Multiple crises over the past year created an unprecedented level of chaos at the U.S. Postal Service. The service has been disrupted by political disputes over mail-in ballots; removal of street mail boxes, mail sorting machines, and barcode readers; COVID-related illnesses among postal employees; and a much higher volume of mail and packages due to the pandemic. Some of the causes of chaos were deliberate and avoidable.
First, there was the dispute over mail-in ballots. Due to the pandemic, many voters chose to cast their ballots by mail rather than wait in long lines to vote by person. While the USPS has been removing mail sorting machines on an annual basis due to reduced volume of first-class mail, the removal of such machines was accelerated to a far higher rate in August 2020 than in previous years.
At the same time that mail sorting machines were disappearing, the USPS also continued to remove blue mail boxes from streets in towns and cities across the country. In a single week, over 30 mailboxes were removed from the streets of Portland and Eugene, OR. New York, Pennsylvania and Montana all encountered similar removals. Mail carriers were ordered to eliminate overtime and extra trips previously relied upon to prevent mail delays. Pushback from the public and members of Congress led to these and other cost-saving measures implemented by Postmaster General Louis De Joy to be reversed, at least for a few months. And while some ballots for the November 2020 election were delivered late, most were eventually accounted for. However, cutbacks during the critical late months of 2020 led to further chaos at the U.S. Postal Service during the holidays.
Generally, the USPS has a good track record delivering mail and packages during the holidays, but this year proved to be the exception. Some packages simply got stuck at substations throughout the country, arriving weeks later. Checks, prescription medicine, important bills got caught up in the delays. Holiday gifts arrived late. And the service still has not recovered from chaos at the U.S. Postal Service.
Louis De Joy, a fundraiser and ally of the former president, was appointed Postmaster General by the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service in May 2020 and began his tenure in June, replacing the previous PG, Megan Brennan. His background is in logistical management, and he is a top fundraiser for the Republican Party. At the start of his tenure, he implemented a shake-up of top USPS executives. He has told postal employees that further streamlining and cost-saving measures lie ahead.
Cost-saving and streamlining measures are only effective if they lead to good or better service, but so far, this has not been the case. Criticism is mounting over continuing mail delays. While only the Board of Governors has the authority to hire and fire the Postmaster General, there are several vacancies on the Board, which could be filled by President Joe Biden.
U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), however, is asking for more. In a letter dated Jan. 25, 2021, he has requested that the President fire the entire current Board of Directors. “After several years of unprecedented sabotage, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is teetering on the brink of collapse… (while) the USPS Board of Governors sat silent. Their dereliction cannot now be forgotten. Therefore, I urge you to fire the entire Board of Governors and nominate a new slate of leaders to begin the hard work of rebuilding our Postal Service for the next century.”
It is unclear whether the President has the immediate authority to do this. Members of the Board, including the Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General, can only be fired for cause. Whatever happens, it is clear that the future will hold continuing chaos at the U.S. Postal Service without intervention.
Here’s why the Postal Service wanted to remove hundreds of mail-sorting machines by Jacob Bogage and Christopher Ingraham. The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 2020
House Democrat Calls on Biden To Fire Entire Postal Service Board of Governors by Alison Durkee. Forbes, Jan. 25, 2021
How Biden Can Save the USPS by Jake Bittle. The Nation, Jan. 7, 2021
Is Amazon Bad for the Postal Service? Or its Savior? by Ned Wingfield. New York Times, April 4, 2018.
Mr. President: The U.S. Postal Service Needs a Thorough Housecleaning, Starting at the Top by Editorial Board. Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 25, 2021
Pascrell Calls on Biden to Fire Entire USPS Board of Governors. Congressman Bill Pascrell, press office, Jan. 25, 2021
Postal Service Will Stop Removing Mailboxes by Jacob Bogage. The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2021
There’s No End in Sight: Mail Delivery Delays Continue Across the Country by Quinn Klinefelter. NPR, Jan. 22, 2021
USPS Removes Thousands of Mailboxes Each Year; in 2020, Mail-in Ballots Make it Political. USA Today
U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, 9th District of New Jersey
Wikipedia. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
Wikipedia. Postmaster General Megan Brennan