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Postal service seeks efficiency over speed

During the nearly 12 years I have lived at my current address, up until about three weeks ago, I had never gone a day without some kind of mail showing up in my mailbox.

In the past three weeks, however, there have been three days when my mailbox was empty. Is it coincidence that these dry spell days have coincided with new procedures being introduced at the U.S. Postal Service?

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” says the famous Postal Service creed derived from the Ancient Greek Herodotus etched into the concrete above the New York City post office.

Did you notice the word “swift”? Assuming you are having the same frustrations that I am when it comes to mail delivery, you are probably wondering what’s going on. Why is the mail so slow?

“We have a situation where people are going days without the mail,” said state Sen. Vin Gopal, a New Jersey Democrat. “People rely on the United States Postal Service for a lot of crucial services. Obviously, technology has changed a lot, but a lot of people get their medication, they pay their bills - especially a lot of seniors. They still use the Postal Service, and I think that’s kind of unacceptable, especially in the middle of COVID.”

Could all of this be tied to directives issued by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy when he took over the job in early June? DeJoy told employees in a video message that what he called a “trajectory for success” would depend on the USPS focusing on creating a workable operating model that fulfills its public service mission. OK. So far, so good.

But then his introductory message has been followed by other orders that seem to fly in the face of his stated mission. Postal workers have been told that the agency is the midst of what has been characterized as a long-delayed “operational pivot.”

When you scratch away all of the underbrush concealing the translation of such a phrase, it means that overtime will be eliminated, late-arriving mail will be left behind by carriers and delivered the next day, and other cost-cutting measures will be undertaken to make the USPS more efficient and put it on a road to long-term sustainability.

It’s no secret that the Postal Service has been hemorrhaging money for years, but to put these policies into place in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and with an important presidential election coming up where mail-in balloting will be front and center does not make any sense whatsoever.

If a person were of a conspiratorial mindset, he or she might conclude that this was yet another move to improve the chances of President Donald Trump winning a second term in the White House, because the consensus is that heavy mail-in voting will favor his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Warning flags are up all over the place because the pandemic is likely to exponentially increase the number of mailed-in ballots for the Nov. 3 general election. In addition to local election officials, mail service must be up to the task, too. These cuts will likely make mail delivery slower and less reliable, so voters will need to request and send their ballots with significant lead time. Some election officials are warning to plan on a minimum two-week turnaround.

Delays in mailing ballots to registered voters and returning them to election bureaus could result in thousands of them not being counted because of missed deadlines.

Each state sets its own voting protocols. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, the ballot must arrive to be counted by the close of polls (8 p.m. in Pennsylvania); in others, the envelope must be postmarked by a certain date to be valid, meaning that ballots will still be counted days after Election Day, but ballots must be received by a week after the election.

To give credence to the alleged motivation for the new postmaster general’s directives, critics point to the fact that DeJoy was and is a major donor to President Trump’s presidential campaigns, and he has made significant donations to other Republicans.

DeJoy is the 75th postmaster general in a list that dates back to the first one, Pennsylvania’s own Benjamin Franklin, in 1775, before the Revolution. The Post Office Department was created in 1792, five years after the ratification of the Constitution.

Traditionally a nonpolitical institution that is part of the executive branch, the USPS has become less so under the Trump administration. The president has called the agency “a joke” and insisted it must increase postal rates for big users such as Amazon, which, he said, is getting preferential treatment. If not, Trump said, there will be no emergency aid or loans for the Postal Service.

As social media have cut into the USPS’ business, and competition has grown, the agency has lost money for at least the past eight years and has been propped up by federal subsidies.

Today’s Postal Service is a far cry from its glory days. I remember when I was a teenager growing up in Summit Hill, our carrier delivered mail twice a day - once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I also was a special delivery boy for the Summit Hill Post Office. For a small fee, your mail would be guaranteed for overnight delivery. Kind of like a back-in-the-day version of Amazon Prime.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com