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‘Ready to deliver election mail’: USPS memo reverses controversial changes

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 25, 2020

The USPS is reversing policies that have been blamed for delivery delays.  (John Minchillo)
The USPS is reversing policies that have been blamed for delivery delays. (John Minchillo)

The U.S. Postal Service has ordered its employees to reverse a policy blamed for mail delivery delays.

The decision was announced in an internal memo obtained by the Spokesman-Review. It also clarifies how the agency will handle mail-in ballots.

“The Postal Service’s number one priority between now and Election Day,” the document reads, “is the secure, on-time delivery of the nation’s Election Mail – and we are ready to deliver for our country.”

The memo, sent to managers on Thursday, was distributed throughout the agency’s workforce across the country, USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson confirmed. It appears to be part of an effort to comply with a nationwide injunction issued Sept. 17 by a federal judge in Yakima that requires the Postal Service to reverse changes implemented since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took the reins in mid-June.

DeJoy has said that some of the moves that have happened in his brief tenure – including the removal of mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes in some areas – were routine and had been set in motion before he was sworn in.

But the post office chief told House and Senate committees in August that he had ordered one change that contributed to a drop in on-time mail delivery. An effort to minimize late and extra trips by trucks delivering mail between facilities, which DeJoy identified as a chance for the agency to cut costs, resulted in mail sometimes being left behind.

DeJoy told lawmakers he expected the on-time delivery rate to rebound as the agency’s 630,000-strong workforce adjusted to the change. Documents he provided to Congress showed that had begun to happen, but delays persisted. With about a month to go before an election that will see an unprecedented level of mail-in voting due to the pandemic, Thursday’s memo indicated the Postal Service will prioritize on-time delivery over cost-cutting measures.

“Focusing on the transportation schedule does not mean that mail should be left behind – it should not,” the memo says. “Instead, processing and transportation schedules should be aligned to help reduce late deliveries and unnecessary costs.”

The so-called “stand-up talk” – a document managers typically read aloud at weekly meetings – was sent to USPS management nationwide and has also been circulated among American Postal Workers Union officials in Washington, APWU State President Ryan Harris said.

Harris, who also heads the union’s Wenatchee Area Local, welcomed the new orders but cautioned that the guidance – which tells managers to “use their best business judgment to meet service commitments” – could be hampered if local management positions are vacant, a problem in some Washington USPS facilities.

“It does look like the late and extra trucks being authorized will really help,” Harris said, “so mail won’t be left behind, as long as there’s someone there to authorize them.”

The memo states clearly that election mail will be expedited even if it is sent with bulk-rate postage, which Washington and other states typically use to send ballots to voters. It also directs postal workers to conduct daily “all clears” to ensure that no election mail is left behind at the end of each day.

The document reiterates a commitment DeJoy made Aug. 18, facing public outcry and pressure from lawmakers, to suspend the removal of collection boxes and sorting machines until after Nov. 3, “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

Democrats in Congress have also called for the USPS to reinstall sorting equipment that has been dismantled, but DeJoy insisted in an Aug. 24 House hearing that the machines are “not needed.”

After U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian ordered that the machines be reconnected, DeJoy argued in a Sept. 23 court filing that doing so was not possible, and the memo reiterated that stance.

“We have more than sufficient capacity to process current and anticipated mail volumes with our existing machine supply,” the document states. It goes on to say machines may be returned to service if headquarters or a regional vice president deem it necessary, but makes no commitment to do so.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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