An audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Postal Service found significant delays in mail delivery, inaccurate reporting and improper package scanning among nine post offices in the Baltimore region.
“I think it’s obvious that the problem in Baltimore has been unlike any other problem nationwide,” Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said at a news conference outside a post office in Dundalk Tuesday morning. “In fact, if you want to say it’s the worst, you can say it is the worst.”
The report, provided to media Tuesday, was in response to requests sent in May by Mfume and Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.) to examine customer service and mail delivery operations at the Dundalk, Essex, Rosedale, Parkville, Middle River, Loch Raven, Clifton East End Station, Druid Station and Carroll Station post offices following an onslaught of complaints from constituents who said they were not receiving pieces of mail — including bills and prescription medication.
The audit was conducted between June and November 2021.
Based on its findings, the OIG recommended that Lora McLucas, the new district manager for the Maryland District:
- Employ a system to complete the removal process for part-time mail carriers who are no longer employed;
- Hire and retain an adequate number of mail carriers;
- Open a third carrier training academy in the region;
- Consistently analyze data and establish metrics to determine when the Baltimore postmaster should request resources from outside the region to help with mail delivery;
- Create a system to make sure all delayed mail is reported to the Customer Service Daily Reporting System to accurately monitor delivery shortfalls;
- Develop a list of struggling branches and require them to use video or photo technology to accurately report delayed mail to the Customer Service Daily Reporting System; and
- Mandate that carriers comply with package handling and scanning procedures.
According to the report, McLucas agreed with all of the OIG’s recommendations.
Jaime Lennon, a spokesperson for Ruppersberger, said that the Baltimore region has already begun to implement changes in response to the audit.
While McLucas has committed to revamping local branches, members of the Maryland congressional delegation have their eyes set on ousting Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who, they assert, deliberately slowed mail processing and delivery because of the 2020 General Election.
“You cannot blame postal workers who work their fannies off to get us through a pandemic when no one wanted to come to work,” Mfume said. “This problem started when Mr. DeJoy really got behind the wheel and started driving this car off of the cliff.”
An audit of the U.S. Postal Service Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center downtown is ongoing and expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
The OIG measured how much time it took first-class mail, marketing mail, periodicals, priority express mail, first-class packages, priority air mail, and parcel select mail to be processed, collected and delivered in the Baltimore region from Oct. 4, 2019, through July 2, 2021.
According to the report, only three types of products met their service target at least one week of the 92 weeks measured in the audit. The remainder never met their service target.
The report also found that, during the same period, the Baltimore region received more than three times the rate of customer service inquiries than the national average. Among major metropolitan areas, Baltimore had the second highest rate of service inquiries, behind only Chicago.
During visits to all the sites between June 22nd through 24th, 2021, the OIG identified a collective 972,457 pieces of delayed mail.
Notably, during their visit to the Dundalk branch on June 24, the OIG found mail with postmarks from December 2020 that hadn’t been delivered.
The report also found that branch management wasn’t accurately reporting delayed mail to the Customer Service Daily Reporting System, which kept them from adequately responding to processing and delivery issues. Additionally, carriers weren’t scanning packages properly so that customers could track them in real-time.
The pandemic packed a punch for the nine branches under review, each of which received a swell in package volume beginning in April 2020, increasing the workload of carriers responsible for 276 city routes surveyed under the audit.
Branch management told the OIG that staffing shortages were the main cause for delivery delays, noting that many hours of authorized COVID-19 leave was taken by carriers between March and April 2021.
Until May 2021, management only had the ability to train seven new carriers at a time. The Baltimore region has since opened a second training center, boosting the number of trainees to 21.
While the report conceded that the pandemic impacted employee availability, the OIG found that better hiring, training and retention processes would have reduced delays, noting that the number of part-time mail carriers was consistently below the cap allowed and that carriers who no longer worked there were often left on employee rolls.
Republican state lawmakers joined Mfume, Ruppersberger and other members of the Maryland congressional delegation at the Tuesday morning news conference to the audit report’s findings.
“I told someone this morning that the blame game is over. We got the audit, we’ve got the paperwork in process, we got the plan,” Del. Richard W. Metzgar (R-Baltimore County) said. “Now we need to forget the words and put the plan and progress.”