Amidst ongoing issues, Virginia lawmakers say communication with USPS has been a 'hard experience'

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Posted at 6:57 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 18:59:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For months, lawmakers have been pushing the U.S. Postal Service to explain why Central Virginia has problems with its mail service.

A new audit is now providing some answers, but concerns remain regarding how quickly issues like late, missing, or even stolen mail will be resolved.

On Tuesday, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and U.S. Representative Rob Wittman shared their reaction to the audit after they and other Virginia lawmakers pressed for an internal investigation into operations at the USPS Sandston facility, recently converted into one of the nation's first Regional Processing and Distribution Centers.

"Virginia has been ranked among the poorest in terms of delivery times, late mail, etc., in the last few months, and that certainly matches up with what we've been hearing," Kaine said in a Zoom call with reporters.

"It was rated as one of the bottom 10 facilities across the United States," Wittman said. "Pretty incredible."

The audit does share some answers, suggesting management and staff at the facility were not ready for it to become a new center serving a larger region.

Documents suggest a severe lack of transportation plans and communication with the public, as well as other stakeholders, about what the change would look like.

It also cites problems that persisted before the change, citing high management turnover and pervasive staffing shortages that were not adequately addressed before the change.

"I need to go in and converse with regional leadership here and find out, okay, what is the status of employment? How short are you?" Kaine said.

Both Kaine and Wittman shared frustration regarding how long it took to discover the facility's problems, as well as their communication with both lawmakers and the public.

"I deal with a lot of federal agencies. I take tours of federal facilities all the time. I've never had a harder experience, you know getting answers," Kaine said.

"What entity says 'No, we're not going to pay attention to our customers?' We're not going to listen to our customers?" Wittman questioned.

Kaine shared concerns about how the issues could impact mail-in ballots in the upcoming presidential election.

Keith Balmer with the Richmond Office of Elections said there haven't been any glaring problems with the U.S. Postal Service getting ballots in on time.

He is urging voters to make sure they get their ballot in early and drop off mail in person if possible.

"This is not the election to wait until the end to decide that you want to vote by mail, unfortunately, because of what we're hearing," Balmer explained. "You need to be proactive, and you need to be proactive immediately."

Balmer said he wants to make sure all election officials are on the same page when it comes to addressing concerns or challenges with voting by mail.

"What we need to do is ensure that we continue to have dialogue with state officials and with the USPS," Balmer said.

Wittman said he and others will stay on it to quell concerns and make sure the postal problems are resolved.

"Members of Virginia delegation will be laser-focused on making sure that they are accountable, that they're transparent in the things that they're doing to address these issues," Wittman said.

Mail carrier safety is also at the top of mind, as Richmond Police reported two different cases of mail robberies within the past five days.

Kaine suggested mail carriers have body cameras to potentially deter thieves and help solve cases.

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