Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Processing Center Percentages are “Not” On Time Delivery Percentages

Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office has been live blogging and providing updates to the 12 federal district court cases filed. In the November 6, 2020 Update Steve discusses the delivery updates being filed in court and which are being used by some news outlets to show the USPS has been delivering ballots late and not on Election Day. Steve cautions against the use of this data as actual delivery dates are different than processing dates.

November 6, 2020 Update

The Postal Service’s daily reports on service performance, election mail, and late/extra trips (submitted as part of the Joint Order from the courts in RichardsonVote Forward, and NAACP) can be found here.

Steve Hutkins: One note about these daily reports on election mail. Some news reports are looking at these reports and misinterpreting the data and saying things like this:

“The data based on scans of ballot envelopes that were filed in Sullivan’s court Wednesday suggested that in South Florida, just 85.12% of the mail-in-ballots were delivered on Election Day and in central Pennsylvania, just 61.3% of the mail-ballots in the postal system were delivered on time both of which were based on the scan data in the court filing shown. In Philadelphia, slightly more than 66% of the mail-in ballots had been delivered on Election Day. In Atlanta 82.2% percent of the mail-in ballots were delivered on Election Day, the court filing shows.”

The daily numbers being reported do not indicate how much of the mail was delivered on time, i.e., within the service standard of two or three days. These numbers are  processing  scores, i.e., the percent of the ballots that went through the processing network on time. They do not encompass;

the “first mile” (the step between a voter dropping a ballot in the mail and its arrival at a processing center) or the “last mile” (from post office to letter carrier to destination).

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USPS Court Case Updates – Election Ballot Delays

Steve Hutkins on-line live blogging at Save the Post Office has been updating the progress of the “Lawsuits against DeJoy, USPS & Trump with relation to mail delays and election mail. This is the sweep ordered by the court for the USPS to perform to discover and report via the  “sweep of facilities”  how many ballots (were) are being delayed due to the USPS. The twitter link in the Afternoon Update has numerous comments on the delay by the USPS delaying the Sweep. In the Morning Update (below) there are multiple various commentary by news outlets.

More to come.

November 5, 2020

Afternoon Update: Judge Sullivan presided over another hearing today. One of the questions on the table was how many ballots may have been delivered late or are still in the system and not delivered yet. The Postal Service shared some specific numbers, as reported in a great “live” twitter thread on the hearing by @USPostOffice911.

Looking a ballots without a destination scan, the Postal Service says that in the Central PA district, there are 1524 total, and of these USPS has confidence that 979 were expedited, while 545 require further investigation.  In Greensboro, 3087 total, 1752 expedited, 1335 to investigate. In the Carolina district, 2404 total without destination scans, 1204 confidence they were expedited, 1200 to investigate. In Philadelphia, 2496 total, 1682 expedited, 814 to investigate. The Postal Service said that there is no evidence yet that the ballots in the “investigated” category were not delivered.

In a separate filing, the Postal Service provided a list of the number of ballots that were delivered Express in each district over the three days Nov. 1- Nov. 3. The total appears to be about 10,655.

The plaintiffs have presented two proposed orders, which Judge Sullivan appears to have ordered.

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Voting by Mail and the Next Election Meltdown – A Prophecy

Steve Hutkins at Save The Post Office, October 31, 2020

This post was written in 2016 and slightly updated on Oct. 31, 2018, exactly two years ago today. The update started like this:

According to this AP report today, alarms are already being raised about the rejection of many mail-in ballots in next week’s elections. Several of these elections are likely to be very close, and in some cases, votes cast by mail may make the difference. As the AP article notes, “nearly one of every four ballots cast in 2016 came through the mail or was handed in at a drop-off location, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.” With more and more people choosing to vote by mail, controversies involving mail ballots are likely. Back in 2016, just before the November election, we ran this article about the potential for an election “meltdown” arising from voting-by-mail issues.

Following is the 2018 update, with no further revisions for 2020. Some of the details are out-of-date and incorrect, but much of the post is more relevant now than it was then.

