WASHINGTON – Challenges with the cash-strapped United States Postal Service have led many Americans to lose their wits during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in communities that rely on the mail for essential goods.
Yet despite concerns from members of Congress that recent service changes affect rural communities more than urban centers, a new report from the US Government Accountability Office found few significant differences in USPS on-time delivery rates between these locations.
“The report validates expectations that there are few differences in service performance for urban and rural areas,” Angela Curtis, USPS vice president of delivery operations, said in a written response to the report from the GAO, a watchdog. of the government.
The financial viability of the Postal Service has been on the GAO’s High Risk List since 2009. The GAO said that, in response, the Postal Service recently “made changes to its operations designed to restore financial self-sufficiency.”
New Hampshire Senator Request
Senator Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire and a member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, has consistently stressed the importance of mail service to rural communities since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Hassan asked the GAO to examine performance differences between rural and urban areas.
“I am concerned that USPS efforts to address financial and operational challenges in recent years have disproportionately affected rural communities,” Hassan said in his January 2020 request letter to the GAO.
“I hear regularly from our constituents about various mail delivery issues, from transit time appearing to be longer than USPS reports, to mail not being delivered at all.”
GAO auditors analyzed on-time delivery performance for the four largest USPS mail types by volume from October 2020 through December 2021.
The team specifically looked at data for first-class mail, marketing mail, and periodic and package deliveries. These categories together comprise more than 90 percent of USPS mail volume and more than half of USPS revenue, according to the GAO report, released Jan. 12.
At the national and regional levels, the auditors found no differences of 5 percent or more in the on-time delivery rate between urban and rural areas for any of the postal products studied.
At the postal district level, they found no difference of 5 percent or more in on-time package delivery rates between urban and rural areas.
The GAO did cite that eight of the 50 ZIP districts across the country had a difference of 5 percent or more in the on-time mail delivery rate of periodicals, which varied between urban and rural areas.
Districts in which regular on-time USPS deliveries occurred 5 percent or more frequently in rural areas than in urban areas included Louisiana, Georgia, southern Florida, northern Illinois, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
In Hawaii and the district comprising Massachusetts and Rhode Island, on-time periodic deliveries occurred 5 percent or more frequently in urban areas than in rural areas.
The USPS justified this disparity to the GAO by noting that “periodicals arrive at the facility multiple times a day, which can create a staffing conflict between the package and periodic delivery.” The USPS reported that it plans to advance the time periodicals enter the mail system to minimize these delays.
The GAO also found that Hawaii was the only state with a 5 percent or more split in the on-time delivery rate of first-class mail and marketing between urban and rural areas, favoring urban areas.
The authors said the USPS attributed this difference to the fact that Hawaii brings the mail by ship and plane. These modes of mail transportation can create problems for rural service due to limited cargo space, according to USPS officials cited in the report.
Lack of demographic tracking
In the same report, the GAO found that after the USPS makes service and operational changes, administrators do not have a system to collect data on the impacts on demographic groups.
In 2021, the USPS implemented two nationwide adjustments to service standards, extending the time carriers could take to deliver first-class mail and periodicals, along with first-class packages. The auditors found that USPS modeled the effects this change would have on rural areas before consulting the Postal Regulatory Commission for an advisory opinion, as required by federal law.
However, the GAO also found that after these service changes were implemented, the USPS used its existing software to monitor the impacts, which does not account for urban and rural differences in delivery performance.
The report authors also discussed three major USPS operational changes impacting rural communities in 2021. These changes included consolidating facilities, optimizing delivery routes, and reducing carrier trips by merging trips priority and regular Operational changes within the USPS do not require approval from postal regulators.
The GAO found that while the USPS consulted with agency stakeholders about the impacts on rural service before making these changes, again, they did not monitor the effects on delivery performance after the changes were made. changes. USPS officials told the GAO that since these changes did not expect any effect on rural deliveries, the agency did not monitor the impacts in these communities.