PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A U.S. House Oversight subcommittee held their third field hearing on U.S. Postal Service delivery and operations in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The goal is to address the USPS’s declining performance and the increase in mail thefts in recent years.
Democratic lawmakers, mostly from the Philadelphia area, expressed concerns about theft, safety and the ability of postal workers to continue to efficiently do their job. U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, said postal issues are top of mind for her constituents this year.
“We have three times the number of complaints and concerns about the Postal Service — about mail delivery, about fraud, about theft — than last year,” Dean said.
The subcommittee said, between 2018 and 2021, robberies of mail carriers more than tripled, and armed robberies more than quadrupled. Check-washing schemes, in which criminals steal mail from blue collection boxes or people’s homes and cash it for themselves, have also been rampant.
When U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans requested more data on the numbers of people caught and charged for stealing checks in Philadelphia, USPS Assistant Inspector General for Audit Melinda Perez said, “I don’t have statistics for you at this point,” before punting to the USPS Pennsylvania and Delaware District Manager Gary Vaccarella.
Committee Chair Gerry Connelly paused questioning for a moment to ask Perez: “Are you telling us you don’t know how many violations or suspicions of theft have been prosecuted or pursued?”
Among the witnesses questioned about the post office’s declining performance was Frank Albergo, Postal Police Officers Association National President.
“Postal crime has spiraled out of control. Postal workers are being attacked and mail is being stolen at unprecedented levels,” he said.
Mail theft is a federal crime. Union officials have also criticized a policy implemented in 2020, which prevents Postal Service police officers from investigating mail theft that does not occur on USPS property.
“What sort of law enforcement agency doesn’t want their police officers protecting employees? What sort of law enforcement agency doesn’t want their law enforcement officers to have the power to do their jobs?” Albergo said. “I’m as confused as anyone else. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Albergo testified the agency was having trouble retaining postal officers.
The subcommittee said there were serious performance issues in Philadelphia. In summer of 2021, officials said, the on-time delivery rate was just under 62% for mail that should take three to five days in transit.
While there have been some improvements since then, critics say the Postal Service has changed its standards to move the goal posts.
Democrats have been highly critical of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was selected by the USPS Board of Governors, which was appointed by former President Donald Trump. U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Chester County, said criticism of DeJoy’s department isn’t political, it’s just bad management.
“Whenever we ask for data. Whenever we asked for performance indicators or statistics or anything, there weren’t any,” she said.
The House panel is also interested in how prepared the Postal Service is for the high volume of mail-in ballots for the upcoming midterm elections. The testimony of Ivan Butts, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, did not quell those concerns.
“We have to keep in mind that over 600 pieces of mail-processing equipment were taken out of the system a few years ago,” Butts said. “That was firepower that’s going to impact the Postal Service forever.”
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, said even if there was a plan to fix the Postal Service, they would need leadership cooperation.
“Beginning at the very top, Postmaster General DeJoy came into office in spring of 2020 with a specific plan to shrink the size of the Postal Service,” Boyle said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since that time, we have had these myriad issues.”