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DeJoy’s 57 Varieties of Cost Cutting: What’s in the new OIG report—and what’s not?

Steve Hutkins at Save The Post Office, October 26, 2020

In response to several inquiries from members of Congress, the Office of Inspector General has issued a report on “Operational Changes to Mail Delivery.” The report discusses the Postal Service’s plan to eliminate 64 million work hours — the equivalent of 33,000 jobs — by implementing 57 cost-cutting initiatives. As discussed in this previous post, the plan represents one of the largest downsizing efforts in the 50-year history of the Postal Service.

These 57 “Do It Now FY Strategies” include restrictions on overtime, late and extra trips from processing centers, and all the other cost-cutting measures that have caused the delivery delays we’ve seen since July. They also include numerous other changes to postal operations that have not received much, if any, attention.

The report criticizes postal leadership on several counts. First, the Postal Service “did not complete a study or analysis of the impact the changes would make on mail service prior to implementation.” Second, “documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral.” That caused “confusion and inconsistency” and “compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country.”

The IG also criticizes management for a third major failing: The Postal Service did not “fully respond” to questions and document requests from Congress and did not share information about the plan beyond what the Postmaster General was specifically asked in his testimony before the House and Senate.

As a result, Congress was not informed of the existence of the Work Hour Reduction Plan and the “Do It Now FY Strategies” before or during the Postmaster General’s testimony to Congress. The plan is not mentioned at all in Senator Gary Peters “Failure to Deliver” report or his update report. It’s very likely that Congress has yet to receive a full accounting of the plan.

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A New Agenda for Postal Reform

Steve Hutkins of Save The Post Office critiques the cost-saving measures put into play to-date by PMG Louis DeJoy, the bypassing of the Postal Regulatory Commission which is supposed to review such plans, and the resulting unprecedented mail delays across the country. Steve proposes a plan to meet the Covid crisis impact on the Postal service head-on and also lays a foundation for future Postal Service incorporating new business and creating increased revenue.

In late June of this year, a few days after the new Postmaster General took office and in the middle of a pandemic, the Postal Service initiated a plan to eliminate 64 million work hours, the equivalent of 33,000 jobs. It was one of the largest cost-cutting plans (perhaps the largest) in the history of the Postal Service, and leadership wanted to get it done by the end of the fiscal year on September 30 — and without telling anyone about it, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to review all such plans.  Within weeks, unprecedented mail delays were occurring across the country, members of Congress were hearing about post offices closing early, and — given that half the country may vote by mail — even the integrity of the election was threatened.

The response was swift. People protested in the streets, Congress held hearings and issued a damning report, and a dozen lawsuits were filed, leading to injunction after injunction banning the operational changes. The leaders of the Postal Service were forced to step back. But those in charge are still in charge, and the Work Hour Reduction plan is just on pause, waiting until after the election.

In the meantime, there’s a crisis at the Postal Service. As of mid-September, almost 10,000 postal workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and over 52,000 had taken time off because they were sick or had to quarantine or care for family members. Those numbers are obviously much higher now, and they will get worse over the winter. Overtime hours, rather than being reduced, have gone way up, from about 11 percent of total workhours before the pandemic to 17 percent during the week of October 2 and 21 percent during the week of October 9.

The surge in packages caused by the pandemic is taxing the capacities of the system, resulting in continued delivery delays. First Class mail, which normally has an on-time delivery target of 96 percent and an average score of 92 percent, has been averaging about 85.6 percent since early July. When the quarterly results are posted next month, the fourth quarter of 2020 (July-Sept) may be the worst since the Postal Service first started reporting service performance data back in 2009.

The problems at the Postal Service, coupled with the President’s comments attacking the post office, have made many people afraid to cast their ballots by mail, even though it may be the only safe way for them to vote. Just a few days ago, the states suing the Postal Service in Pennsylvania v DeJoy decided the situation was so bad that they’ve asked the court to appoint former Inspector General and BOG member David C. Williams to serve as a special monitor to oversee operations until the election.

