Transportation companies again dominate this year’s Top 150 U.S. Postal Service Suppliers list. All told, USPS spent nearly $16 billion on purchases in FY 2018, about $900 million more than last year.  Not surprisingly for an agency charged with moving the mail, six of the top ten contractors provide transportation services or equipment.

The Top 150 list has been compiled annually since 1999 by David Hendel, a partner in the firm’s Technology, Manufacturing, and Transportation group and leader of the firm’s Postal Contracting team.  The list is compiled from data received in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Postal Service spent $15.9 billion on all outside purchases in FY 2018, of which $9.8 billion went to the agency’s Top 150 suppliers. The Top 150 received $540 million more than last year’s Top 150 group, and $1.5 billion more than those in FY 2016.

The top 10 largest suppliers earned $4.2 billion, which is one quarter of the Postal Service’s total spend and $700 million more than last year’s Top 10.  They also collected $3 billion more than the next ten largest suppliers.

Transportation suppliers

As it has since 2002, Federal Express Corporation soared again to the top of the list as the Postal Service’s largest supplier.  FedEx increased its USPS revenues by $400 million, jetting to the $2 billion mark for the first time and landing a new record for single-year supplier revenue. FedEx carries package and letter mail for the Postal Service under a contract that continues through September 29, 2024.

As a whole, air transportation suppliers elevated their USPS revenue in 2018 from 2017’s totals.   United Parcel Service had $206 million in revenue in FY 2018, which ups its total from last year by $34 million and raises its ranking five notches from no. 10 to no. 5. Similarly, United Airlines gained $3 million; Delta Airlines, $11 million; American Airlines, $6 million; and cargo carrier Kalitta Air, $19 million.  These across-the-board increases suggest that the Postal Service is moving more mail volume by air than before, or paying more to do so.

Mail haulers Hoovestol Inc., and its affiliated company Eagle Express Lines, again took second place with $480 million in revenue, freighting an additional $28 million from last year.  We no longer consolidate entries from three separate companies held by parent Salmon Companies Inc., so the next largest ground carrier is Postal Fleet Services Inc. with $161 million in revenue.  Wheeler Bros., Inc., which provides automotive parts for the Postal Service’s aging fleet, road to $171 million in revenue to patch up the no. 8 spot.

FCA US, LLC (formerly Chrysler Group LLC) sped from no. 22 to no. 6 with $178 million in revenue.  FCA is supplying the Postal Service with roughly 19,000 commercially available ProMaster vans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Technology and services

Technology companies also figured prominently in the Top 10 for FY 2018.  EnergyUnited Electric Membership Corporation, which provides telecommunication and energy billing services, called in at no. 3, this time with $429 million in revenue, an increase of $27 million over last year. HP Enterprise Services, LLC, a provider of computer equipment, remained at no. 7, but with $21 million less revenue than last year.

Northrop Grumman Corporation/Solystic SAS ranked no. 9 with $169 million in revenue.. Accenture Federal Services saw a revenue decline of $39 million to $165 million, making it the no. 11 supplier.

The only company in the Top 10 not providing technology or transportation-related items is packaging products supplier Victory Packaging. Victory, ranked fourth this year, wrapped up $220 million in revenue, almost exactly the same amount as the last two years.

2018 TOP 10 USPS SUPPLIERS

Rank Company FY18 Revenues ($) Billing Location
1 Federal Express Corporation* 2,001,154,548.78 Pasadena, CA
2 Eagle Express Lines, Inc. / Hoovestol Inc.* 480,806,282.38 South Holland, IL
3 EnergyUnited Electric Membership Corporation* 429,307,400.89 Statesville, NC
4 Victory Packaging 220,139,733.80 Houston, TX
5 United Parcel Service of America, Inc* (UPS) 205,556,407.98 Louisville, KY
6 FCA US, LLC (Formerly: Chrysler Group LLC) 178,607,251.00 Auburn Hills, MI
7 HP Enterprise Services, LLC* 177,293,718.97 Plano, TX
8 Wheeler Bros., Inc. 171,581,828.95 Somerset, PA
9 Northrop Grumman Corporation /Solystic SAS* 169,690,459.91 Merrifield, VA
10 United Airlines, Inc.* 167,470,951.91 Pasadena, CA

*Denotes consolidated entry

Entries for companies believed to be affiliated or have common ownership were consolidated under the company with the highest individual ranking or best known name. City/state designations are based on the information in USPS payment records and may not be the contractor’s primary location. The data covers payments made by the Postal Service in FY 2018 (October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018). As in past years, purchases made under credit cards (including U.S. Bank and Voyager card fuel purchases) are not included in the rankings.

