April 9, 2009 — While U.S. Postal Service operations in the Virgin Islands got high marks from a federal audit, those Postal Service facilities in San Juan that deal with mail to and from the Virgin Islands didn't do nearly as well, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in a telephone press conference Thursday.
Those problems in Puerto Rico are the reason postal customers in the Virgin Islands suffered for years with late mail, lost packages and myriad other problems, Christensen said.
"Once the mail gets to the Virgin Islands, there is no problem whatsoever," she said.
Lack of communication between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Postal Service has also created obstacles to better service, Christensen said.
"Some will have to be addressed legislatively," she said.
The difficulties with Customs occur because the Virgin Islands lies outside the U.S. Customs Zone, she said. While there had been problems when residents tried to send medications to the mainland, Christensen said that although there are still a few glitches, that issue has been resolved.
However, local pharmacies run into trouble when they want to send back expired medications to mainland manufacturers.
According to Christensen, Customs held training with the Postal Service workers so they'd know how to deal with mail that faced Customs issues. Customs was supposed to put up signs at post offices instructing customers on correct procedures, but she said it's not clear whether Customs has followed through on that commitment.
And the report by the Postal Service's inspector general indicated that post offices across the Virgin Islands had "more than enough people to handle the mail." Christensen said the territory's post offices also had enough vehicles.
As for the situation at Postal Service facilities in San Juan that handled mail to and from the Virgin Islands, the audit compared them to 53 other similarly sized sites. The audit found that San Juan was the lowest performer in processing periodicals, the second lowest performer in processing first class mail, ranked 49 out of 53 in processing Priority Mail, ranked 42 in processing standard mail, and ranked 48 in having the most delayed mail.
All mail to the territory is handled first in Puerto Rico. That includes mail going from one Virgin Island to another and even mail headed for the adjacent post office mail box.
That issue has not been resolved, and Christensen said she's asked the Postal Service to allow the territory to sort its own mail like the territories of Guam and American Samoa do.
The Postal Service is reluctant to do that because it claims the territory's mail volume is too low and it doesn't have the equipment to test for hazardous materials, Christensen said.
In the case of periodicals that arrive very late, Christensen said that situation should improve because the Postal Service now sends some periodicals by air instead of using surface mail.
The issue of damaged packages was cleared up by repairing the sorting machines in San Juan. Christensen also said the Postal Service developed a system to keep up with repairs to the sorting machine round the clock.
After more than four years of terrible postal service that included late delivery of mail, Priority Mail taking more than a week to be delivered and damaged mail and packages, Christensen requested the audit to find out why these problems occurred. It began in May 2008.
She asked that post office customers who continue to have problems call her office. The St. Thomas number is 774-4408. On St. Croix, call 778-5900.
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