(The Center Square) – U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., has posed multiple questions to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy regarding operational changes being considered at mail processing facilities in Wenatchee and Yakima.
Newhouse represents central Washington’s sprawling 4th Congressional District, which includes the two cities. Last week, he sent a letter to DeJoy and Jennifer Selde, the U.S. Postal Service government liaison for western states, voicing concerns about local delivery services and election integrity.
In November, a review said USPS could save between $270,000 and $360,000 annually in maintenance and mail processing expenses by shifting more operations from Wenatchee to a distribution site in Spokane. The study didn’t say whether transportation costs would increase, or delivery slow down, as a result of shipping mail to Spokane for processing then returning it back to central Washington.
The Wenatchee study, called a Mail Processing Facility Review or MPFR, said no career employees would be laid off, but there could be an estimated “net decrease of four craft (positions)” once the initiative is completed and that any union employee reassignments would be made in accordance with collective bargaining agreements.
Shortly afterward, union representative Ryan Harris said shifting processing services from Wenatchee to Spokane would cause “dramatic delays to local mail and packages.” Harris said USPS held a public meeting to explain the proposal on Nov. 29 – the same day that county auditors in Washington were required to certify results from the Nov. 7 general election. Consequently, he said, postal officials were unlikely to hear from auditors about possible impacts that any operational changes could have on timely delivery of election ballots.
Those topics were among the two dozen questions posed by Newhouse in his letter. He asked what steps USPS was taking to ensure mail-in ballots were properly collected in this year’s elections, after uncollected ballots were discovered in postal drop boxes “well after Election Day” in Clark, King, Pierce, and Thurston counties.
“It is imperative that these questions are answered so we may ensure exceptional delivery standards are upheld and election integrity measures are not compromised,” the congressman wrote. Newhouse also said he has heard conflicting information about potential employee layoffs, modernization investments, and transportation delays at the Wenatchee and Yakima processing sites.
Kim Frum, a communications specialist for USPS, told The Center Square Monday that Newhouse’s letter is under review and a response will be sent directly to him.
Frum said no final decisions have yet been made regarding the Wenatchee site or the mail processing facility in Yakima, where there’s consideration of shifting some operations to Spokane or Seattle. According to USPS, business mail entry, post office, station, and branch retail services are not expected to change.
Local residents may submit comments up to March 14 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mpfr-yakima-wa. A public meeting is scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 3 p.m. in the Yakima Convention Center. At that time, results of the initial USPS study will be shared. A summary is expected to be posted online at least one week in advance.
A third facility, in Tacoma, is also under review for a possible shift of mail processing operations to Seattle. Based on initial findings published in November, there would be no immediate layoffs for career employees, but there could be a reduction of 12 “craft positions” due to operational transfers. If implemented, the Tacoma study estimates that between $1.1 million and $1.5 million could be saved annually by reducing costs for transportation, maintenance, and processing.
The operational changes proposed at the three Washington sites are part of a 10-year strategic plan called Delivering for America, which the Postal Service says is a $40 billion investment to modernize “the nation’s aging postal processing and delivery network.”
Nationally, the Postal Service is “in crisis,” the plan says.
“The Postal Service has recorded $87 billion in financial losses over the last 14 years and failed to meet service standards. Our business and operating models are unsustainable and out of step with the changing needs of the nation and our customers,” the summary states.
A dramatic increase in package volume, lack of employee availability, and scarcity of airplane and truck transportation – especially during the holidays – have increased problems since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to USPS.