Postmaster General tells Congress, “Get used to me,” as delays & financial losses mount

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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy apologized for service delays during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week. But he warned that the U.S. Postal Service is “in a death spiral.” Get used to me,”  DeJoy said during testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in late February after being asked how long he intended to remain in his current position.  

The Republican postmaster general, who gained his position under the Trump administration, continued to defy congressional demands for oversight and transparency. DeJoy said he would continue his plans to raise shipping prices and begin implementing significant reforms to the agency’s product offerings. According to experts, without help from the federal government, the Postal Service could run out of cash in late 2021. With the Postal Service’s deepening financial crisis, workers may face layoffs in the future, adding to more delays in rural parts of the United States. Delays so bad that holiday cards mailed in early December arrived at their destination in late January.

According to Adobe Analytics, U.S. consumers spent $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, a record for the largest U.S. online shopping day in history.  The firm analyzed website transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers and reported that Cyber Monday spending grew 15.1% year over year. DeJoy said he planned to rein in the agency’s $188.4 billion in liabilities even if it affected parts of the economy relying on affordable shipping rates.

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In 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to offset losses to the postal system due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the historic increase in mail-in ballots leading up to the presidential election; and subsequent Georgia Senate runoff elections. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic allies also passed reforms to the Postal Service but faced pushback from former President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate last year.  Trump sought to privatize the USPS and remove congressional oversight, a move he believed would dramatically save taxpayer dollars and boost the economy. 

After DeJoy wrapped up his testimony to Congress, President Joe Biden immediately announced nominees for three open seats to the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. The White House said that  Biden would nominate Ron Stroman, a Postal Service retiree and former deputy postmaster general, to fill one of the board’s seats. Anton Hajjar, the American Postal Workers Union’s former general counsel, and the National Vote’s chief executive at Home Institute, Amber McReynolds, were also announced as nominees.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the Democratic advantage could pave the way for enough votes to oust the postmaster general.  DeJoy’s testimony comes after a frantic overhaul last summer lead to late deliveries nationwide and a slew of operational hiccups. House Democrats said that those changes held up taxpayers’ bills, online pandemic after statewide lockdowns, paychecks, and lifesaving prescriptions. With the current board’s backing, DeJoy significantly reduced the postal service’s mail processing capabilities and significantly reduced overtime pay for workers.

Veterans nationwide, particularly those living in U.S. territories, also depend on prescriptions and lifesaving medical equipment delivered via the mail. In a letter from House lawmakers sent to Veterans Affairs leadership and the postmaster general, House lawmakers demanded answers on the USPS delays. In the letter, the lawmakers also noted that in the fiscal year 2019, the V.A. processed over 125.2 million outpatient prescriptions for veterans. An NBC News report estimates that the Postal Service manages about 1.2 billion drug shipments a year — about 4 million each day, six days a week. And according to Statista, over 4.38 billion prescriptions were filled in 2019.

The White House and the Biden transition team are eyeing the governors as a direct line to expand mail delivery, including comprehensive government services, high-speed broadband, and banking access. “I’m pleased the Biden administration is making the postal board of governors a top priority,” said Sen. Gary Peters, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We need to get qualified nominees in these seats who will work with Congress to ensure the Postal Service is focused on strong service performance — and we need to do it quickly.”  Peters’ committee will oversee the nominees’ confirmation process. 

An inspector general’s audit stated that the postal service lacked preparation or concern for how nationwide mail delays could impact businesses, customers, and the medical supply chain. According to the Washington Post, the leaders of influential postal unions have privately expressed a lack of confidence in  DeJoy. They fear that he may lay off career staff and rely more on private contracts negotiated with private firms as his agency continues to hemorrhage cash.  DeJoy, appointed in May, is required to share new policy changes to the Postal Service with the Postal Regulatory Commission but failed to do so. The Post also reported that over seven percent of first-class mail became delayed within the first five weeks of the sweeping changes.

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett last summer asked  DeJoy a series of questions regarding nationwide changes he made to the Postal Service after he was appointed. After acknowledging the magnitude and scope of those reforms,  Plaskett asked  DeJoy if he followed Congressional mandates like 39 U.S.C., Section 3661(b) before moving forward with changes. The policy reads, “When the Postal Service determines that there should be a change in the nature of postal services which generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis, it shall submit a proposal, within a reasonable time prior to the effective date of such proposal, to the Postal Regulatory Commission (P.R.C.) requesting an advisory opinion on the change.”

Plaskett, last August, read into the congressional record the names of St. John residents and other constituents who contacted her office after being affected by widespread mail delays in the U.S. Virgin Islands. DeJoy could not confirm to the House Oversight Committee that he followed the policy after a series of questions from Plaskett during his testimony in August. “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,”  DeJoy told House Democrats. “We will do everything in our power and structure to deliver the ballots on time.”

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