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February 14, 2022

U.S. House Oversight Panel Convenes in Baltimore as Postal Delays Persist

Credit: Maryland Matters, Bennett Leckrone

Baltimore’s mail delivery rates have consistently been among worst in the country — and as members of Congress look to tackle Postal Service delays nationwide, lawmakers convened a hearing about chronic mail delays in the city Monday.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which has been probing postal service shortcomings since changes enacted during the Trump administration, convened the field hearing at the University of Baltimore to examine the root causes and potential solutions to slow mail service in the region.

Subcommittee Chair Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said that, although on-time delivery rates have improved in recent months, the standards for those rates were also recently changed to allow more time to deliver some first-class mail.

“The Postal Service added an extra day or two to some first class mail delivery standards giving the Postal Service extra time to deliver the mail and still count it as on time, even though from the customer’s point of view it’s two or three days later than it used to be,” Connolly said.

Connolly likened the change to “moving the goalposts so close that the kicker couldn’t possibly miss.”

An audit by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service released last November found significant delays in mail delivery in the Baltimore region.

OIG found a collective 972,457 pieces of delayed mail during visits to nine post offices between June 22-24. The OIG also found that only three out of 33 types of products met their service target at least one week between Oct. 4 through July 2.

According to the OIG’s service performance dashboard, the Baltimore region had one of the lowest on-time delivery dates for first-class single-piece mail designated for three to five day delivery at 63.2%. The Capital region, which includes southern Maryland and the Washington D.C., suburbs, was also among the lowest in the country on that metric at 67%.

The OIG’s November report included recommendations for Postal Service officials in Maryland, like setting up a new system to finish the removal process for part-time mail carriers who are no longer employed, hiring and retaining an adequate number of mail carriers, and opening a third carrier training academy in the region.

OIG Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audit Melinda Perez told lawmakers Monday that Baltimore Postal Service officials had either fully implemented or were working to implement the report’s recommendations. And Eric Gilbert, the acting postmaster in Baltimore, said the Postal Service opened a new local training academy that reduced staffing shortages — but said employee absences and high turnover are to blame for continuing mail delay. He added that the Postal Service hired 267 employees between October and December to prepare for the high-demand holiday season.

Rictarsha Westmoreland, a mail processing clerk for the U.S. Postal Service and shop steward for the American Postal Workers Union, said poor training of managers and lack of staffing continue to be a challenge for postal workers.

“The problems we face — disrespectful management, a flawed onboarding process, and chronic understaffing — are reversible,” Westmoreland said.

In addition to Connolly and other members of the subcommittee who appeared remotely, several Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation appeared at the hearing: U.S. Reps. Kweisi Mfume C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John P. Sarbanes appeared in person, while U.S. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Jamie B. Raskin and David Trone appeared remotely.

Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) also attended in person.

Mfume pressed Gilbert on whether he could guarantee faster mail delivery in Baltimore. Gilbert said he’s “working toward continuous improvement” and said he’s working to more quickly hire and train postal workers, as well as crack down on absenteeism.

“But you can’t guarantee it?” Mfume asked.

“Not at this time,” Gilbert said.

Mfume and other lawmakers blamed some of the delays on cutbacks and other policies implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, like cutting back on overtime for postal workers and removing mailboxes, and called for his resignation or removal.

DeJoy, a logistics executive and ally to former President Donald Trump, was appointed as postmaster general in 2020. Among DeJoy’s changes during his tenure at the Postal Service is a massive rollback of mail services that increases delivery times for some first-class mail.

“Postmaster DeJoy has to step down,” Mfume said. “He’s got to go. He has repeatedly thumbed his nose at every attempt to try to bring about a process to show him the error of his ways.”

Van Hollen likewise said he believes DeJoy “needs to be replaced.”

Westmoreland said that she wants to see standards for delivery returned to what they were before DeJoy’s cuts.

“Even if we are able to start meeting our performance targets, The United States Postal Service will still be lower than the public deserves until we return to the 2012 service standards,” Westmoreland said.

The hearing came after the House of Representatives gave bipartisan approval to legislation meant to overhaul the Postal Service’s finances last week. That legislation, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), would require Postal Service retirees to enroll in Medicare and would eliminate the requirement that the agency fund retiree benefits by 75 years in advance; the funding requirement is unique among federal agencies and strains the postal service’s budget.

Maloney, appearing virtually at the hearing Monday, said the bill would save the Postal Service $50 billion over the next 10 years.