Testimony of Mark Jamison; Jones v. United States Postal Service Part I

Testimony of Retired Postmaster Mark Jamison in law suit against the USPS and DeJoy filed Wednesday, September 2, 2020, Save The Post Office

Jones vs Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service and Donald J. Trump, as President of the United States, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Preliminary Injunction, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Declaration of Mark Jamison, US District Court, Southern District, New York

“Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Introduction

Those were the stirring words of President Lincoln during his first inaugural address. The nation had come to a crossroads or perhaps it was a dead end, we could no longer go on without facing our original sin, what some euphemistically called “that peculiar institution.”  After four years of the bloodletting, we finally put aside the evils of slavery, but rather than finish the job we stopped half way.

It took a century to bring the hope of healing to the next step with the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s. And still we hid from our responsibilities and the hopeful destiny that could have been our course. Some clung to hate and privilege, resisting and rejecting the idea that all of us were created equal and had a role to play as citizens in this experiment of self-government.

Today we have the opportunity to starkly face and solidly put to rest the sins of our past. Even now when the chance to make amends is within our grasp there are those who choose anger and dissension, hate and separation, obfuscation and obstruction over opportunity.

There is no right more sacred than the right to vote, to exercise one’s choice in free and fair elections. Through the Civil War, World Wars, the 1919 flu pandemic and all matter of natural disasters, we have made it a point to hold elections. In these troubled times, faced with another pandemic, there are those who would obstruct our ability to vote for purely partisan reasons. There are those who are too cowardly to stand before the electorate and seek an honest count.

We can and must do better. Every citizen who wants to vote should be able to vote and there should be no question or impediment that prevents that or the counting of their ballot. Every voice must be heard.

The U.S. Postal Service is a treasured institution. It has been around in one form or another since before our country was founded. The mandate of Title 39 gives the Postal Service a mission — binding the nation together. Those words are reminiscent of Mr. Lincoln’s mystic chords. The idea of binding the nation together also implies a healing and a connection. For our entire history the Postal Service has bound this nation together.

Today there are at least ten lawsuits seeking to ensure that the Postal Service does not become another casualty in our age where our most cherished norms and even basic truth itself are rejected for fear mongering, conspiracy theories, financial  advantage, and the exposition of ugly hate that tarnishes any notion of our better angels.

I had the privilege of testifying in one of those suits.

The following testimony was submitted to the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of Mondaire Jones, et al., v. United States Postal Service, et al, on Sept. 2, 2020. The testimony in its original legal format is here.

 

I, MARK JAMISON, being duly sworn, depose and say:

I am a natural person, residing in Cullowhee, North Carolina, and I make this Declaration based on my personal knowledge and where applicable, on matters within my experience, training, and professional knowledge.

I have written this declaration at request of plaintiff’s counsel regarding changes in the United State Postal Service (USPS) that may impact the delivery of ballots in November and to offer remedies on how to avoid those slowdowns based on my personal experience.

Please note that because there are so many acronyms associated with the US Postal Service, a list of acronyms for the USPS can be found online.

Background

I started working at the post office in March 1984. I began my career in Waukegan, Illinois as a part-time flexible clerk and made regular within about eight months. I worked in various positions sorting mail, providing window retail service, the registry cage checking mail carriers in and out and overseeing accountable mail.

In May 1993 I transferred to the Processing and Distribution center in Augusta, Georgia. I worked on letter sorting machines, manual distribution, and the automated equipment including the Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR), Bar Code Sorter (BCS), and Delivery Bar Code Sorter (DBCS). I also served briefly as a union steward for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). In September 1993 I transferred to Sylva, NC, a small town of about 3000 in the mountains of North Carolina. While in Sylva I sorted mail, provided window service, carried mail on a city route and on rural routes. I also served as a 204B temporary supervisor.

During this time, I took an officer in charge assignment in Otto, NC and a supervisor assignment in Franklin, NC. In December 1998 I became postmaster of Webster, NC, a small rural office. I served in Webster until my retirement in July 2012.

