A U.S. Postal Service tractor-trailer driver testified before Congress on Tuesday that operational changes over the past year have resulted in a “slow and steady decline and delay” of the nation’s mail.

Brian McLaurin, a 23-year veteran of the struggling agency, told lawmakers that heavy-duty truck drivers working for the Postal Service had been empowered over the years to move the mail on time by waiting for their truck to be fully loaded before heading out from the loading dock — and getting paid overtime to do it.

“If some mail didn’t make it on the truck, that wasn’t a serious problem since we made multiple trips early in the day, and sometimes extra trips to move the mail,” McLaurin said at the U.S. Senate hearing on the agency’s service issues.

“Today, however, we leave mail behind because we make fewer trips, are understaffed, and are required to stick to rigid delivery schedules which require drivers like me to leave with trucks that are not fully loaded. Times have changed where we don’t value the sanctity of the mail — we would never leave mail behind.”

The operational changes cited by McLaurin were initiated last summer by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. They were aimed at cutting costs by requiring semi-trailer trucks moving from mail processing plants to delivery units to run on a fixed schedule.

But DeJoy had disputed allegations that the initiative called for allowing trucks to run less than fully loaded. Keeping trucks on schedule, DeJoy said, is “a fundamental premise of how the whole mail network is put together. If the trucks don’t run on time, the mail carriers can’t leave on time. I see $7 billion in potential savings in getting the system to connect properly.”

DeJoy earlier this year unveiled a 10-year strategy for the post office that includes another cost-cutting measure that would move approximately 9% of first-class mail and 31% of first-class packages from planes to trucks.

“The goal of this change is to increase service reliability and save costs, but these changes can only be made in conjunction with a reduction in service standards,” said U.S. Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb in testimony at Tuesday’s hearing. “Postal customers are concerned the Postal Service will neither reap the financial benefits nor enhance service reliability.”

To ensure proper oversight of DeJoy’s strategy, Whitcomb asked Congress to provide the Office of Inspector General of the Post Office an additional $17 million over the $263 million that was included in President Joe Biden’s budget for FY22 submitted last year, before DeJoy had announced the plan.

McLaurin asked that Congress add language to the appropriations bill prohibiting the Postal Service from reducing its service standards, mail delivery times, facility hours and performance metrics below its 2020 levels.

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