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Publisher's Forum
Issue: 36-1
 
Vol. 36 No. 1: The squeaky wheel

As most of our subscribers are aware, we have experienced quite a bit of delayed United States Postal Service delivery in the last year. I complained first to our local postmaster, who sent e-mails and placed phone calls to try to find the source of the problem. She was sure it was simply a glitch somewhere.

After some investigation, she discovered that the new distribution facility at Sandston outside of Richmond, Virginia, seemed to be the holdup. We soon learned that other periodicals whose distribution was routed through Sandston were suffering the same fate.

Sandston is the postal system's newest mega-distribution/processing center. Featuring state-of-the-art equipment in a plant nearly the size of 13 football fields (715,743 square feet), it was proving to be a behemoth of ineptitude instead of a pantheon of excellence, let alone a model of modernity.

Around that time I began making formal complaints to the plant's management. I was told by one exec that the problem lay with the private mail service that presorted our mail. I countered with the simple fact that the same company in Bridgewater, Virginia, had been performing admirably for a dozen years. Nevertheless, we dutifully made inquiries to our mail service and learned that everything was being done by the book, as it had for years.

Then I was informed by another heavyweight at Sandston that it was the responsibility of my local post office for not properly monitoring the color-code labeling. Again, we spoke at length with our postmaster and her staff, and found no errors there. They were doing their jobs.

I realized I was getting the classic bureaucratic passing of the buck from the suits.

Predictably, the next edition of the magazine also stalled in delivery. My complaints again fell on deaf ears. Finally, in frustration, I contacted Congressman Eric Cantor (R, VA-7), and friend and fellow history-lover Congressman John Culberson (R, TX-7.)

Both men interceded and addressed the situation immediately. I began getting calls and e-mails from postal execs offering explanations, apologies, and promises of hope and change.

The problem disappeared with the next issue.

Meanwhile, a Richmond TV station, NBC 12, began an investigation of Sandston following complaints from area residents concerning the tardiness of mail delivery. NBC 12 discovered that all mail routed through Sandston was subject to delay and the problem had been going on since the plant opened in 2009. Between June and September of this year, NBC 12 amassed a mountain of evidence and testimony about the inefficiency and mismanagement of the facility. Even some of the plant employees, speaking anonymously, revealed flaws in the plant's processing and management. They told of skids and bins of neglected mail ignored by supervisors and employees. Carriers complained of having to make mail deliveries late into the evening in an attempt to decrease the accumulated backlog.

Although submitting sacks of mail and putting a lot of money into the coffers of the USPS, I received no better treatment than anyone else. It didn't matter if you represented a church, business, or nonprofit organization. Everyone was subject to poor treatment.

A volunteer fire department in nearby Caroline County offered a painful example. Each year they hold a dinner to raise funds. They mailed out 5,000 advertising flyers ten days before the dinner at a cost of over $700 in postage and a bulk mail permit of over $1,900. Days after the event was over, the flyers were still in bins in Sandston. This is but one of scores of nightmares we encountered in our investigation.

For months we had been explaining to customers why it took so long for their magazines to be delivered. I know some found it hard to believe that the postal system could be so negligent. After all, most of us grew up having memorized the postal creed that defined the altruistic mission of US Postal Service employees: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Now we're reading of gross negligence, irresponsibility, and whining about after-hours duties.

It is difficult for some of us to accept that the postal creed has been relegated to an anachronism by mismanagement, union restrictions, and poor hiring policies that have lowered the bar to accept some employees who do not have strong reading skills or, in some cases, are not even fluent in the English language.

To cap it off, an audit conducted by the postal service's Office of Inspector General confirmed the problem and fixed the blame squarely on Sandston. The report claims that the facility has been rated as the least efficient plant of its kind in the entire country. Sandston has the highest volume of delayed mail of all 43 processing and distribution centers in America.

In all, Sandston was late with 156 million pieces of mail in 2010.

The report continues, "The primary causes for the excessive delayed mail were inadequate staffing and supervision, low mail throughput on machines, failure to consistently color-code arriving mail and inaccurate identification and reporting of delayed mail." Once you get past the carefully adjusted terminology and verbiage you get the answer: lousy job performance.

The report further proclaimed, "Our observations revealed that floor supervisors did not ensure employees adhered to color-code and mail-reporting requirements. ... Also, they routinely failed to promptly assess the mail volume and adjust work hours, assignments, sort plans, transportation and any other operational requirements to ensure the Richmond facility met customer service commitments."

That sort of spells it out, doesn't it? Several levels of employees were clearly to blame for negligence, ineptitude, and irresponsibility.

Next time you read about the post office being victimized by the increasing use of the Internet as an alternative, think about this. If they can't process what they already have, what would they do with twice as much mail?

The frustrating exercise served as a useful reminder that legitimate complaints to congressmen can get results. Persistently lodging complaints to media can sometimes get a response as well.

I have often written about my dislike of people whining about their circumstances, something our forebears in the Civil War years rarely, if ever, did. But whining is different from voicing legitimate complaints about promises unkept and paid-for services unrendered. If you have a legitimate complaint, I say go for it. To sit back and do nothing will usually result in just that: nothing.

It behooves us to remember that America was founded on dissatisfied citizens taking their grievances to the limit. It won us our freedom in the Revolutionary War, and it split and ultimately reunited our nation in the Civil War. It is part of our national character.

Whining isn't. Raising a good old American stink is.   — Pub.




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