About Husch Blackwell’s Postal Service Contracting Team

Husch Blackwell’s Postal Service Contracting team assists clients in contracting with the U.S. Postal Service, and its members are knowledgeable regarding the needs specific to the postal industry. The team has compiled annual reports on the top U.S. Postal Service suppliers since 1999, developed and presented dozens of seminars on Postal Service contracting to thousands of attendees, and written the definitive treatise on successfully doing business with the USPS. Previous lists of the Top 150 postal suppliers.

 About Husch Blackwell

 Husch Blackwell is an industry-focused law firm with offices in 18 cities across the United States. The firm represent clients around the world in major industries including energy and natural resources; financial services and capital markets; food and agribusiness; healthcare, life sciences and education; real estate, development and construction; and technology, manufacturing and transportation. For more information, visit huschblackwell.com.

 

Every year or so, the U.S. Postal Service changes the standard Terms and Conditions that apply to its newly awarded Highway Contract Route (HCR) and Contract Delivery Service (CDS) contacts. When this occurs, the new terms only apply to newly awarded contracts–existing contracts are unaffected and retain the same terms as when awarded.

But this year, the Postal Service has sought to apply new Terms and Conditions to existing CDS contracts as well as newly awarded ones. In an email to its CDS contractors, the Postal Service asked them to sign, without any “alterations or additions,” a contract modification that incorporated the new terms. If the contractor did not so, the Postal Service’s email threatened contract termination:

“Because of the Postal Service’s interest in maintaining consistency across its many CDS contracts, please note that a failure to respond to this correspondence … may lead the Postal Service to consider termination of the subject contract.”

After receiving this email, many contractors asked me: “Can the Postal Service really do this?” In my opinion, several legal arguments, if upheld, would make the resulting modification unenforceable. For example, the modification might fail for lack of consideration, because it gave the Postal Service what it wanted without giving anything that contractors valued in return. And it might fail for violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, because it seeks to recapture benefits that were foreclosed at the time of contract award. But I think the best argument against its enforceability is based on the legal theory of coercion and duress. Normally, this is a difficult argument to make, but here the elements seem apparent from the Postal Service’s email itself.

Proving duress

To be relieved from a contract modification you signed on the basis of duress or coercion, you need to prove three things. First, you need to show that you involuntarily agreed to the modification. One common way of showing this is writing “under protest” next to your signature. But that was not an option here, because the Postal Service’s email said you must sign with “no alterations or additions” or it would nullify the document. No contractor sought the modification, nor was asked how they viewed it. The Postal Service’s email itself thus establishes involuntary action, as it permitted no response other than the contractor’s signature on an unaltered modification.

Second, you need to show that the circumstances permitted no other alternative than signing the modification. Once again, the Postal Service’s email again establishes this for you. The email says you must sign the modification or you risk having your contract terminated. In these circumstances, you have no other reasonable alternative to signing, because if you do not sign, you will lose the contract.

The Postal Service might argue that the email said a refusal to sign would only “lead the Postal Service to consider termination of the subject contract,” not that it was dead certain to be terminated. But viewed in context of the entire email, there was little reason to believe a non-conforming contract would survive. The Postal Service’s email explained that it was seeking uniformity in contract terms among all of its CDS contracts. If you did not sign the modification, then your contract would run counter to this policy. The email gave no reason to hope that your non-uniform contract would remain in place if you refused to sign the modification.

Third, you need to show that the circumstances you were faced with were the result of the Postal Service’s coercive acts and not a predicament of your own making. Once again, this is established by the Postal Service’s email. Contractors did nothing to place themselves into this predicament.