I supplemented my own experience by reading histories of the Postal Service, USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports, and various reports on the PRC website. I began participating in Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) dockets in September of 2011 by submitting comments in the Retail Access Optimization Initiative docket. At this point I began writing under my own name at Save The Post Office (STPO).

In September 2012 I went to Washington to attend a PRC meeting, mainly to get a sense of the proceedings live. During meetings Chairman Goldway asked visitors to identify themselves. When I gave my name she asked something to the effect of, Are you the fellow that writes those insightful articles? I was told by one of Commissioner Acton’s staff that our articles at STPO and particularly mine were regularly included in a daily news aggregation to PRC staff and Congress.

I did the reporting that disclosed the negotiated service agreement related to Amazon’s Sunday delivery contract with USPS and filed a motion to review the contract. It was denied but I wrote about that and package pricing extensively. I did several media interviews and appeared on Huffpost Live and several radio shows. My work has also been featured at The Daily Yonder, a site devoted to rural issues. Various Blogs like STPO and Angry Bear have also reposted or featured my work. When things became more active recently I started writing again.

I’ve been contacted by reporters from several outlets and quoted in stories at The Guardian and the Washington Post. I appeared on Meet the Press Daily with Chuck Todd. I was also interviewed for the Richard French Show.

Over the years I’ve had contact with analysts at the PRC who complimented my work, especially related to package pricing.

As I said in my comments to the PRC in docket N2011-1 Retail Access Optimization Initiative relating to the proposed closure of more than 3000 small rural post offices:

Within the context of the USPS, we often return to the words “binding the nation together”. We do so because they speak to the fundamental wisdom of the Founding Fathers. They understood that a healthy and robust post was an integral part in the physical, commercial, and intellectual infrastructure of the nation. From that first principle, from that grand idea we are able to articulate the essential truth embodied in the concept of the universal service obligation. There is a profound truth in the concept of universal service, there is an understanding that a successful democracy relies on our ability to provide equal access to all our citizens. Further this truth leads us to an understanding of the essential role of government in providing universal, neutral infrastructure which fosters and facilitates growth that benefits all the citizens of the country.

The financial challenges that face the Postal Service today are, at heart, manufactured, the result of dysfunctional Congressional oversight and a myopic postal management that seeks at every turn to undermine the very basis for its existence. The postal network we have developed over generations provides not only mail delivery but an essential governmental presence in every community and corner of the nation. This network, which should be viewed as an asset rather than simply as overbuilt industrial capacity, truly has served to bind the nation together. Dissolving and dismantling this important piece of our national infrastructure would be a tragic mistake.

Both the PRC and the USPS-OIG have remained true to their defined functions and missions. Both have produced reports, studies and white papers that demonstrate a thoughtful approach which recognizes the essential value of the nation’s postal system. Even when confined to commenting on the limited and narrow vision expressed by the system’s management both of these institutions have done so in an essentially honest way that often clarifies the cognitive dissonance inherent in postal management’s approach to the problems that confront us.

I spent most of my career as a postmaster in a small rural community. I know how important the presence and reach of the postal service can be.

I include this quote because I still believe that this is an important message to communicate to this court. A link to this document is here.

Slowed Delivery of Mail

Based on my experience there are a number of concerning issues having to do with slowing the delivery of mail that are going on with the USPS right now:

It is my impression based on recent news reports and my own research and review of relevant documents including Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s remarks at the August 7, 2020 open session of the Board of Governors as well as his statement before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on August 21, 20204 that Mr. DeJoy has chosen to sacrifice performance in favor of cost cutting despite the essential role that the Postal Service plays in delivering medicine and goods during the pandemic and will certainly play during the upcoming election when absentee and vote by mail will be essential to the health and safety of the American public.

Mr. DeJoy’s actions in authorizing the removal of blue collection boxes, automated mail processing machinery in USPS facilities across the country, reducing or eliminating overtime, and reducing or eliminating extra transportation have garnered widespread attention in the press while raising questions, concerns, and consternation in the American public across the country. His actions and general management during his short tenure have caused delays and service scores to plummet as demonstrated this report on STPO – an internal USPS document – demonstrates.

