, the report seems to confirm that letters are moving more slowly through the mailstream.
The question of how fast letters should be delivered is an important one in Washington.
A group of rural lawmakers are arguing that the poorer delivery times are hurting their voters more severely than urban dwellers.
The slower delivery times are probably one of the reasons why Postmaster General Megan Brennan has placed the brakes on the agency’s plans to continue consolidated mail processing plants.
As the commission noted in its July 7 report, it is not clear how the continued plant closings will impact mail deliveries.
The commission noted it lacks the power to alter the Postal Service’s goals.
But it did attempt to pressure the agency to “better meet the goals and assess its performance in future years.”
On the delivery goals, it suggested the USPS “isolate specific measurements for time periods, geographic regions or products.”
Postal unions and their allies in Congress have made clear that they expect more plant closings will slow the mails even more.
One of the key issues facing the PRC is determining what is “the new normal” mail volume for the USPS.
That is the question that a federal appeals court has directed the PRC to determine.
In its June 5 decision, the court upheld the emergency rate increase that had boosted the price of a first-class stamp to 49¢ as a result of the 2007-2009 recession.
But it declared that at some point, the USPS must stop attributing its mail volume losses to the recession.
The court declared it is up to the PRC to determine what “the new normal” mail volume should be.
That issue is being hotly contested by mailers and the Postal Service.
A ruling on just how long the Postal Service can blame the recession for its mail losses is expected soon from the PRC.
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