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The USPS Needs to Stop Acting Like the CIA

Transparency would save the post office from being aligned with murkier government agencies

September 22, 2020

As Election Day draws closer, hysteria about the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) continues unabated. Lawmakers and pundits continue to accuse Postmaster General (PMG) DeJoy of destroying the USPS, despite steadily improving delivery times.

The USPS has even incurred lawsuits from states upset that the agency sent out postcards reminding voters to “start today” and that “rules and dates vary by state.” However, USPS leadership could stand to learn a thing or two from the current surge of postal misinformation. Unless the notoriously tight-lipped agency starts to open up about their operations and pricing, wild allegations will continue to fly. The USPS must embrace transparency and stop acting like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

When PMG DeJoy testified before the House and Senate in late August, the USPS executive faced no shortage of hostile questions based on false allegations and insinuations. Fortunately, DeJoy was able to counter the claims with data showing that nearly 95 percent of first-class mail was arriving within one day of service standards. More recently, data published by The New York Times confirmed that the delivery slowdown actually preceded operational changes (i.e. cutting down on overtime, network streamlining) instituted by DeJoy. 

And even more data pieced together by scholars such as American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin Kosar shows that the mail slowdown coincided with the quarantining of a record number of USPS workers. This compelling contextual data has made it far harder for serious analysts to put the lion’s share of the blame on DeJoy for mail disruptions. It does seem strange, however, that the all-important task of data-gathering and publishing is left to watchdogs and news outlets rather than America’s mail carrier.

Had the USPS continually and transparently published this information, there’d probably be less wild speculation about mail not being delivered or DeJoy killing baby chickens

It’s unfortunate, but hardly surprising, that the USPS failed to be proactive in releasing this critical information. America’s mail carrier routinely drags its feet in disclosing data, wantonly denying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that could shed some light on agency finances and operations.

In fiscal year 2019, the agency issued full denials to more than 35 percent of processed and finalized FOIA requests. This makes the USPS moderately more transparent than the CIA (~55 percent), but far more secretive than the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (~11 percent), the Department of Justice (6 percent) and the Department of Homeland Security (~2 percent). That’s right, America’s mail carrier is far more secretive than agencies tasked with defending the homeland, bringing criminals to justice, and operating sensitive satellites. 

A quick trip to the Inspector General’s (IG) website reveals the sorts of information that the agency prefers to keep under wraps. Some heavily redacted reports hint that USPS leadership isn’t happy with the IG pointing out flaws in the postage reselling program, which results in commercial consumers who would’ve used USPS anyway benefiting from special discounts. A (still heavily redacted) IG report released thanks to a FOIA request by the Capitol Forum claims that management’s hostility toward investigating the reselling program amounts to an “attack on the independence of the OIG and an attempt to keep important work from being disclosed to critical stakeholders.” While a thick sludge of black ink prevents folks from seeing exactly what the IG found about the reselling program, USPS leadership’s push for secrecy speaks for itself. The program is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $200 million per year, which doesn’t bode well for an agency with more than $160 billion in unfunded liabilities

Unfortunately, the secretive shenanigans continue. Shortly after USPS honored a FOIA request submitted by watchdog group American Oversight, the agency claimed that “multiple pages of documents were mistakenly released” and ordered this information to be taken down from their website. This briefly disclosed data likely shed light on the USPS’ response to the pandemic and PMG DeJoy’s managerial changes, but the American people will probably never see these documents again. The USPS should rerelease these documents and commit to a larger data dump on agency operations, financials, and pricing assumptions. 

America’s mail carrier can get back on track, but only if it allows taxpayers, analysts, and watchdog groups a peak into its inner workings. The USPS is a letter carrier, not a clandestine spy agency. 

Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. 

Ross Marchand is a Catalyst Policy Fellow and the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He focuses on a range of issues, ranging from health-care reform to internet regulation to Postal Service-related issues. Ross is an alumnus of the Mercatus Center MA Fellowship at George Mason University, where he received his MA in economics in 2016. He has interned for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, analyzing and blogging on a variety of public policy issues.
Catalyst articles by Ross Marchand