Internal USPS documents link changes behind mail slowdowns to top executives

A senior executive at the U.S. Postal Service delivered a PowerPoint presentation in July that pressed officials across the organization to make the operational changes that led to mail backups across the country, seemingly contradicting months of official statements about the origin of the plans, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post.

David E. Williams, the agency’s chief of logistics and processing operations, listed the elimination of late and extra mail trips by postal workers as a primary agency goal during the July 10 teleconference. He also told the group that he wanted daily counts on such trips, which had become common practice to ensure the timely delivery of mail. Several top-tier executives — including Robert Cintron, vice president of logistics; Angela Curtis, vice president of retail and post office operations; and vice presidents from the agency’s seven geographic areas — sat in.

In a statement to The Post, Williams said the slide show was meant to be “motivational” and encourage greater efficiency and accountability — not set new policy.

Yet the mail handling tactics were among several operational changes — including the removal of hundreds of mail sorting machines and a crackdown on overtime — that took effect that month and were later blamed for widespread delivery slowdowns. By one estimate, nearly 350 million pieces, or 7 percent, of the country’s first-class mail were affected over a five-week span, according to an analysis of USPS and Postal Regulatory Commission data by the office of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich).

The changes caused an uproar, drawing public and congressional scrutiny. Critics contend they were political motivated due to DeJoy’s history as a GOP fundraiser and Trump ally — which the postal chief has denied — ahead of an election that is expected to see a surge in mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. The president has repeatedly warned without evidence that vote by mail leads to massive fraud, and has also suggested it will hurt Republicans’ chances by leading more Democrats to cast ballots.

Williams’s presentation was among the documents turned over to the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) as part of a lawsuit involving six other jurisdictions against DeJoy and USPS. The suit, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, argues the initiatives amount to an unlawful change in delivery service standards, which would require approval from the agency’s board of governors and an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission before implementation.

The presentation also is a tangible link between USPS leadership and the tactics that led to mail backlogs through the summer, ensnaring prescription medications, bills, benefits checks and election mail — including primary ballots, according to the lawsuit. DeJoy said he would suspend much of the agency’s cost-cutting agenda — including the mothballing of mail sorting machines and public collection boxes, but not his controversial transportation directive — until after the presidential election.

Top agency officials had blamed staffing problems related to the coronavirus pandemic for the delays. They also said lower-tier managers issued instructions that did not accurately represent directives from DeJoy.

But Williams’ message reverberated quickly through the agency’s ranks. One of his slides dubbed the plan, “OUR FIRST TEST.” Another said, “NO EXTRA TRANSPORTATION,” and, “NO LATE TRANSPORTATION.”

The presentation said late or additional mail trips would be designated “unauthorized contractual commitments” within days. It also encouraged leaders to “surrender our resistance” to new operational plans and overcome their “fear of failure,” “fear of repercussions and personal impacts,” “fear of making the wrong decision,” “fear of the unknown,” and “fear that the new way may not be better.”

“These documents clearly show USPS leadership actions interrupted and delayed the flow of mail by requiring Postal Service employees to stop extra and late trips to deliver the mail back in July,” Shapiro said. “While Postmaster DeJoy has created confusion, it’s clear this mandate came from the top — in black and white. We’re in court right now to protect the Postal Service from this illegal attack on a critical public service.”

Williams in a statement said the presentation was “not a communication of official policy.”

“This was my opportunity to challenge our leaders to think differently and to inspire greater belief in the direction we are taking to run our operations with greater efficiency and accountability,” he said. “As a result we’ve improved our on-time performance of our truck operations.”

Since taking office in mid-June, DeJoy has “reemphasized the need to ensure that the Postal Service’s trucks run on time and on schedule, with the goal of mitigating unnecessary late and extra trips,” according to Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer.

“This effort does not mean that mail should be left behind, but rather that processing schedules should align with transportation schedules,” Partenheimer said in a statement to The Post. “Moreover, the postmaster general has not banned the use of late or extra trips; when operationally required, late or extra trips are permitted.”

He said previous noncompliance with transportation schedules was a “chronic problem.”

But at least one area vice president appears to have interpreted the presentation’s content as a directive. Shaun Mossman, vice president of the agency’s southern area, which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, notified staff on July 10 — the same day of the presentation — about the prohibitions on late and extra trips.

“All trips will depart on time (Network, Plant and Delivery); late trips are no longer authorized or accepted,” according to Mossman’s memo, mimicking language used in the slide show. “Extra trips are no longer authorized or accepted.”

Similar directions began flowing to workers in other areas. On July 13, rural carriers in Buckeye, Ariz., part of USPS’s western region, were required to sign an “Individual Training Record,” that said, “We cannot have ANY late trips or extras from delivery into the plant.” It also said trucks could not be held back and that extra trips could not be requested “under any circumstances.”

By July 20, the Postal Service had received inquiries from lawmakers about the origin and impact of the changes, but USPS leaders downplayed their significance and denied that the agency had made any wholesale changes.

“The documents should not be treated as official statements of Postal Service policy,” Thomas J. Marshall, USPS’s general counsel, wrote to Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.). Marshall said neither the stand-up talk nor another presentation that described cuts to overtime hours “originated from Postal Service headquarters.”

DeJoy told lawmakers that he based those strategies on a report by the Postal Service’s Inspector General, published shortly before he took office.

He told the Senate committee that the study found $4 billion in extra costs due to late and additional deliveries, and late dispatch times. He told the House panel that he saw “several billion dollars in potential savings in getting this system to connect properly.”

“And that’s why we ran out and put a plan together to really get this fundamental basic principle,” DeJoy said. “Run your trucks on time.”

“This was not a hard direct, ‘Everything must leave on time.’ We still have thousands of trucks a day that leave late within a certain time frame, and there are still hundreds of extra trips,” DeJoy said earlier in the hearing. “The intention was to put the mail on the trucks and have the trucks leave on time. That should not have impacted anybody.”

But Cintron, the logistics vice president, testified in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York that his department had spent the previous two years emphasizing the need to adhere to transportation schedules, and that he issued guidance to area vice presidents on July 14 about when late and additional trips were acceptable.

“Postmaster General DeJoy was not involved with the development, planning, or implementation of these guidelines,” Cintron stated in written testimony.

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