Mr. DeJoy’s actions and his pronouncements should come as no surprise to those who have followed postal issues for years. There has long been an ideological element who have dismissed the idea of the Postal Service and the postal network as an essential national infrastructure and advocated for the privatization of the postal network. Most recently President Trump impaneled a task force to examine the state of the Postal Service and postal policy. The task force, led by Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin produced a report, United States Postal Service: A Sustainable Path Forward, that clearly if euphemistically calls for greater privatization of postal services, cost cutting, and the elimination of employee collective bargaining right. For example:

For the USPS to become a sustainable entity, the new business model must permit the USPS to actively contain and reduce its costs as its mail volume declines and as competitive pressures in the package markets dictate. The Task Force believes that the USPS must operate in a more cost-efficient manner by exercising discretion to lower service standards and to increase the use of third parties through additional work sharing and the use of third-party processing and logistics providers. In addition, as postal employees are part of the U.S. federal civil service, their wages and benefits should be aligned to comparable U.S. federal employee groups, including aligning their ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits with other federal employees. (page 38 of the report)

My analysis of the news reports, internal documents (including notification to the APWU by letter to union president Mark Dimondstein on June 17, 2020 of proposed mail processing equipment reductions that included detailed and comprehensive lists of equipment at processing plants across the country (attached here as Exhibit A), and reports and audits created by the USPS- OIG relating to the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and ability to meet performance standards of the mail processing network (including an audit report dated June 16, 2020 titled U.S. Postal Service’s Processing Network Optimization and Service Impacts) lead me to believe that the equipment removals are part of ongoing plans to reduce the footprint of the mail processing network that began as early as 2012 as Network Rationalization. There is an article on STPO dated August 14, 2012 that discusses those plans in detail.

Based on my analysis and experience it would seem that while the current initiatives to remove equipment are perhaps part of a long-term plan, they are ill considered for several reasons. Postmaster General. DeJoy began his tenure on June 16, 2020, hardly enough time to fully evaluate a plan of such breadth and impact. In addition, the ongoing pandemic makes it ill-advised to devote limited maintenance and technical resources that would be better spent ensuring that necessary processing equipment remained fully in service and operating at capacities sufficient to handle even the reduced volumes resulting from the pandemic. In a time of significant concerns about the health and safety of postal workers, who are essential workers, creating disruption and upset demonstrates poor judgement.

Having said that, it is my opinion that generally speaking the current delays and deterioration and service can be largely attributed to changes in transportation schedules, reductions in staffing and limitations in use of overtime, and a changing institutional focus by senior management to cost savings at the expense of performance. This is particularly alarming when the American public is especially reliant on the Postal Service to provide accurate and reliable service. As a postal employee the concept of urgency was inculcated as a basic institutional value. The current moves by senior management indicate a lack of institutional will and a relegation of that sense of urgency to a secondary consideration in favor of cost cutting. This is both baffling and inexcusable during a time of pandemic and prior to an important election when the mail will carry more votes than ever.

The deterioration of service is clear based on the reports from the USPS-Office of the Inspector General. There are many ways to achieve a deterioration of service without ordering it outright, and these are things that are happening under DeJoy’s leadership. If carriers are told to leave for their delivery route before the truck arrives, this causes a day’s delay in mail delivery. Similarly, if the trucks at the distribution center are told to leave before the mail is fully processed and machine cycles are completed this will slow the mail delivery by a day each day it happens. The effects of continually doing this will inevitably compound and increase delays further.

It also concerns me that Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have been in close contact with both the USPS Board of Governors and Postmaster General DeJoy. US Code Title 39 establishes the USPS as an independent agency. It provides for presidential appointment and senate confirmation of nine members of the Board of Governors to be split equally by political affiliation. Those nine members then select the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General who become sitting members of the board.

