The 2022 “Peak” Season: Is the USPS Ready?

Anyone who’s been in or around the Postal Service long enough begins to see annual cycles in service, volume and revenue, and official pronouncements for any and all of it.

At this time of year, the agency usually is finishing its ramp-up to the holiday shipping season.  This year, the mid-term elections are also underway, meaning the usual high level of activity during the pre-holiday fall mailing season is supplemented by waves of political mailings.  The transition from high volumes of direct mail to (hopefully for the USPS) high volumes of packages will begin in earnest after the election.

Usually, the fall mailing and holiday shipping seasons are when the USPS makes most of its money, offsetting the relative doldrums from mid-winter through mid-summer.  A good shipping season bodes well for the end-of-year results that will be calculated and reported months later.

Is it ready?

This time of year also is when the Postal Service does its best to convince commercial mailers and ratepayers that it’s ready to handle the holiday surge.  Executives with PowerPoints tell attendees at MTAC and PCCs they’re ready, and detail the operational preparations they’ve made, all to enable a successful “peak.”

As noted, some of us have seen this movie before – except this year is the first “peak” since 2019 not in the shadow of COVID, and the first post-pandemic “peak” during which Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s top people can really show whether they can match the positive hype they’re all tasked with disseminating.

The challenge for the mailing community, of course, is sorting the facts from the background of reassuring optimism – but there are two reasons for a little confidence this year. First, the leadership and staff of the functional silos established by the PMG’s early 2021 reorganization have had a chance to settle into their roles and focus on their assignments rather than on whether to bid on another vacant position.  The silo executives also seem to have grasped the pitfalls of failing to work collectively for the common goal of institutional success – at least, they say so – and claim to have pushed the doctrine of cross-functional collaboration down their lines of sight to field managers.

Second, again, if the talk is to be believed, the concept of using data to measure performance, identify problems, and effect corrective action promptly seems to have taken root.  Data about activity in the agency’s processing facilities and at many post offices has been available for some time, but now there seems to be an appreciation for the information that the inflow of data can provide.  In turn, functional executives appear to clearly understand what data-driven visibility can enable, and have established processes to measure, monitor, and manage operations, logistics, and delivery accordingly.


There are two areas where confidence isn’t as well-founded.

First, the people doing the real work are the same unionized workforce that’s been in place for decades.  Despite the PMG’s schmoozing them, and asking them to “think of the efficiencies of the agency,” there’s no reason to believe their insulation from the consequences of minimal performance will inspire a new and improved work ethic this year.

Second, the current leadership believes in controlling the message, so no matter how the USPS performs, it’ll be described in the most positive terms possible.  The institution’s apparent policy – spin is better than transparency and candor – likely will be manifest in more self-congratulatory press releases that will tap an ample supply of excuses as needed. So, will the USPS really do better this “peak” than last year?  Probably.  If they don’t, will we get an honest accounting of what didn’t go as planned?  Probably not.

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