The Postal Service Reform Act (PSRA) signed by President Biden on April 6 makes it harder to improve historically slow mail service and it passed over needed systemic overhauls.
At its core, PSRA is a bailout. It wipes away $57 billion in defaulted debt that the Postal Service has failed to pay for its Retiree Health Benefits Fund since 2011.
It will also institutionalize slow mail delivery.
Today it takes longer to send a first-class letter than in the 1970s. Mail delivery time standards were significantly slowed in both 2014 and 2021. The Postal Service has never met either of the slower standards. And recently, postal officials have been blunt in saying it will be years before the 2021 standards can be met, even with PSRA passed.
In early 2021, amid disastrous mail service, the Postal Service offered America a deal: more predictable, but longer delivery times. Specifically, in return for lengthening the target delivery times, or mail delivery standards, for 39 percent of first-class mail, 95 percent of all first-class mail would arrive on time. This means that 39 percent of first-class mail — personal letters, credit card payments, important legal and government documents — would take at least one day longer.
But while the Postal Service put the longer target delivery times in place on October 1, 2021, it now says it never intended for the 95 percent on-time delivery to be in effect on October 1, 2021. The service’s prior words and actions, however, tell a different story.
On March 23, 2021, in its 10-year strategic plan, Delivering for America, the service said, “Updated service standards will position us to achieve significant cost savings and provide service that meets or exceeds 95 percent on-time reliability.”
The service repeatedly told the Postal Regulatory Commission, which opened a docket on the service standards, that it would promptly meet them. The commission expressed skepticism about the Postal Service’s ability to do this when it issued an advisory opinion against the service proposal on July 20, 2021.
The first sign that the Postal Service did not intend to meet the new 95 percent standard came on November 10, 2021. That day, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said, “We will implement this standard change in the second quarter of this fiscal year and expect to reach our commitment of 95 percent on-time performance in fiscal year 2023.”
That target has been pushed back further. In a March 15, 2022, legal filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, the service now says, “The Postal Service intends to transition to 95 percent over several years as the infrastructure and network changes necessary to achieve this performance are implemented.”
This follows a disturbing pattern from 2014. Then, as now, the service pushed for lower standards. It never met the 2014 standards. The service seemingly has no intention of meeting the 2021 standards, either.
Postal reform legislation should have codified mail delivery standards, or at least required the Postal Service to state the costs of meeting the 2014 standards. Instead, it gives the service a complete pass.
There are other major omissions in PSRA.
PSRA does nothing to spur the service to better understand its costs so that it cut them where appropriate and more accurately charge customers for the actual cost of the product or service being used.
It also does not define the mission or Universal Service Obligation. It fails to significantly strengthen the Postal Service’s regulators and it does not address other defaults it has made on its pensions.
For the sake of the American people, Congress needs to start over on postal reform.