Post Office to Get Slower, More Expensive

Friday will mark a new era in mail delivery.

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USA Today (“USPS mail delivery is about to get permanently slower and temporarily more expensive“):

Starting Friday, the Postal Service will “implement new service standards for First Class Mail and Periodicals,” spokeswoman Kim Frum said in an email to USA TODAY.

The changes mean an increased time-in-transit for mail traveling long distances, such as from New York to California. Frum said that “most first class mail (61%) and periodicals (93%) will be unaffected” by the changes. Single-piece first-class  mail traveling within the same region will still have a delivery time of two days.

The Postal Service defines first-class mail as “standard sized letters and flats,” Frum said. That’s different from first-class packages, which are typically used for shipping smaller, lightweight packages. Currently, first-class mail and first-class packages have the same delivery standards, but that will change beginning Friday.

It honestly makes sense that letters and packages and short- and long-distance mail would have different delivery times.

The changes to service standard times are part of the Postal Service’s 10-year strategic plan, which was announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in March. The plan has drawn heavy criticism from elected officials.

It seems odd that drastic changes like this can be made without approval from Congress. But USPS is in a bizarre, quasi-public status.

DeJoy took his position in June 2020 despite no previous Postal Service experience. The position of postmaster general is not appointed or nominated by a president but rather appointed by the independent Postal Service Board of Governors

DeJoy is rightly a controversial figure but his lack of previous USPS experience struck me as an odd critique. Not only is it common for people to head major agencies, including the Defense and State Department, without previous experience working there but DeJoy spent his career in the logistics business. He was hardly unqualified. But, interestingly, most recent Postmaster Generals had been career USPS employees. DeJoy’s immediate predecessors graduated college, went to work as letter carriers or sorting clerks, and worked their way up the system. Two had master’s degrees from MIT’s Sloan School of Business.

The Postal Service has been riddled by financial problems for years, and the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation. 

By making this change, Frum said, “the Postal Service can entrust its ground network to deliver more First-Class Mail, which will lead to great consistency, reliability and efficiency that benefits its customers … whether it’s 300 miles or 3,000 miles, the current standard for (first-class packages) require 3-day service for any destination within the contiguous U.S. with a drive time greater than six hours. This is unattainable and forces us to rely on air transportation, yielding unreliable service. With this change, we will improve service reliability and predictability for customers while also driving efficiencies across the Postal Service network.”

Because Amazon uses USPS for so many of its packages and provides free tracking, I’m bemused at the byzantine processes they use. The other day, a small package took three days to work its way up from the Carolinas, took a detour to Baltimore (about 40 minutes’ drive from us), then went to Dulles (about 20 minutes’ drive from us), to Springfield (about 20 minutes on the other side of us), to Merrifield (about 20 minutes in yet a different direction), and finally to us. I’m sure there’s a logic to this process but the package spent three days driving around the local area—longer than it took to work its way from the Carolinas.

Regardless, as noted here many times, it makes no sense for Congress to expect the Postal Service to simultaneously deliver mail to rural Alaska and the next house over at the same rates, on the notion that it’s an essential public utility, and also to be revenue-neutral, because it’s a business, while also demanding that they pre-fund their pension plan, well, just because. Something obviously has to give.

Additionally, starting Oct. 3 through Dec. 26, the Postal Service will temporarily increase prices on all commercial and retail domestic packages because of the holiday season and its increase in mail volume. Those price increases will not affect international products, Frum said.

Of course, all of this just makes USPS the carrier of last resort for those with options.

It’s been a very long time, now, since I had any idea what a postage stamp costs. When I was a kid, I remember the price hikes from 8 cents to 10 cents to 13 cents. (The latter happened in the space of three months in 1975.) They apparently just went up to 58 cents. But I’ve been buying “Forever” stamps for what seems like, well, forever and I can’t even remember the last time I did so.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Government
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    Of course, all of this just makes USPS the carrier of last resort for those with options.

    That is intentional. DeJoy wants to destroy the ability of USPS to compete with private enterprise. In the process he is severely damaging small businesses that rely on USPS. Mailing times are now completely unpredictable.

