GCA, USPS, Differ Over Information Request

In an August 14 filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Greeting Card Association moved for the issuance of an official information request as part of the Public Inquiry on Changes Associated with the Delivering For America Plan (Docket No. PI2023-4).

Motion and opposition

The GCA explained the reasons for its motion:

“The DfA plan depends pervasively on certain projections. … It postulates that by 2030 market-dominant mail volume will decline by 37 percent and package volume will increase by about seven percent.  The plans for reconfiguring processing, transportation, and delivery facilities and operations necessarily conform to these projections.  At a finer level of detail, the DfA report (p. 42) states that the projected decline in market-dominant mail will result from substitution of electronic media for physical mail, and that the presumed rate of substitution is consistent with what the Postal Service has observed over the last decade.  Why the same trend should be expected to continue is not discussed.

“Nowhere in the report are the assumptions, methods, and data sources underlying these projections disclosed.

“It is GCA’s view that unless these projections are fully explained and the reasoning governing them made clear, the entire DfA plan cannot be evaluated.  Not all aspects of the plan can be expected to come before the Commission in an advisory opinion case … . … Consequently, the projections should be explained and justified in this proceeding.

“GCA therefore respectfully requests the issuance of an Information Request containing (at least) the following questions:

‘1. Please explain fully the method(s) used to develop the projections contained in Delivering for America, including (without limitation) projections of (a) market-dominant volume, by product, (b) competitive product volume, by product, (c) the rate of substitution of electronic media for market-dominant mail (referred to on p. 42 of Delivering for America), (d) the revenues anticipated from the volumes projected under (a) and (b) above, and (e) the additional costs anticipated from execution of the DfA plan.

‘2. Please provide all workpapers, analyses, or studies prepared by or for the Postal Service which support or evaluate the projections referred to in question 1.  If in any instance no such workpaper, analyses, or studies exist please explain why they were not prepared.’

“GCA further respectfully requests that: (1) the requested information be produced publicly, to the extent consistent with law and applicable Commission policy; (2) information generated by spreadsheets be produced in Microsoft Excel or (if necessary) another easily available spreadsheet format; and (3) any formulas embedded in the spreadsheets be preserved in the response.”

As would be expected, the Postal Service promptly objected, claiming in a lawyerly August 17 response that

“… GCA’s Motion should be denied on the bases that the information requested is outside the stated purpose of these proceedings, would not advance a legitimate regulatory objective within the scope of the Commission’s authority, unjustifiably intrudes on Postal Service managerial independence, and impermissibly seeks to revisit previously rejected arguments for regulating market-dominant rates. … “GCA’s requests are not only outside the scope of this docket but an improper infringement on Postal Service managerial independence and should, therefore, be denied. …”

An inquiry

The current docket was opened on April 20 as a simple “inquiry” about The Plan, and not to render an advisory opinion or rule on any element of The Plan.  As the PRC then stated,

“… the Commission notes that stakeholders have expressed concerns regarding a lack of a forum to explore the impacts of these proposed changes.  The Commission previously found that an advisory opinion on the entirety of the Postal Service Strategic Plan was not warranted.  The instant docket is not intended as an advisory opinion process on the Postal Service Strategic Plan.  However, the Commission finds it beneficial to the interest of transparency to provide a forum to learn more about these strategic plan initiatives that may have a significant impact on the postal community.  Accordingly, the Commission opens this Public Inquiry to provide a forum to seek additional information about the planned S&DCs, as well as other planned initiatives associated with the Postal Service Strategic Plan.”

The Postal Service did not appreciate the PRC’s action or the visibility that it would provide, stating in a 33-page May 5 motion for reconsideration that the commission’s order opening the docket

“… fails to identify a statutory basis that would establish the Commission’s authority for this unprecedented level of review and oversight.  No such basis was identified because no such basis exists.

“Congress did not intend to give the Commission unfettered oversight into every aspect of the postal system or unfettered access into the deliberations and strategic thinking of Postal Service management and the Board of Governors. …

“The Commission lacks authority to initiate this Docket.  The Postal Service, therefore, respectfully requests that the Commission reconsider and withdraw Order No. 6488, as it is based on a material error of law.”

Despite the Postal Service’s overwrought outrage that the PRC would be so bold as to question The Plan, the commission rejected the USPS motion on June 21, stating that

“As an initial matter, the Commission finds that the Postal Service’s Motion is premature.  The Commission has merely opened a docket, creating a forum to learn more about strategic plan initiatives that may have a significant impact on the postal community.  The Commission has not issued any orders or directed the Postal Service to take any action in this proceeding.  By opening this inquiry, the Commission has not required the Postal Service to delay the implementation of any DFA Plan initiatives or required the Postal Service to postpone further strategic planning. … Furthermore, and as commenters have noted, the Postal Service may object to individual questions when they are asked. …”

As readers know, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy released his 10-Year Plan 27 months ago without any noticeable input or review outside the walls of USPS Headquarters.

Since then, as statutorily required, the USPS has followed the process for rate increases and has sought advisory opinions (which it has ignored) where mandated.  Otherwise, the agency has been clever, framing The Plan as simply “a broad guiding vision” – nothing warranting PRC review – and has pursued each initiative included in The Plan individually. In doing so, the USPS has sought to avoid having The Plan reviewed as a whole, as the GCA now wants done.  In an upcoming decision, the PRC will decide whether the Postal Service’s strategy to avoid transparency is succeeding.

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