By Adam Andrzejewski
The Postmaster General came under congressional fire this week for his potential plan to scrap two-day, first-class mail delivery and hike the cost of postage to make up for the billions of dollars in annual USPS losses.
The USPS boasts a massive budget as well as massive losses, and the problem goes back years. As the Postmaster told Congress, there’s “no end in sight” to the agency’s fiscal woes.
A General Accountability Office (GAO) report found that USPS lost $69 billion over the previous 11 fiscal years—including $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018. Then, a forecasted $6.6 billion loss turned into an $8.9 billion loss in 2019.
In 2020, the Post Office posted a $9.2 billion loss even though total revenues increased by $2 billion (to $73 billion). Package delivery increased sharply during the pandemic (18.8 percent), but first-class mail experienced a 4.2 percent decline and marketing mail declined by 15.2 percent.
In other words, overall, a $1 increase in revenues resulted in a $1.15 increase in costs during 2020. It seems like the more the Postal Service sells, the more they lose.
Sustained losses haven’t stopped the USPS from hiring more employees. Last year, the agency hired 163,257 employees – the most in its history – for a net gain of 54,867 employees on payroll. For perspective, USPS hired 40,174 employees in 2019; 38,126 employees in 2018; and 26,161 employees in 2017, according to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.
And the check is in the mail, especially for the high earners at USPS.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy topped the earning chart with a $303,460 salary. He replaced Megan Brennan, who stepped down in October 2019 and earned $291,650 every year. In fact, the postmaster general out-earns actual U.S. four-star generals, who make $268,344 annually.
DeJoy and Brennan have plenty of company. In 2020, 50 USPS employees made more than $200,000. The previous year, only 29 employees earned more than $200,000. An additional 5,346 employees, mostly executives and lawyers, earned more than $100,000 in 2020.
Last July, Congress gave a financial lifeline to the USPS—a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury under the CARES Act, a coronavirus bailout bill.
DeJoy explained that the loan “will delay the approaching liquidity crisis… the Postal Service, however, remains on an unsustainable path and we will continue to focus on improving operational efficiency and pursuing other reforms in order to put the Postal Service on a trajectory for long-term financial stability.”
Critics have suggested that the service is ossified and in dire need of workplace reforms.
According to our analysis, the USPS doesn’t enforce a mandatory retirement policy, meaning employees can continue earning top dollars for as long as they wish. Nearly 550 employees have been on the job for at least 50 years; 8,500 for at least 40 years; 76,500 for at least 30 years; and 215,000 for at least 20 years.
The Post Office did not respond to our request for comment.
Post Office defenders might suggest that the USPS could lean on its stable of veteran workers to help generate best-in-class ideas to help balance the books.
In 2020, the executive suite tried this. For example, they hired Richard Uluski, who had retired in 2016 after a 36-year career and was praised by the then-Postmaster General for “demonstrated exceptional leadership and delivered results.” Uluski’s new position? “Executive Coach” with compensation at $100 per hour with statutory caps on hours.
A post office spokesperson responded to our comment request and provided additional clarification. “He (Uluski) is employed with us as a reemployed annuitant under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law in Dec. 2019. The law allows Mr. Uluski to receive his Postal Service pension while at the same time receiving a federal salary—with limits, as the document identifies.”
In order to survive, the USPS must pick a lane: Is the organization going to operate like a private company or a government agency? If it chooses the latter, it should be more transparent about how it spends its money.
Even though it benefits from its status as a federal agency, the USPS does not participate in usaspending.com, a searchable database of federal spending, contracts, and grants that was created by Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) in 2006 to provide accountability in federal spending.
The USPS has also rejected our attempts under the Freedom of Information Act to open the books on its vendor-checkbook spending. Despite repeated FOIA requests to make its spending checkbook transparent, to date, the USPS has denied production of its financial records.
In fact, USPS told OpenTheBooks that releasing would compromise the integrity of its procurement and the privacy of its vendors.
So, in 2021, while you may be able to track your mail, you still can’t track how those who handle it spend taxpayer money.