Top Postal Regulator Calls For Expanded Reach Amid Feud With DeJoy
By Eric Katz, Senior Correspondent
The US Postal Service’s regulator requires more staff and resources to keep pace with the changes underway at the agency, the head of the oversight agency said on Monday, sharply contrasting his vision with that of the postmaster general.
The USPS CEO, Louis DeJoy has derided the Postal Regulatory Commission as standing in his way as he looks to deliver transformational change to his organization. In response, the PRC chairman, Michale Kubayanda issued a white paper co-authored by former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Dave Williams, former USPS inspector general and board member, suggesting PRC must be more agile and proactive to stay relevant in the modern environment. Despite DeJoy’s objections, the authors said, Postal Service regulation must take place with a frequency and intensity that former private sector executives—such as the current postmaster general—do not appreciate.
DeJoy has frequently voiced his distaste for his regulators—calling them an obstacle to progress—but the tension came to a head last month when PRC announced it was launching an ongoing review of the Postal Service’s plans to consolidate and otherwise reorient its processing and delivery network. The postmaster general sees the reforms as a key part of his 10-year business plan and his goal to eliminate USPS’ debts and deficits and has called on all stakeholders to get on board. USPS quickly petitioned PRC to reverse course. Congress never intended to give the regulators “unfettered oversight” in every management action, the Postal Service said, and instead authorized only “discrete areas” for inspection.
For its part, the commission said it was responding to stakeholders who reported they lack a forum to voice concerns about the network changes. PRC added it would boost transparency to learn more about these strategic plan initiatives that may have a significant impact on the postal community. Large-scale mailing groups have implored the commission not to waver from its request, saying PRC was acting well within its authority and the Postal Service should not “shield itself from scrutiny.”
At a House hearing last week, DeJoy said PRC overstepped its authority.
“The Postal Regulatory Commission sat over and watched the destruction of the organization over the last 15 years and [was] actively participating in the destruction of the organization the last 15 years,” DeJoy said, adding he, on the other hand, was trying to save the agency. “What goes on and why they do the things they do, I have never figured out. And I’m a pretty smart guy.”
DeJoy previously said USPS would be better off without the PRC at all, making the comments in a light-hearted manner while seriously lamenting the regulators’ role. The Postal Service operates with a statutorily protected monopoly on all mail. PRC was established to ensure USPS, as a government entity, does not abuse that authority.
With high inflation, declining mail volume, concerns about service and DeJoy’s “aggressive redesign” of postal networks, Kubayanda and his colleagues said, PRC must expand its scope and become more forward-looking. PRC is mostly looking toward the past in its current iteration, with the white paper authors noting it is just now examining operations from fiscal 2022 that began 15 months ago. Without more resources, PRC is limited to technical reviews of cost coverages, compliance with rate caps and “highly constrained, reactive advice on service changes.” The commission lacks capacity to address the “renewed concern” that has taken hold “throughout the postal community” regarding significant changes DeJoy has proposed.
USPS is currently standing up sorting and delivery centers that it has said will reduce wasted movement and improve integration. USPS piloted the initiative at a facility in Athens, Ga., in November, and the initial phase of the project is expected to impact hundreds of post offices. The changes will mean letter carriers no longer go to their local facility to pick up mail for their route, instead traveling farther distances after starting at a consolidated location. The impacted post offices will still conduct their retail operations, but a lot of the back-end functions will be stripped away and relocated.
“Traditional regulatory approaches” are no longer suitable for a postal management that is no longer static, the group said. PRC currently has just 82 employees to oversee a Postal Service with 600,000 workers, making clear “a substantial increase in commission capacity is needed to meet today’s demands.”
Kubayanda’s vision will require better cataloging all the data PRC has access to, modernizing its technology platforms and boosting staff. The regulators will then be able to build a new website and improve data access to the public, which would in turn allow stakeholders and all mail users to track progress and identify trends. Such an approach would facilitate better relationships between various entities in the mailing community and an overall structure that “emphasizes facts over vitriol,” the authors said. It suggested PRC should add experts in network engineering, operations, data engineering, information management and project management.
The PRC chairman and his colleagues said the commission lacks capacity for large-scale transparency and analytics, which USPS does not voluntarily provide. As required by Congress, USPS recently launched a new dashboard to give the public better insight into the agency’s performance. However, it only provides data at district level and not the ZIP code level. USPS has just 50 districts compared to 40,000 ZIP codes, making the data much less granular.
PRC has already achieved a first step toward meeting its goals, as the Postal Service Reform Act President Biden signed into law last year removed PRC from the annual appropriations process. Instead, PRC submits a budget to the USPS board of governors, which must act unanimously to alter that request.
In 2022, with its new funding mechanism in place, PRC created a small analytics unit with an expertise in network orientation. To be successful, however, Kubayanda said the team needed to grow.
Overall, the group said, the suggestions were intended only to ensure PRC does not fall into obsolescence.
“It is not partisan or ideological,” it said