Gurdak case found similar coercion

A dozen years ago, the Postal Service tried something similar and the resulting modification was found to be coerced and unenforceable. In George P. Gurdak, PSBCA No. 5049, 05-2 BCA ¶ 33,092, the parties had previously agreed to a 10-year facility lease that required the contractor to make some renovations. When it came time for the Postal Service to approve the design of the renovations, the Postal Service balked, but not because of any problems it had with the design. Instead, the Postal Service wanted to pay a lower rent because it had re-measured the usable space and it was smaller than USPS had thought. The contractor strenuously objected to the modification, but the Postal Service said, “Take it or leave it.”  Without USPS’s design approval, the contractor could not proceed with the project, so the contractor signed the modification that reduced the lease rate.

After the building was renovated, the contractor submitted a claim for the original, higher lease rate. The contracting officer denied the claim, contending that the contractor had agreed to the lower rate in the signed modification. The contractor appealed to the Postal Service Board of Contract Appeals, contending the modification was coerced and unenforceable. The PSBCA agreed. Even though the Postal Service had the contractual right to approve the renovations design, its use of that right must still be exercised in good faith. The Board held that the Postal Service could not threaten exercise of a legitimate contract right if the exercise of that contract right would violate notions of fair dealing due to its coercive effect.

Just as in Gurdak, the Postal Service has threatened CDS contractors with exercise of a legitimate contract right (here, termination) in a way that violates notions of fair dealing and is coercive. In both cases, a “take it or leave it” threat was made for the wrongful purpose of forcing the contractor to accept new contract terms.

The Board in Gurdak held that the coerced modification was not binding on the contractor. Did this mean that the contractor could hold the Postal Service to those parts of the modification that it wished to enforce? In its email to CDS contractors, the Postal Service stated that the modification would also remove “outdated supplier obligations.”  If that is indeed true, then under Gurdak, is it possible that the Postal Service would still be bound to those parts of the modification?

What’s next?

In most cases, the modification will likely have little impact on performance, but it does increase the risk of disputes arising from the modification’s new obligations and approval requirements. Should USPS seek to enforce one of these new obligations, you may need to assert that such directive constitutes a constructive change because it arises from a coercive and unenforceable modification. If a mutually agreeable solution cannot be reached, you may need to bring a claim for the cost impact of the new directive under the Claims and Disputes clause of the contract.

The U.S. Postal Service spends about $3 billion per year to move the mail by truck and does so under a special type of contract called a Highway Contract Route (HCR) contract. These contracts have unique contract clauses, and even their own lingo. For example, an HCR “amendment” is what the rest of the government contracting world would call a contract “modification.”

One of the biggest differences between HCR contracts and other government contracts is the Changes clause. Under an HCR contract, the contracting officer has limited ability to direct unilateral changes. The CO may only issue a unilateral change, called a “minor service change,” if the price impact would be $5,000 or less. Under a Contract Delivery Service (CDS) contract – a subset of HCR contracts for mailbox deliveries – unilateral changes must be $2,500 or less. Even for these changes, a contractor who disagrees with the CO’s determination may file a claim for additional compensation.

In addition to these monetary thresholds, unilateral changes are further restricted to certain types of changes. The only unilateral changes a CO can direct are an extension, a curtailment, a change in line of travel, a revision of route, and an increase or decrease in frequency of service or number of trips. The CO has no authority to unilaterally direct any other change, even if the price impact would be $5,000 or less. For example, the contracting officer may not unilaterally direct a contractor to change equipment or buy new equipment. Continue Reading The unique Changes clause in Postal Service HCR contracts

Leslie Arkansas Post Office
The termination of a $34,000 mail delivery contract serving this post office in Leslie, AR could result in three standard clauses being declared unlawful on thousands of USPS transportation contracts.

Three standard clauses used in virtually all Postal Service surface transportation contracts are now on the chopping block. In an interim ruling, the Court of Federal Claims ordered the Postal Service to show why these three clauses should not be declared unlawful and unenforceable. Tabetha Jennings v. U.S., Fed. Cl. No. 14-132C, May 29, 2016.

