It all started with a tweet, as is the fashion these days: President Trump called out the U.S. Postal Service's deal with Amazon, claiming that the online retailer costs the USPS billions of dollars in deliveries.
I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
On the evening of April 12, Trump followed this tweet by issuing an executive order that will convene a task force to closely examine USPS operations, and which says "the USPS is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout." The order states that this task force will "conduct a thorough evaluation of the operations and finances of the USPS" in order to confirm and investigate Trump's claim's that the service loses $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.
Experts have refuted this claim as being only half true—while the service does lose money delivering first class mail, other package deliveries continue to bring in considerable profits. In 2017, the USPS brought in $19.5 billion, a 11.4% increase from the prior year.
Nonetheless, the USPS responded to Trump's executive order by aligning with his frustrations and acknowledging that it has several opportunities to improve. "Congress structured the Postal Service to pay for our universal retail, processing and delivery network entirely through the sale of high-quality mail and package products and services, without receiving any tax revenues to support our operations," it wrote in a statement posted on its website. "To ensure that we can continue to provide prompt, reliable, and efficient universal postal services in a self-sufficient fashion in today’s increasingly digital world, fundamental statutory reforms to the structure under which we are required to operate are needed."
The statement goes on to say that the service's business problems are "serious, but solvable, and the president’s executive order establishing the Task Force on the United States Postal System provides an opportunity to further consider these important public policy issues." It also calls for an open and transparent review process that considers the perspectives of USPS stakeholders, American businesses and consumers, then ends with a call to action for Congress to pass pending postal reform legislation and for the Postal Regulatory Commission to replace the current price cap on USPS mailing products.
The USPS did not immediately respond to PR News' request for comment.
As a case study, this statement provides communicators with a practical, tactical example of how to handle criticism and calls for reform when those calls come from the very top. Rather than push back against Trump's criticisms or stand up for the efficiency of its business, the USPS aligned with the president's frustration, acknowledged his criticisms and assured the American public that it, too, understands there are tremendous opportunities for improvement from within.
Communicators working in government should take note of how gently this statement reminds the president, and the public, of the crucial role that Congress must play in creating actual, lasting lasting change within the USPS. Bookended with reminders that Congress has structured the USPS to run without receiving any tax revenues and that it's on Congress to actually push pending postal reform legislation through, the statement doesn't deflect or transfer blame for the service's inefficiencies so much as remind everyone what actually has to happen for those inefficiencies to be repaired. There's a nuance and artfulness at work here that other government communicators can emulate.
This tactic ought to also resonate for communicators in the private sector. When challenged by a critic with the loudest voice in the room, constructive communicators can always acknowledge the criticisms being lobbed at their organization, then advance the conversation by proposing actionable solutions. After that, it's the critic's burden to remain constructive in turn.
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