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USPS failed Baltimore: Accountability starts at the top | COMMENTARY

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger discusses results of an audit by the United States Postal Service's inspector general of post offices in the Baltimore area that have received many complaints about long delays in mail delivery. Standing with him outside the Dundalk-Sparrows Point Post Office are from left, Del. Ric Metzgar and state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling. November 9, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).
U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger discusses results of an audit by the United States Postal Service's inspector general of post offices in the Baltimore area that have received many complaints about long delays in mail delivery. Standing with him outside the Dundalk-Sparrows Point Post Office are from left, Del. Ric Metzgar and state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling. November 9, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun). (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Whatever one might think of the U.S. Postal Service — and polls conducted over the years actually suggest Americans have long held a positive view — the level of failure, neglect and outright abandonment of service in the Baltimore area over the past two years is shocking. The latest evidence of this, contained in a USPS inspector general’s audit released this week, ought to boil the blood of any Marylander whose blood wasn’t already simmering. If not for the Chicago area taking the top spot, Baltimore would have led the nation in missing mail inquiries from October 2019 to this June.

The audit, conducted at the request of U.S. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Kweisi Mfume and others in Maryland’s congressional delegation, focused primarily on Dundalk, Essex and other eastern Baltimore County communities and city neighborhoods where problems have been reported before. If it’s any comfort, people who found themselves missing prescription drug shipments, checks, letters and even Christmas gifts were not simply imagining things. Auditors found December mail sitting around Dundalk’s post office six months later in June. Hadn’t anyone taken a look at the stuff piling up in the corner? There were an estimated 972,000 pieces of missing mail at nine local post offices. It boggles the mind.

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Employee shortages? Surely, a big factor. The COVID-19 pandemic? It played a role, but, as the audit points out, the region’s delivery problems started months before the first U.S. victim was ever diagnosed or a single carrier called in sick. What shows up over and over again in the audit was mismanagement. Either problems were ignored, or not reported, and left to fester. Resources were inadequate to meet the needs, but nobody at headquarters seemed to notice or care. Managers weren’t even aware of vacancies in the ranks of carriers.

The audit contains any number of sensible fixes, from hiring more carriers (and opening more training facilities to accomplish that task) and creating a way to track delayed mail to developing a system that would have allowed local managers to ask neighboring districts for help when overwhelmed. According to Representative Ruppersberger and others, the USPS has already begun implementing many of them.

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That’s a start. But the recommendations are missing one obvious fix that should have happened yesterday if not sooner: Postmaster General Louis B. DeJoy has to go.

Mr. DeJoy has been a controversial figure from the start. He was a major Republican fundraiser picked by President Donald Trump last summer at a time when USPS finances had taken a major pandemic-related hit. He arrived with an immediate conflict of interest, having refused to divest from a multibillion-dollar logistics company that does business with the USPS. And some unwise cost-cutting moves — including removing mail processing equipment — clearly worsened delivery problems. That the slowdown seemed to personally benefit Mr. Trump in the last election by potentially interfering with mail-in ballots was the icing on the cake. Mr. DeJoy denied he was doing Mr. Trump’s bidding, but his credibility was already low.

But here’s the bottom line. This level of incompetence displayed in the Baltimore region alone would have gotten Mr. DeJoy fired as the CEO of any private company that has suffered such catastrophic failure. It would have gotten him fired from a traditional political appointment, too. But his job is different. Presidents can’t fire postmaster generals. Neither can Congress. USPS is an independent agency. It’s up the USPS board of governors, which has a number of holdovers from the Trump years.

None of the important and timely conversations that need to take place regarding the future of postal delivery in the United States — whether, for example, there should be additional rate increases or the concept of six-day-a-week delivery is sustainable when electronic mail and private package delivery services do so much of the heavy lifting — can happen while Mr. DeJoy collects his salary. At least not with any confidence in leadership decisions. His continued employment as postmaster merely sends out this message to all Americans: We don’t care. We’re the U.S. Postal Service. Now, go enjoy the latest commemorative stamps.

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The nation deserves better. Baltimore deserves better. Accountability starts with a change at the top.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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