Hopefully in January a new administration will take office in Washington. How will it deal with this crisis, and how might it envision the future of the Postal Service?

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USPS Update on Court Cases

Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

Another federal court has ruled against the Postal Service. The United States Postal Service is now 0 for 6.

In the case of Richardson v Trump, Judge Emmet Sullivan has ordered a preliminary injunction putting limits on postal operations in the run-up to the election. (Sullivan had also issued a preliminary injunction in Vote Forward v DeJoy.) 

In his Opinion Sullivan writes,

“The Court shall grant Plaintiffs’ request to ‘restore overtime pay’ and to ‘make all late mail deliveries instead of letting mail be delayed or go undelivered.’”

Sullivan stopped short of ordering the Postal Service to returning operations to the status quo as of January 1, which would have meant restoring the 700 sorting machines that have been removed. Sullivan also rejected the plaintiffs’ request that the Court appoint a “special master” to supervise implementation of the Court’s Order.

Late yesterday Judge Victor Marrero issued an order in Jones concerning the Guidance Memorandum the parties have been trying to agree on. The order says,

“The Court is persuaded that the appropriate course is to adopt, in substantial part, the Government’s latest proposal.”

This proposed version of the Memorandum is here.  There are still two areas that need to get worked out. Both involve the wording on extra delivery and collection trips.

Update: The parties in Jones have finally worked out the wording for the Supplemental Guidance Document. You can see it here.

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September 29, 2020 – 5 Federal Courts Have Ruled Against the USPS

Prof. Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office adds information on court rulings.

The Postal Service is now 0 and 5 in the eleven lawsuits filed against it as a result of the mail delays caused by the operational changes that went into effect in July. Yesterday two more orders were against the Postal Service.

In Pennsylvania v DeJoy, Judge Gerald McHugh of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Postal Service can’t restrict extra or late trips for mail delivery and can’t prohibit overtime. In Vote Forward v DeJoy, Judge Emmet Sullivan issued his second order against the Postal Service.

Here are the five orders that have been issued in federal courts banning the Postal Service from making the kinds of operational changes that caused delays over the summer:

  • Pennsylvania v DeJoyJudge Gerald A. McHugh, Pennsylvania Eastern District Court (Sept. 28, 2020)
  • Vote Forward v DeJoy, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, District Of Columbia District Court (Sept. 28, 2020)
  • New York v USPS, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, District of Columbia District Court (Sept. 27, 2020)
  • Jones v USPS, Judge Victor Marrero, New York Southern District Court (Sept. 25, 2020)
  • Washington v Trump, Judge Stanley A. Bastian, Washington Eastern District Court (Sept. 17, 2020)

As a result of these five preliminary injunctions, the Postal Service has had to walk back all the changes it made over the summer as well as making all sorts of commitments about what it will do to ensure timely delivery of mail ballots. That’s good news for voters and others who depend on the Postal Service for things like their medications.

These five rulings should mean something else as well. The Postmaster General and the Board of Governors have received the strongest of rebukes from four federal judges in five cases representing twenty-four states, several national organizations, and many individuals. This turn of events has to be unprecedented, and it has been a total embarrassment for the Postal Service’s leaders. It won’t happen, but they should be thinking about resigning.

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September 28, 2020 Live Blogging USPS New York v Trump

NYU Prof. Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

More big news: The judge in the New York v Trump case, Emmet G. Sullivan, has granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. His order is here. Much of Sullivan’s order focuses on the Postal Service’s failure to request an advisory opinion from the PRC before embarking changes that have nationwide impacts on postal services.

Judge Sullivan observes that “Plaintiffs have shown that there is a substantial likelihood that the on-going non-speculative harms they allege caused by mail delays are ‘fairly traceable’ to the Postal Policy Changes.” He goes on to state, “Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges a procedural violation—that USPS failed to comply with the requirement that ‘[w]hen the Postal Service determines that there should be a change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis, it shall submit a proposal, within a reasonable time prior to the effective date of such proposal, to the Postal Regulatory commission requesting an advisory opinion on the change.’ 39 U.S.C. § 3661.”