The Board of Governors is tasked with setting postal policy within the constraints spelled out in Title 39. Section 101 of that statute lays out the basic mission of the Postal Service. Some of the language that is particularly instructive as to the intent of the statute include: “the Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people” (section a, emphasis added). Also, the USPS is directed to provide a “maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining” (section b). Congress indicates that postal rates are to be apportioned on a “fair and equitable basis” (section d). The statute states that in determining policies the USPS shall prioritize the collection, transportation and delivery of “important letter mail” (section e). Highest consideration is to be given to the “prompt and economic delivery of all mail” (section f).

The statute then goes on to give further guidance and establish basic postal policy. It includes provision for an independent oversight agency, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). The PRC’s duties include oversight of USPS rate requests and ensuring those requests comply with applicable guidelines established in statute. In addition, the PRC examines the performance of the USPS, requiring intermittent reports on now well service guidelines are being met. The PRC issues an annual report, the Annual Compliance Determination (ACD) that examines the operations of the USPS and reports on issues including the service’s performance in fulfilling its obligations to provide universal service to all Americans.

Nowhere in Title 39 is it imagined that the White House or the Treasury Department would be involved with the day to day operations of the Postal Service. Postal policy is set by Congress through the passage of legislation signed by the president, most recently the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. Postal reform has been a topic of continuing discussion in the last several sessions of Congress but until such time as Congress passes new legislation that is signed by the president the current statute prevails.

In his previously cited remarks to the Board of Governors at his first open session Postmaster General DeJoy offered the following statement, “We will not and cannot wait for the legislative and regulatory process to save us.” In other remarks Postmaster General DeJoy has advocated geographic pricing, a clear slap at the principal of universal service and a direct contradiction of Section 101.

The Trump administration is intentionally involving itself in day to day postal operations. The letter from General Counsel Thomas Marshall to 46 states is problematic. On its face it appears that Mr. Marshall is simply explaining to the states that ballot mail may be delayed because of the class it has been sent. One can certainly read the letter this way but given the circumstances, heightened anxiety, and political environment the letter sounds very much like a threat. I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch where two gangsters attempt to run a protection racket on a British Army base, “Nice tank Colonel, things break.” In the context of the times Mr. Marshall’s letter sounds a bit like, “Nice little election you’ve got here, be a real shame if the ballots didn’t show up on time.”

As I note below, as recently as the 2018 election the USPS typically treated election mail as 1st class mail, even if it was sent at marketing mail rates. This means that the letter from Marshall – to someone who knows historical USPS standards – all but expressly warns “we will no longer automatically treat your ballots as First Class Mail.” That is a profound and disturbing change.

If the USPS is politicized during a contentious election, that brings additional concerns particularly during a pandemic in which record numbers of citizens seek to exercise their right to vote through the option of mail-in or absentee ballots. The fact that many of these voters are simply trying to preserve their own health or the health of those close to them is also of note, particularly given that Title 52 of the US Code Section 20101 states that “It is the intention of Congress in enacting this chapter to promote the fundamental right to vote by improving access for handicapped and elderly individuals to registration facilities and polling places for Federal elections.”  If one’s health would be negatively impacted by voting in person because of potential exposure to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, for example for those who are immunocompromised, then Title 52 section 20102 (a) states that “Within each State, except as provided in subsection (b), each political subdivision responsible for conducting elections shall assure that all polling places for Federal elections are accessible to handicapped and elderly voters.” The only way to make voting accessible for these immunocompromised or elderly citizens is through mail-in or absentee ballots. This underscores the importance of the USPS on time delivery of ballots for election related mail.

The Postal Service reports its performance to the PRC on a quarterly basis. The Quarter III scores, prior to Mr. DeJoy’s tenure are contained in these documents18 on the PRC website and include multiple categories and products. The charts from USPS presentations depict performance for the Eastern and Pacific areas.19 As an example, the Quarter III scores for on time performance for first class presort mail in the Philadelphia Metro area, which serves one of the plaintiffs, were 95.7% for the overnight area, 92.7% for two day area, and 92.8% for three-five day area (96% is the goal). The goal for election mail ought to be 100% – no one should accept that even 4% of legally cast ballots wouldn’t reach their destination on time (whether the local election standard is postmark or receipt by election authorities is germane).

Continued: Part II, Election Mail and Opinion

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