Danny Joe

A Postal Service watchdog said the agency still isn’t delivering the mail on time.

Like scores of other readers I heard from in 2016, Tara Scott of Bonsack had her share of missing, delayed and damaged mail last year.

On one occasion, a tuition check she wrote to a cosmetology school never arrived at its destination. Scott had to re-issue it. Mail showed up at Scott’s house in pieces inside an envelope from the U.S. Postal Service with a note apologizing for the shredding.

For a while that year, Scott waited for a $1,000 check from a sender in Tennessee. That arrived both late and shredded.

“When we finally did get it, it had been destroyed. They put it in another ‘We’re so sorry’ envelope,” Scott told me. Naturally, her bank wouldn’t accept the draft. The sender put another check in the mail and Scott got it.

And then her mail problems seemed to clear up — until the past couple months.

Recently, her cable and gas bills arrived past their due date. Another time, neither arrived at all. Much the same thing happened to the first and second mortgage-payment notices for her daughter’s new home.

The first one never showed up. The second (October’s) arrived Oct. 7. Payment was due Oct. 1, Scott told me.

“I know that the [audit] taken by the USPS determined that we do not have a problem in Roanoke with the mail being routed to Greensboro, North Carolina, for sorting, but that is just not the case,” Scott told me. “We can no longer rely on our USPS.”

She isn’t the only one recently focused on the issue of delayed mail. Two months ago, the independent U.S. Postal Service Inspector General released an eye-popping report on the subject, based on what auditors found in eight unannounced visits to mail processing facilities earlier this year.

None of those visits involved the Roanoke or Greensboro processing and distribution centers, which handle mail originating in Roanoke.

Based on auditors’ observations, the inspector general projected “that nationally from March 1, 2016, through Feb. 28, 2017, mail processing facilities underreported late arriving mail by about 2 billion mailpieces.”

That’s a lot of delayed mail.

The inspector general visits occurred Feb. 8 and 9 at postal services facilities in Greenville, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Mobile, Alabama; and Omaha, Nebraska. On Feb. 22 and 23, auditors visited processing and distribution centers in Brooklyn, New York; Dallas; southern Maryland; and suburban Chicago.

Here’s what they found:

  • “The Postal Service was not accurately reporting delayed mail” because “employees were not properly supervised and trained in counting and reporting delayed mail.”
  • At five of eight processing and distribution centers, personnel miscounted delayed mail already at the facility. The auditors found 572,000 pieces; but the distribution centers reported 369,000 pieces, or about 64 percent of the “on-hand” delayed total.
  • In addition, the processing centers also miscounted mail that was late in arriving at those facilities. The auditors found the eight facilities had roughly 1.8 million late-arriving pieces of mail during the week of their visits, but only 121,000, or roughly 7 percent, were counted in reports.
  • “When mail condition reports are not accurate, management uses incorrect information to make decisions on staffing, mail processing equipment use, preventative maintenance and the transportation of mail. These decisions affect the Postal Service’s ability to meet its mail service commitments,” the inspector general’s report states.

Could it be that Tara Scott in Bonsack is experiencing the kind of problems uncovered in those audits? It’s impossible to know the answer to that one.

Thursday, I phoned Roanoke Postmaster Ed Schaben about Scott’s issues. He was out of the office and didn’t respond to a message I left him.

I brought Scott’s problems to the attention of the U.S. Postal Service spokesman for the Appalachian region (which includes Roanoke), Tad Kelley. Kelley, who’s based in Pittsburgh, said he forwarded Scott’s contact information to the postal service delivery manager in Roanoke.

“The U.S. Postal Service’s goal is to deliver the nation’s mail securely, accurately and efficiently every day,” Kelley wrote in an email. “Each customer’s concern is very important to us and we ask these concerns be brought to our attention directly at 1-800-ASK-USPS which is our consumer affairs number.”

Those words are what journalists call “boilerplate,” and they’re probably familiar to readers of the lost and delayed mail problems I wrote about last year.

I asked Kelley about the August inspector general’s report. He wrote that the audit’s “flawed methodology results in conclusions that are both inaccurate and susceptible to misinterpretation.”

One problem is that the inspector general’s projections applied findings from eight “subjectively” chosen processing centers to more than 250 postal service facilities across the nation, Kelley said in the email.

“What the [Office of Inspector General] found in its August 10th report was that some employees did not properly record delayed mail and needed additional training on that issue. We agreed with that conclusion and will complete employee training on the proper procedures for recording mail delivery by next week,” Kelley wrote.

“The audit also wrongly concluded that mail arriving late to our processing centers will be delivered late or delayed. This is not true. Mail can arrive at a mail processing center after the acceptance deadline and still be processed and delivered on time.”

I also asked Kelley for the most recent on-time mail percentage for the Roanoke area. He responded that in the most recent quarter, the entire Appalachian District scored better than 97 percent.

But that was an answer to a question I hadn’t asked. Roanoke is merely a small portion of the Appalachian District. So I tried again.

What were the most recent first-class mail service scores for the Roanoke Processing and Distribution Center?

On that one, I got a stiff arm from Kelley.

“Consistent with our national policy, we publicize district ... scores solely,” he replied.

We can only hope Tara Scott gets some answers that are more satisfactory.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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