    He is also a walking conflict of interest, holding $30-$75 million in the stock of a contractor of USPS when appointed and refusing to divest for months. While he ultimately did divest under heavy pressure, that contractor, XPO Logistics, was recently awarded a $120 Million USPS contract while still paying DeJoy and his family businesses over $2 million a year in rent.

    Don’t forget this move:

    SPS slowdowns have been a recurring issue since the summer, when DeJoy implemented a slew of cost-cutting measures that suddenly and severely degraded delivery services. His policies prohibited delivery trucks from waiting for late mail or making extra trips, dismantled sorting machines, cut overtime, and reduced hours at retail post office locations. Predictably, these changes created massive backlogs and rapidly diminished on-time delivery rates. During the 2020 presidential election, a USPS filing showed major slowdowns in swing states for first-class service, the delivery status assigned to mail ballots. NBC found that between 25,000 and 50,000 ballots likely came in too late to be counted due to poor USPS service.

    This is *another* example of McConnell’s ratfucking the country as he refused to consider or approve Obama’s appointments to the Board of Governors, allowing Trump to stack the Board to get DeJoy, a major Trump donor, appointed.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    James, this is merely the latest iteration of the tactics of your man, Ronald Reagan. Put a lobbyist in charge of an agency so they can work to do maximum harm, then use the resulting public dissatisfaction to promote privatization, i.e. a massive give away to Republican patrons.

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    USPS’s financial problems extend entirely from the fact there is a ridiculous rule requiring them to prefund their entire pension for 75 years.

    To put that in perspective, they’re being forced to set aside funds for future employees who won’t even be born for two decades from now.

    No other company has to do this, because if they did, they’d all be bankrupt.

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  4. Kathy says:

    If you privatize the USPS, can then postal services from other countries set up shop in the US as competition?

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  5. Franklin says:

    The Post Office is established in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers. Conservatives typically worship that doc and those people. Why aren’t they protecting this institution?

    Second: it’s a public service, not a business. If it needs funding from Congress, so be it. In any case, they should raise the bulk rates because literally no one needs junk mail.

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  6. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: I dunno, but I hope one of the countries considered wouldn’t be Korea. On my second job, my employer required transcripts from my farming community situated university. Express mail service from and to that area was two days 20 years ago, but time was of the essence, so I paid for expedited handling:
    To Spokane day one, left day two.
    Busan the following day, Korea Mail Express service awaiting customs clearance
    Clears customs the following day.
    Arrives Daegu Express Mail station (3 blocks from the school) 10 days later. (Daegu is 2 hours from Busan on the express train, I would have bought my letter a ticket had I only known.)
    Delivered the following day.

    USPS could be monumentally incomptent and still look better.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    @Franklin:

    The Post Office is established in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers.

    The early history of the postal service in court is interesting. At the time, post offices were places where mail was held for people to pick up. Post roads were generally used by private companies transporting mail. There were a number of cases that established the federal government had authority to transport mail between post offices and to deliver mail. My favorite was the one that allowed the use of ships — being neither a post office, nor the ocean a post road — to move mail from South Carolina to Boston.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:
    @Michael Cain:

    The first airlines in the US started out carrying air mail for the USPS, adding passenger service on the same flights later.

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  9. dazedandconfused says:

    The USPS should consider ending the mandate of daily delivery to all addresses. Going every-other day would roughly halve the number of delivery vehicles and drivers needed. There are now several other ways ASAP correspondence to happen. They should focus on remaining the cheapest way to deliver packages, not the quickest.

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  10. just nutha says:

    @dazedandconfused: I dunno. My mailbox is so small that if I don’t take out the mail every day, some of it gets smashed up by the new mail the following day. And I see no particular evidence that the letter carrier would be more cautious with a larger handful to begin with.

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  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    Maybe Dejoy is just part of of the W.A.S.T.E. conspiracy and what we’re witnessing is the final victory of Trystero over Thurn und Taxis.

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