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September 15, 2022

Audit: Western Maryland mail service less efficient after consolidation

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Brandon Glass

Mail processing operations are less efficient and service performance lower for Western Maryland since processing was moved to Baltimore in a cost-cutting move by the U.S. Postal Service in 2014, a report from the Office of the Inspector General’s Office shows.

The report, requested by U.S. Rep. David Trone, recommends a study to determine if moving mail processing operations for 3-digit ZIP codes beginning with 215 and 267 from the Baltimore Processing & Distribution Center to other processing facilities would be more efficient and effective, and provide better service performance.

The Postal Service, while considering a series of cost cutting measures in 2011, announced it would be seeking to consolidate and close mail processing facilities. A 2012 area mail processing study showed that consolidating the Cumberland Customer Service Mail Processing Center into the Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center would result in “tangible savings” and conform to “internal policies and procedures.”

The Cumberland processing center was consolidated in 2014 and a 2015 review found that the move had saved the postal service $8 million.

In February, Trone requested that the Inspector General’s Office examine delays and disruptions in mail delivery in Western Maryland.

Between April 1 and March 31, according to the report, “the Western Maryland area has received poor service performance for First‑Class, Marketing Mail and Priority Mail — receiving some of the lowest service performance scores in the Chesapeake Division.”

“Reliable postal service is critical for Western Maryland, where many lack broadband access and rely heavily on mail to pay bills and get prescriptions filled. I frequently hear from constituents who have had their mail delayed or even lost,” said Trone. “I’d like to thank the USPS Office of Inspector General for conducting a thorough investigation to get the ball rolling on this important issue. I am committed to seeing this through; we owe it to Western Marylanders to get this right.”

The report also found that there are multiple mail processing facilities in the area that are much closer to the Cumberland Post Office and can handle the necessary letters, flats and packages.

As things currently stand, mail sent from Cumberland travels 140 miles to Baltimore for sorting. If that same mail were to be sent to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for processing, it would be a 64-mile trip — a 76-mile difference. Pennwood Place, located in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, is 121 miles away.

According to the report, if Johnstown and Pennwood Place were to be used for processed mail for Western Maryland, “the distance to process letters and flats would be decreased, but the distance to process packages — using the existing routes — would be increased (by about 16 miles). However, using these existing routes would improve trailer utilization and further reduce transportation costs.”

The Johnstown processing center was also found to be more efficient than the Baltimore processing center. Johnstown processes 68% more letters and 33% more flats per work hour than Baltimore.

As part of the study, the Office of the Inspector General mailed 50 first-class pieces of mail from various postal facilities in Western Maryland to a post office box in the region. The result was 18% of the mail was never received or delivered to service standard.

The USPS management responded to the report, writing that it would include the region in its study as part of the Delivering for America plan.