In today’s political climate, all of us see a constant flow of news that, depending on the outlet, is colored by the opinions of the presenter. While people can argue over “fake news,” the existence of skewed news is easier to confirm: it stresses, or minimizes, adds or omits, points that help or hurt the subject of the story. Where the truth lies is seldom easy to discern as a result.
Many of us in the postal world are seeing first-hand how the circumstances of the Postal Service have been sucked into the whirl of Washington politics – and media reports – where “facts” and quotes are assembled to provide the reader with the impression the writer intends. The fairly small community of postal wonks may know (more or less) the facts of the Postal Service’s situation, but for most of America’s population, what’s really going on likely is hard to discern.
To read some stories, the president has packed the highest levels of the Postal Service with people who will not simply ready it for privatization but render it incapable of functioning to support voting by mail. Whether the facts would support such conclusions requires a concerted effort to find them amid the hyperbole.
Some things are clear.
1. For his own reasons, the president doesn’t support vote-by-mail.
2. Likely because of opinions about the prices for parcels from China and the rates paid by major shippers, about which he disagreed with former Postmaster General Megan Brennan, he has a dim view of the USPS, even at one point calling it a “joke.”
3. Because of political spats before he was elected, the USPS Board of Governors ran out of members, so the president had the opportunity to nominate six individuals to populate it.
4. Late in 2019, the board had to start looking for a new Postmaster General following Megan Brennan’s decision to retire at the end of January 2020. Months passed, and Brennan stayed on. Finally, on May 6, the board announced her successor, Louis DeJoy; he was sworn in on June 15.
However, Governor David Williams, the former Inspector General, resigned from the Board at the end of April, reportedly over the political nature of the search for a new PMG. In later statements, Williams added that he felt the selection process was being manipulated for political reasons and that DeJoy’s selection was pushed by other members of the board.
Looking at the circumstances surrounding his selection, it was easy to assume he was the president’s man, chosen by the president’s nominees to the board, and installed at the USPS to bend the agency to his wishes. During the open session of the August Board of Governors meeting, DeJoy sought to dispel the doubts about his freedom from political influence, a position he repeated during Congressional hearings later that month. The truth in that may become evident as his tenure lengthens as his actions speak for themselves; so far, they’ve not spoken well.
Meanwhile, the politicization of the USPS continued, aided by the president’s injection of the agency into his opinions over voting by mail, but DeJoy has facilitated some of it himself. By July, he had issued a series of directives aimed at making the USPS more efficient, including cuts in overtime. Though reasonable to improve efficiency, the timing of DeJoy’s actions was bad, happening as the agency was impact by pandemic-related absenteeism and a loss of available air transportation for mail. The result was a dip in service that was widely reported and noted by legislators, as were comments by the president calling into question the agency’s ability to support vote-by-mail, supporting his opposition to the process. DeJoy was quickly portrayed as the president’s agent, sent by the White House to damage the USPS and disable the electoral process.
Stipulating for the moment that “truth” and politicians are often mutually exclusive, particularly during the run-up to elections, it might be best to conclude that the jury will evaluate DeJoy based on what he accomplishes that’s good for the USPS and its customers. Success or failure will be on him, and praise or damnation will follow.
Meanwhile, all of this has left the commercial mailing community – and its clients – somewhat concerned. Given the impact of the pandemic on mail volume and USPS finances, will it go broke? Will delivery service remain unpredictable? Will there be a drive to privatize the agency? Should clients still use the mail?
Simply put, the Postal Service’s general business condition is as it’s been for a decade. It’s not going to go broke or go out of business, but any meaningful stabilization of the USPS will require legislation that, judging from the current Congress, isn’t on the agenda. Privatization just wouldn’t be feasible for a variety of reasons, but interest in it, and opposition to it, will remain.
The Postal Service will continue to struggle with service so long as its transportation network is lacking in air capacity and its workforce is riddled with pandemic-related absenteeism. Service will vary based on local shortages of employees in processing facilities and delivery units. Mail will still be delivered but may take days longer than normal, and where delays will occur will be as unpredictable as where the virus will re-emerge.
Regardless, clients should remember that there’s less in the mailbox with which their messages must compete for attention. Mail producers have capacity waiting to be put to use. So, despite the politics and the doubts about where truth lies, hard-copy mail remains a valuable communications tool.
Leo Raymond is Owner and Managing Director at Mailers Hub LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.