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Deeper Investigation Sought Into Late Mail

January 28, 2006|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

With Southern California residents continuing to complain about mail that is delivered late at night or not at all, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) wants the nation's postmaster general to provide extensive data about staffing levels, plant closures and delivery schedules.

The veteran legislator said that he wants to delve more deeply into delivery problems to prepare for a hearing about the U.S. Postal Service, to be held Feb. 16 by the House Committee on Government Reform, Congress' primary oversight panel.

Meanwhile, postal officials last week sent a memo to Southern California post offices, reiterating the agency's long-held goal of having most mail delivered by 6 p.m. at the latest. The memo comes amid gripes from residents who say their mail arrives as late as 10 p.m.

Waxman is expected to make more than a dozen requests Monday for information from John E. Potter, the postmaster general. Among other items, Waxman wants to know what percentage of mail in the Los Angeles area is delivered after 5 p.m. He also plans to ask for data on staffing levels over the last three years, copies of customer complaint logs and any analyses of cost savings related to plant closings. And he will request information about what effect plant closings have had on the transportation of mail in the region.

In recent weeks, scores of Southern California residents have reported problems with late or misdirected mail and personnel shortages in postal facilities. Constituents have complained to Waxman and to Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) that carriers are making their rounds as late as 10:30 p.m., frightening people and riling dogs.

"We would like to better understand precisely why service standards in the area appear to have dropped," the draft letter says.

"In addition, we would like to examine whether similar patterns are occurring elsewhere in the United States."

A draft of Waxman's request, obtained Friday by The Times, notes that postal officials have acknowledged problems and pledged to take steps to remedy them. As reported earlier, those steps include earlier start times for carriers, the hiring of more personnel and improved mail processing.

Many Southern California carriers and customers have contended that last summer's closing of a Jefferson Boulevard processing facility on near Marina del Rey accounts for many of the delays.

Most of the mail previously handled at that distribution station is now trucked to the main Los Angeles center on South Central Avenue.

A carrier who spoke by phone but would not give his name said the problems stem from a shortage of personnel. "Like most managers across the country, they're trying to do more with less," he said.

Similar problems have surfaced in San Diego and Fresno.

In New Mexico, Sens. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, and Pete V. Domenici, a Republican, have taken up the issue after fielding complaints from residents of Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Maria Najera, a spokeswoman for Bingaman, said delivery problems appeared to be related to plant consolidations. The postmaster general acknowledged substandard delivery in New Mexico and vowed to address problems in management and operations and to hire more people, if necessary.

Gene A. Del Polito, president of PostCom, a lobbyist group that represents users of mail for advertising, marketing and fundraising, said the Postal Service has erred by not keeping customers better apprised of consolidation efforts. Often, he said, the Postal Service closes plants without communicating to patrons what will happen next.

"Unless you have calculated out all of the human elements associated with making big transitions, something's going to go wrong, and I think that's exactly what you're seeing," he said.

Larry Dozier, a Postal Service spokesman for the Los Angeles district, denied that the closing of the Jefferson Boulevard plant was to blame. Rather, he said, the issues relate to staffing levels and the growth in the number of addresses that carriers must serve. He added that the Postal Service is in the process of adjusting the size of many of its routes.

He said that independent measurements by IBM indicate that 95% of first-class mail in the Los Angeles area is delivered on time.

However, carriers say that they have been ordered to start their shifts later than in years past.

Many report that they cannot finish their deliveries before dark and are must work overtime to finish their rounds.

Some say they have been ordered back to the street to finish after dark, even after expressing concerns about their personal safety.

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