The case involves the default termination of a $34,000 contract to provide mail delivery between Leslie and Timbo, Arkansas. Tabetha Jennings, the sole proprietor contractor, had provided service for seven years without any issues. Then, during a heavy volume Christmas season, a postmaster accused her of using a vehicle with insufficient capacity. The postmaster was wrong, but this charge led to other accusations. Eventually, the postmaster accused Jennings of conducting herself “in an unprofessional manner” and disrupting mail processing operations. These accusations, in turn, led the contracting officer to rescind Jennings’s security clearance and her access to postal premises and the mail.

Jennings disputed the accusations against her and presented statements from a different postmaster and from another contractor that backed her up. But the contracting officer was unmoved and did not lift the suspension of her security clearance. When Jennings failed to provide a substitute carrier to continue the service she had been barred from performing herself, the contracting officer terminated her contract for default. Continue Reading Court orders Postal Service to justify lawfulness of three standard clauses

HCR Seminar Postal Contracting Brochure 2016_3Unpaid for work you performed on your HCR contract?  Can’t agree with the Postal Service on a contract price adjustment?  Not given a chance to bid on new work in your area?

Learn about remedies for these problems at our new seminar, “Claims and Disagreements under Postal Service HCR contracts.”  Husch Blackwell partner David Hendel will present the seminar on January 19, 2016, at 9:00 – 10:30 a.m., at the Golden Nugget Hotel in Last Vegas, NV.

The seminar focuses on two areas where HCR contractors have substantial rights and remedies. First, we examine the claims process, which gives contractors the right to recover funds for various Postal Service actions – or inactions. We describe the activities that potentially generate claims, how to prepare a claim, when to bring a claim, and how claims are processed and resolved. We review actual claims that arose from service changes and describe how courts have ruled on them. We also provide a list of do’s and don’ts when preparing and submitting claims.

Second, we describe the “disagreement” process, which allows contractors to protest a Postal Service procurement action or award decision. We explain the grounds for bringing a disagreement, deadlines and filing requirements, and decisions by the USPS Supplier Disagreement Resolution Officer (SDRO).

The seminar is presented in conjunction with the Central/Western Area regional meeting of the National Star Route Mail Contractors Association. Separate registration is required. For Star Route Association members, the seminar fee is $195; for non-members, $295.  A $50 discount applies to each additional person who attends from the same company. Those wishing to register may go to https://www.regonline.com/hcr  or contact seminar coordinator Shana Hoy at  816.983.8809 at shana.hoy@huschblackwell.com.

Top 150 USPS Suppliers in FY 2013Federal Express Corporation was the U.S. Postal Service’s largest contractor in fiscal year 2013. The next largest USPS supplier was EnergyUnited, which provides consolidated telecommunication and energy billing services. Military air mail transportation provider Kalitta Air was third. Six of the Postal Service’s top 10 suppliers served the agency’s transportation needs. The Top 150 USPS supplier list is compiled annually by David P. Hendel, a partner in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Government Contracts practice group who focuses on Postal Service contracting matters.

Continue Reading FedEx tops list of U.S. Postal Service contractors in 2013

A double whammy has hit the U.S. Postal Service. At the close of business on August 1, 2012, the Postal Service failed to make a $5.5 billion payment owed the U.S. Treasury. And on September 30, 2012, the Postal Service defaulted on another $5.6 billion payment. Will this $11.1 billion default impact postal contractors?  No it won’t, according to the agency. But it certainly won’t help those who are doing business with the Postal Service.

Continue Reading Will the Postal Service’s $5.5 billion default impact its contractors?

Doing business with the U.S. Postal Service has always been different from contracting with other federal agencies and commercial entities. As a starting point, the Postal Service is exempt from most federal procurement laws and regulations. such as the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA). The Postal Service has its own special purchasing policies called the Supplying Principles and Practices. On top of these differences, the Postal Service is on the brink of insolvency. To help contractors understand and succeed within this special environment, our firm is presenting a full-day seminar on October 21, 2011 in Chicago on “What Every Postal Service Contractor Should Know.”  

Continue Reading What every Postal Service contractor should know