Everyone is familiar with “the dog ate my homework” as characterizing any proffered excuse that falls short of being an adequate explanation for the related circumstance. (Pity the poor kid whose dog really did eat his homework.) The latest example is in one of the Postal Service’s weekly news releases bragging about its “stable” service performance. In the December 11 release, the agency stated:
“Operational disruptions within our network, including insourcing of several Surface Transfer Centers after a supplier bankruptcy, and the extended shutdown of a critical St. Louis, MO processing facility due to a mercury leak from an illegally shipped package resulting in a lengthy decontamination period, have and will continue to negatively impact our service performance scores through the end of this month.
“Additionally, as anticipated, we have seen and will continue to experience a significant growth in package volume throughout the nation during this peak season time period.
“That noted, we have effectively managed these expected increased package volumes along with the unexpected network disruptions outside our control as demonstrated by our continuing ability to deliver mail and packages to 98% of the nation’s population in less than three days. In fact, approximately 59% of mail and packages are delivered a day in advance of the specified service standard, and approximately 96% of all mail and packages are delivered within a day of its specified service standard, which evidences our ability to rapidly adjust to all conditions. The very small percentage of mail that is not delivered within this time frame is often the result of broader staffing and hiring issues within the local economies that we are working aggressively to address.”
The agency cited four issues to explain the service performance it reported that week: changes in STC operations; a mercury leak at the St Louis NDC; package volume; and staffing challenges. Though all presumably were mitigated by its “ability to rapidly adjust to all conditions,” the agency’s claim is inconsistent with the delays it’s anticipating.
Enter the dog
In light of how frequently the Postal Service touts its operational “precision” and discipline under the Postmaster General’s oft-cited 10-Year Plan, many observers found the agency’s admissions in a press release atypical, given its usual self-laudatory public statements. The USPS rarely acknowledges any glitches in its transportation, processing, or delivery networks, or shortfalls in service performance, let alone provide background for why those occurred.
In this case, however, the explanations read more like unpersuasive excuses for circumstances that other agency publicity would have customers believe shouldn’t have been a significant issue – given their ability to “rapidly adjust.”
Redundancy and disaster recovery plans seem to have been lacking if the “disruptions” at “several” STCs and at the St Louis NDC are the cause for decreased service “through the end of the month.” Arguably, though a network would be impacted to a degree by the loss of any facility, timely implementation of alternatives (identified through pre-planning) should enable adjusting to compensate and keep service disruptions to much less than three weeks.
As for package volume – which the Postal Service has been citing as critical to its future financial stability – it would appear that the noted increase exceeded planned capacity, whether for transportation, processing, or delivery. Again, observers are left to question why the USPS wasn’t prepared to handle greater package volume – during “peak” or otherwise – particularly since it’s aggressively seeking it.
Similarly, whether the proportion of mail “that is not delivered” when it should be is “very small” or not doesn’t alter the disruption to the affected customers whose mailed messages are receiving substandard service. The USPS has been using staffing shortages for months as an excuse for localized service issues but has yet to adopt any effective solutions.
Service for First-Class Mail has been poor – worse than for Marketing Mail – ever since the USPS began its weekly proclamations (service for Periodicals has been even worse) and service for all three reported classes has been sliding sharply since last summer – long before the STCs and the St Louis NDC problems.
Next we’ll be hearing how service is being impacted by holiday volume (allegedly already anticipated by “peak” planning), by snowfall someplace, by airport delays, or transitions to new network facilities. Any irregular operations will be the excuse for service impacts nationwide and for all classes. The question from ratepayers and commercial mailers is how long the USPS expects them to believe “the dog ate my homework” excuses before purposeful and effective remedial actions – not press releases – are put into place.
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