Along for the Ride

Nearly three years into the reign of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, many in the commercial mail production business have conceded that their irrelevance to Postal Service leadership is now nearly total.  Accordingly, what they think or need matters virtually not at all at L’Enfant Plaza, and, as a result, we’re all just along for the ride.

Where that ride is taking us, unfortunately, is nowhere good.

Lip service

In the thirty-one months since June 16, 2020, the Postal Service and its relationship to ratepayers have changed, some would argue, with good reason, for the worst.

The foreshadowing came when the PMG announced his 10-year Plan as a fait accompli, claiming it was the product of customer involvement, even though no one could identify when or with whom any such collaboration had occurred.

Separation of the sheep from the goats soon followed, with HQ and field executives who would not swear allegiance to The Plan no longer in the picture.  Similarly, anyone in the industry who questioned or criticized The Plan was ostracized as “irrelevant,” “noise,” or “resistance.”

As DeJoy observed early along, the USPS had “lost its voice” so, in a stark reversal, any information from the agency was reshaped into press releases spinning semi-accurate or misleading claims that would make a Madison Avenue adman proud.  Telling customers what it wanted them to believe became the strategy, hoping that disinformation produced consistently would morph into fact.

Service is strong and steady, we’re told every week, despite the experiences of mailers and their customers whose statements, advertisements, or publications take days longer to reach recipients than USPS “data” would suggest.

Price changes are “judicious,” we’re told, even as every penny of rate authority is used to maximize semi-annual price changes, and ratepayers seek alternatives to the mail. The Plan says the processing and delivery networks are going to be more efficient, but DeJoy himself recently commented “A lot of people say they don’t know exactly what we’re doing.  Well, neither do I.”  A high-level Plan is one thing; figuring out its implementation as-you-go is something else.

Mail – letters and flats – is important, we’re told, even as the Postal Service’s top executive dismisses mail volume loss as inevitable and has decided not to “chase” declining volumes of First-Class Mail, Marketing Mail, and Periodicals.  Industry and customer concerns (or reports) of even steeper volume decline in reaction to aggressive price hikes are dismissed as unfounded, even though the USPS itself has no hard data about its pricing policy’s impact on mailers and mail volume.

Meanwhile, as we’ve been told, and as changes underway demonstrate, the agency’s future is in packages – as if it could mount a real threat to competitors like UPS and FedEx.

To balance the Postal Service’s books, The Plan relies on not just price hikes, we’re told, but on cost reduction as well.  However, the PMG and his Deputy (who also leads HR) have agreed to another round of raises and COLAs in the latest labor contracts.  They’ve also converted tens of thousands of lower-cost temporary workers into higher-cost career employees, and have agreed to retain the contractual “no lay-off” clauses – even as mail volume declines.

Despite citing empty trucks moving “air” and the cost and inefficiency of delivery operations, the Plan will consolidate carriers into mega-facilities that require additional drive time to assigned routes.  Not only will this increase fuel costs, the added driving will detract from delivery time, resulting in more carriers driving more trucks.  Of course, the upside (to DeJoy) is that these new centers will have parcel-sorting machines to handle the predicted growth in package volume.

So what?

The Governors of the USPS could slow The Plan’s momentum, require more exploration of alternatives, and inhibit aggressive changes to price or service, but any interest in doing so is lacking.  They, too, know only what postal management tells them and, apparently, have no interest in other information sources or perspectives – even from the people who are paying the bills or their associations. None of the foregoing is news.  Customers and commercial mailers have seen and heard for themselves and, unless they’ve had too much of the PMG’s Kool-Aid, realize that the future of the Postal Service and the mailing industry is out of their hands.  Like it or not, we’re all just along for the ride.

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