Addressing the question of whether judicial review is available when the Postal Service fails to request an advisory opinion, Sullivan finds that the legislative history of the Postal Reorganization Act: “In the discussion of the section of the PRA that established the ‘procedures for changes in postal service,’ the House Committee Report states the ;[t]he postal service is—first, last, and always—a public service’ and that the PRA ‘require[s] [Postal Services management] to seek out the needs and desires of its present and potential customers—the American public.’ H.R. Rep. No. 91-1104 at 3668.”

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September 27, 2020 Live Blogging Jones vs USPS

NYU Prof. Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

An update on the overtime issue in Judge Marrero’s order in Jones v USPS. The proposed order indicated that the parties had not agreed on the wording of the overtime passage, but the final order issued on Sept. 25 said, “USPS shall pre-approve all overtime that has been or will be requested for the time period beginning October 26, 2020 and continuing through November 6, 2020.” That seemed to indicate that the issue had been resolved. But yesterday the USPS filed an additional affidavit by David E. Mills, Manager of Labor Relations and Program, challenging the wording of this section of the order.

Mills says the overtime passage in the order “will create a severe burden whereby employees other than local management, in whom such decisions are current vested, may request and work overtime hours, including on behalf of others, on the basis of the Order, even though they have no role in planning or management of operations.” Implementing the overtime passage as written “would be impracticable and would likely lead to widespread confusion among employees and management officials.”

Along with the Mills’ testimony, the USPS has submitted a Memorandum of Law arguing about the overtime passage in the order. The Government wants clarification of the passage “or relief from these provisions through their modification.” “In the alternative, the Government requests that the Court extend the stay of Paragraphs 3 and 7(f) currently in effect, pending a determination by the Office of the Solicitor General of whether to appeal from the PI Decision.”

The parties are still working on a revision of the passage.

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September 26, 2020 Live Blogging the USPS Jones v USPS

Prof. Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

New in Jones v USPS: Late yesterday, Judge Marrero issued his order on the case. It’s essentially the same as the proposed order, but the parties are still trying to work out the overtime issue.

The Postal Service has provided much more information to the Court concerning its policies and practices in handling Election Mail over the coming weeks:

DOJ letter to Judge Marrero, Sept. 25, 2020: This letter describes the contents of the material being submitted to the Court and provides a good overview of how the Postal Service will handle Election Mail.

Calculations on Cost for Delivering Election Mail as First Class: Judge Marrero asked the Postal Service to provide an estimate for how much it will cost to treat Election Mail sent at Marketing Mail rates as First Class (one of the points on which the parties have agreed). The Postal Service says that between Oct. 15 and Nov. 3, it expects to handle about 170 million pieces of such mail (a mix of letters and flats). Figured as “revenue foregone” (i.e., based on the rates mailers pay), it will cost the Postal Service $69.4 million. Figured in terms of the Postal Service’s own direct (attributable) costs, it will cost the Postal Service $39.1 million.

Clarifying Operational Instructions (Sept. 21, 2020) Memo from Executive Vice Presidents David E Williams and Kristin A. Seaver to Officers, PCES, and Band Managers. This memo clarifies the Postal Service’s practices concerning overtime, hiring, retail hours, collection boxes, late and extra trips, mail processing, and Election Mail as they currently stand.

Additional Resources for Election Mail Beginning October 1 (Sept. 25, 2020) Memo from David E. Williams and Kristin A. Seaver to Officers, PCES, and Band Managers. This memo describes the additional resources being made available with regard to mail processing, transportation, delivery/collections, and overtime. Between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3, the Postal Service will take “extraordinary measures” to ensure the timely delivery of Election Mail, including expedited handling, extra deliveries, and special pickups.

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