Postmaster general Louis DeJoy told lawmakers on Monday that the US Postal Service would not undo the cost-cutting manoeuvres he instituted this summer to restore mail processing capacity before the November election, sparring with Democrats in a heated hearing before the House Oversight Committee.
Mr DeJoy in July mandated that trucks that transport mail from processing facilities to distribution centres adhere to stricter schedules, leaving mail behind if they are running late or if parcels had yet to be sorted. He also ordered that mail handlers depart for their routes sooner even if mail had not arrived.
Internal Postal Service documents circulated to midlevel managers and obtained by the Washington Post also show that Mr DeJoy cracked down on overtime and additional delivery trips to ensure on-time mail service. Mr DeJoy denied in sworn testimony that he issued any such guidance.
Those moves, according to agency employees and postal experts, caused multi-day delays in localities across the country, ensnaring ballots in midsummer primary elections, causing food to rot inside packages in Los Angeles and depriving residents in parts of Philadelphia of mail delivery for weeks at a time, among other slowdowns.
Mr DeJoy, a former supply chain logistics executive and ally of Donald Trump, last week suspended some of the USPS’s cost-cutting agenda until after the election but told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday that many other policies would remain in place, including the ban on extra mail trips and the early transportation schedule. He also said the nearly 700 high-speed mail sorting machines that had been removed across the country in recent months would not be reinstalled – neither would dozens of blue collection boxes.
That drew pointed – and at times personal – criticism from Democrats, many of whom have called for Mr DeJoy’s resignation.
“What the heck are you doing?” asked representative Stephen Lynch, after a five-minute lecture on the history on the Postal Service.
“Is your backup plan to be pardoned, like Roger Stone?” representative Jim Cooper asked.
Representative Ro Khanna asked Mr DeJoy whether he could recite the Postal Service’s unofficial motto. Mr DeJoy stumbled through part of it. “Nor rain, nor snow, that sleet nor hail will make our delivery,” he said.
Representative Katie Porter asked Mr DeJoy whether he knew the price of multiple routine postage items. The only two he could name were the cost of a first-class stamp (55 cents) and the weight limit for priority mail (70lbs).
“Mr DeJoy, I’m concerned,” she said. “I’m glad you know the price of a stamp, but I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency.”
Republicans rushed to Mr DeJoy’s defence. Representative James Comer, the committee’s top Republican, called the debate over the Postal Service a “hysterical frenzy”.
“Why are they out to get you?” asked representative Jim Jordan.
“I have no idea,” Mr DeJoy replied.
The postmaster general reciprocated criticism at times.
“It’s my time now,” he chided representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as he pushed for more time to answer a question. “Is it my time?”
“No, no,” Ms Wasserman Schultz replied. “It’s always my time.”
In response to Mr Khanna’s question about turning sorting machines back on, Mr DeJoy dismissively said: “In Washington, it makes plenty of sense. To me it makes none.”
Committee chair Carolyn Maloney scheduled the emergency hearing – and House speaker Nancy Pelosi called the chamber back to order – after Mr Trump on 12 August said he’d withhold funding from the Postal Service to hobble its ability to distribute and collect mailed ballots. Days later, the Post reported that USPS warned 46 states that their vote-by-mail requirements were “incongruous” with mail service, and that millions of Americans risked not having their votes counted. Images also began to spread online of postal workers removing collection mailboxes.
Mr DeJoy told representative Gerald Connolly that he contacted people close to Mr Trump or his re-election campaign to ask that he stop discussing the USPS because the president’s remarks harmed the agency.
“I have put word around to different people that this is not helpful to the Postal Service,” Mr DeJoy said.
Democrats over the weekend pushed Ms Maloney’s Delivering For America Act through the House, which would provide the Postal Service with $25bn (£19bn) in emergency funding, fulfilling a request from the agency’s bipartisan governing board, and bar Mr DeJoy from making any service or operational changes until the end of the pandemic.
The GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.
House Democrats repeatedly pressed Mr DeJoy to roll back the changes himself. In a five-minute monologue, Mr Lynch told Mr DeJoy: “You have ended a once proud tradition” of reliable mail delivery. As Mr DeJoy began to respond, Mr Lynch cut in: “Will you put the machines back?”
“The rest of your accusations are actually outrageous,” Mr DeJoy said.
“Will you put the machines back?” Mr Lynch asked again.
“I will not,” Mr DeJoy said.
He told representative Harley Rouda that the Postal Service’s operations department, the leaders of which Mr DeJoy removed on 7 August, was responsible for the decision to reduce processing capacity.
“There must be a reason. I didn’t do it,” Mr DeJoy said.
Mr Khanna asked Mr DeJoy whether he would restore the machines if Congress approved $1bn (£762.8m) in funding.
“Get me the billion and I’ll put the machines in,” Mr DeJoy said.
Ms Wasserman Schultz cited machines from postal processing plants in her district that postal workers told her they want restored. During the hearing, she projected a photograph of one machine with its power cord dangling from the ceiling. Would Mr DeJoy authorise plant managers to turn machines back on, if local authorities feel they are needed?
“We have a management team that is responsible for making decisions as to what machines are used and not used,” Mr DeJoy said.
“But those things are decided locally,” Ms Wasserman Schultz responded, as Republican members of the committee argued that she had exceeded her time. “Will you let them decide that locally?”
“No,” Mr DeJoy said.
He and the USPS also face lawsuits from 21 state attorneys general who say Mr DeJoy did not have legal authority to change policies as he did without first consulting the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who is leading the suit, said Mr DeJoy’s appearances before the House and Senate committees did not provide clarity about the operational changes.
“His words cause confusion, not clarity, and are simply not enough,” Mr Shapiro said in an interview on Monday afternoon after the hearing. “We need guarantees from him that he’s going to follow the law, and so far, he’s failed to meet that bar.”
Mr Shapiro said he is seeking written assurances that Mr DeJoy will halt operational changes such as limiting the amount of time workers can spend sorting and picking up mail, and others that have led to nationwide delays in mail delivery.
“What I wanted him to do was agree to a binding agreement that says no future changes, as well as a binding agreement that rolls back the illegal changes he’s already made, and issue a binding statement that treats election mail with the proper priority – and he failed to do all of those things,” Mr Shapiro said.
Mr Shapiro on Friday said Mr DeJoy’s assertions that the Postal Service will continue to prioritise election mail as it had in the past are not binding: “What I’ve learned – and I have sued the president two dozen times – is you cannot trust the president or his enablers.”
“The concerns are the mail changes he’s made, slowing down prescriptions for veterans, slowing down billings and payments for small businesses, and slowing down election mail,” he said.
“I want him to roll back his illegal changes, allow the mail to flow as expeditiously as it was before, and assure us in a legally binding agreement that election mail will be prioritised as it has been historically,” Mr Shapiro added. “And until he does those concrete things, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to his rhetoric.”
Democrats pressed Mr DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors chairman Robert Duncan about the selection process through which Mr DeJoy was appointed, and the USPS’s independence from the White House.
Under questioning from representative Jamie Raskin, Mr DeJoy said he did not solicit the position of postmaster general and did not consult treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin until after he received the offer. Mr DeJoy said he was contacted by the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates about the role. Mr Duncan said Mr DeJoy entered the selection process after the chairman submitted his name to Russell Reynolds.
“I talked to [Mnuchin] about the job after I received the offer,” Mr DeJoy said. “I did not accept the offer immediately, OK.”
“I had a perfectly good life prior to this,” he added. “But I was interested in helping, and I was called by Russell Reynolds out of the blue.”
The Washington Post
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies