Post office

For more than 18 months I have suffered failing service from the U.S. Postal Service. Beginning with Donald Trump’s appointment of the unqualified campaign contributor Louis DeJoy, who also invests heavily in competing delivery services, my household along with countless others no longer receives either daily or on-time deliveries. DeJoy claimed that he acted to control costs and cover the poorly designed postal workers’ retirement fund. But at the same time, he actively cut back on legally mandated services and endorsed Trump’s and his allies’ partisan and illegal efforts to repudiate legally endorsed mail-in balloting (which my household has done for more than a decade legally and without incident, and safely during the pandemic).

My first response was to engage my regular carriers. All three during this period are responsible, professional, concerned, and committed to the traditional ideals and legal obligations of the USPS. They became my friends and told me horror stories of service failures throughout the city of Columbus, the long-term failures of regularly employed “substitute” carriers on their routes, and overall mismanagement across the city’s postal services. They are embarrassed and apologetic. A regional coordinator for the USPS confirms that the city of Columbus is among worst postal disasters in the nation.

My carriers are not surprised by how frequently I have no deliveries—2-5 times a week when they are on vacation, ill, or often shifted to another route. They tell me of dramatic increases in vacant positions and erratic hiring—all of which contradict public pronouncements by Louis DeJoy. They regret how frequently my weekly and monthly magazines fail to arrive. One actually rang my doorbell to hand me the weekly New Yorker whenever it arrived. In addition to talking to my carriers, I attempted to reach the USPS itself. It is all but impossible. No telephone line, national or local, is answered by humans. Only if one is searching for an undelivered package and have a tracking number can you secure a response.

I also wrote to my congressman Troy Balderson and my two Senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown. At first, none responded. Portman’s office failed to answer either email to his official address or telephone calls. Balderson’s office only responded after I observed that he had recently proposed the renaming of a post office in his district in honor of a Korean War veteran. They claimed that they sent a letter to USPS but could not tell me to whom, when, or with what content. After several requests, Brown’s office sent me a Request for Assistance form with a promise to take up my strong request that the USPS be investigated for violating its own legal mandate and denying that fact. A member of Brown’s staff emailed and telephoned me personally.

In late 2021, I discovered that I could file a complaint via a connection on the mazelike USPS website. I did that. It was acknowledged twice, once at the national level, once at Columbus. After I replied to the second acknowledgement elaborating my complaint, at 7:00 a.m. on a Friday, an unidentified “clerk” from the Columbus East Post Office (location unclear) telephoned me to inform me that I was “rude” to complain about failure to deliver and violation of the legal mandate. She actually denied that the USPS is mandated by law to deliver mail six days a week. Within minutes, I received a form email with no mention of the specifics of my case, stating that the “case was resolved,” an outright lie.

I filed another complaint with the additional statement that it should not be sent to the same “rude” and ignorant “clerk.” This time a “Mrs. West” responded; she half-apologized for my “inconvenience” and stated her commitment to assisting me. She then wrote that I am “entitled to my opinion” of Louis DeJoy’s illegal obstructionism, but that was not relevant to my failure to receive mail daily. She asked me “to bare with” her office while they investigated.

Shortly thereafter, she emailed again to tell me that she had personally traveled to view my house to check that the address was clearly visible. It is. She claimed that my mail would be “flagged” daily to ensure I would receive delivery. Throughout she refused to acknowledge that the failure to deliver was systemic and not an isolated instance of one house. I repeatedly informed her that I regularly checked with my neighbors; on days that one of us received no delivery, none of us did. That seemed unimaginable to her.

Shortly after this exchange, I again received a form email telling me that my complaint had been “resolved,” when once again, it had not. I replied several times on the same Friday that the case was not “resolved.” I received no reply. On Wednesday, only four working days later, neither I nor my neighbor received delivery including my supposedly “flagged mail.” Not one word of the USPS’s communications with me has been true.

Uncertain what to do now, and with the Columbus Dispatch and NBC4’s investigative reporter uninterested in reporting on a city-wide problem, through Sherrod Brown’s office, I filed a formal complaint of legal violations and dishonest conduct by the USPS and Postmaster General DeJoy. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration planned to mail 500 million Covid test kits to Americans who request them via USPS.

About two weeks after Brown’s office forwarded my complaint to the USPS, a regional coordinator based in Cincinnati telephoned me directly. Concerned and responsible, she committed to attempting to resolve problems as well as she could. First, she confirmed that Columbus’ USPS offices are among the worst managed and worst performing in the country. My limited interactions with the Columbus administrative staff included no such admission. Second, she asked me to keep her informed about my situation, including when my Covid test kits arrive and when my mail is not delivered. I do that and we have cordial relationship. She remains committed to the historical mission and ideas of the USPS, contradicted daily by DeJoy et al.

In the second week of March, with fanfare and great self-congratulations, Congress passed a post office “reform” bill. Ironically, Portman, who refused to respond to his constituent’s repeated urgent requests, stood loudly as one of the major cheerleaders. The bill only reiterates USPS’s historical and legal mandate—in large bold letters on its website—to deliver the mail six days each week. And it provides merely a Band-Aid to the funding of pensioners’ health care coverage. At the same time, DeJoy flaunted the federal government’s orders to purchase only electric vehicles and instead purchased $6 billion of environment-destroying, gasoline-fueled vehicles.

Some areas in Columbus receive mails less than once a week. Last week I received mail 4½ of six days (on one day one piece of junk mail compared to the unusual 6-12 items), and no issues of the New Yorker for two weeks and counting. Subscriber services for that magazine know my voice and name well.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history. His essays appear in the Columbus Dispatch, Inside Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Washington Monthly, Academe, Publishers Weekly, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and other outlets including NPR. His column “Busting Myths” appears regularly in the Columbus Free Press.