The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Louis DeJoy was always his own boss. Whom does he serve now?

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Aug. 24. (Tom Williams/Pool/AP)

Louis DeJoy isn’t used to being berated. Usually it’s the other way around, according to people who’ve worked for him.

On Monday morning last week,the businessman and rookie public servant was raked over the coals by furious Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“If any other CEO had this kind of plummeting record in his first two months on the job, I can’t imagine he would be kept on,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.), chairing a hearing on the changes at the U.S. Postal Service during DeJoy’s tenure as postmaster general, which was then only 70 days old.

“I’m tempted to ask, after 240 years of patriotic service delivering the mail, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?” fumed Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (Mass.).

DeJoy endured the verbal beatings with a soft scowl, which often pinched into a light grimace, which sometimes flicked into an attempted eye roll — as if he couldn’t quite believe or stomach his predicament.

In his business career, DeJoy was the one who domineered, who put people in the hot seat. He micromanaged, humiliated and conjured fear, according to people who worked for his major supply-chain business. And he has little patience for undesired chitchat, according to one former employee.

“You couldn’t have a conversation with him,” Patricia Doize-Hyatt, who worked for DeJoy as a personal assistant in 2010, told The Washington Post. “He was that strict.”

But being postmaster general is different. In June, the longtime CEO of a private business, where he was king, was made chief executive of a public agency, where he became a nominal servant to two houses of Congress, 630,000 mostly unionized postal employees, 246 million eligible voters and — well, everyone who sends or receives mail. And so last week, he was called on the carpet by lawmakers who suspected he might be helping an unpopular American president undermine a popular American institution to secure reelection. They wanted to sort out his loyalties.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified in front of a House hearing on Aug. 24 about Postal Service changes that have led to delays since he began in mid-June. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Tom Williams/Pool via AP/The Washington Post)

DeJoy blinked a lot, evaded eye contact. The shoulders of his suit jacket bunched toward his neck, giving him a crouched appearance. The Long Island native sounded like an extra on “The Sopranos” whenever he gave “remawks,” which were mostly curt or indignant. He was an operations guy, lusting for efficiency but bombarded by a body known for its theatrics and dysfunction.

“Am I the only one in this room that understands that we have a $10 billion-a-year loss, right?” DeJoy said after Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) implied that he was hobbling the post office at President Trump’s direction.

Something is amiss with the mail, and DeJoy is either fixing it or making it worse. The Postal Service ended last year $160.9 billion in debt. When DeJoy took over the agency at the start of the summer, he cut extra mail delivery trips and instituted stricter dispatch schedules; he also presided over a quick and steep decline in service, as well as the accelerated removal of mailboxes and decommissioning of nearly 700 high-speed mail-sorting machines from distribution centers. A memo circulated to mid-level managers said the agency planned to eliminate overtime pay, though DeJoy denied ever issuing such an order.

Politicians are crying “conspiracy.” Democrats allege that Republicans are trying to privatize the Postal Service or thrashing services to stem years of financial woes. Trump’s recent threat to obstruct the Postal Service’s ability to process ballots — and his false claims of fraud in mail-in voting — has raised suspicions about DeJoy’s moves since taking office. DeJoy is also a major GOP fundraiser who, before he became postmaster, wrangled $360,000 for Trump’s reelection in 2020 alone.

Republicans such as Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) have countered by accusing Democrats of politicizing the Postal Service so that an inevitable Trump victory at the ballot box on Election Day turns into weeks of searching for phantom votes for Joe Biden that may or may not be sitting in a bin somewhere, buried under e-commerce packages and an ocean of coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond. And the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines has been happening for years, under previous postmasters general, as the volume of first-class mail has declined.

DeJoy testified to the House that he’s never spoken to Trump about the Postal Service, and he pledged to fulfill his “sacred duty” to deliver ballots securely and on time.

“If there’s anybody that can do a good job with the Postal Service, it’s Louis DeJoy,” says Jim Melvin, the former mayor of Greensboro, N.C., DeJoy’s home base for more than two decades. “He ran an extremely successful logistics company. He had warehouses all over the country. He knows how to move stuff, and that’s what the post office is about. . . . I did ask him, ‘Why are you taking this job?’ — because it’s probably one of the toughest jobs in the country — and he said, ‘Because I think I could make a difference.’ ”

A good difference, or bad? It may depend on what disturbs you more: a $10 billion-a-year loss or the cost of trying to eliminate it.

“The overreaching concern is there’s an agenda in this White House to dismantle and sell off the post office,” says Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “And one way to get there or try to get there is to degrade services and undermine the public institution itself.”

Louis DeJoy could not live up to Donald Trump’s vision of an executive.

That was the first sentence of a 2004 profile of DeJoy in Greensboro’s newspaper, the News & Record.

“I’d be fired,” DeJoy told the paper at the time, when asked how he would fare on Trump’s hit TV show “The Apprentice,” which had recently finished its first season. “That attitude that you are the most important person is self-destructive.”

DeJoy, raised in a family of Italian Catholics in Suffolk County, N.Y., had distinguished himself in the unglamorous business of getting stuff where it was going. His father, Dominick, ran a small trucking and rigging company in New York and New Jersey. Louis completed a business degree in 1979 from Stetson University in small-town DeLand, Fla., where he was also a “shift commander” for campus security. In the 1980s, DeJoy and his brothers began to diversify and expand the family business — under its original name, New Breed — beyond hauling and leasing and into equipment installation, operations management, and computer and information technology.

The game, in short, was logistics: the coordination of complex systems to deliver a product.

In 1987, New Breed got a big new customer with epic logistical needs: the U.S. Postal Service. By the 1990s, after it relocated from the New York area to the Greensboro suburb of High Point, N.C., the company was repairing and handling mail bags and rolling carts, and managing postal warehousing and transportation. Between 1993 and 2004, New Breed sales grew from $15 million to $170 million and its number of employees from 100 to 2,200.

As the company’s reputation grew, it won contracts from big commercial players such as Boeing and Verizon, and government entities like the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, for which New Breed managed logistics for protective gear in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the 2004 News & Record profile of DeJoy.

DeJoy’s executive style was closer to Trump’s than he made it seem, according to interviews with eight former New Breed employees, some of whom continue to work for XPO Logistics, the firm that purchased New Breed for $615 million in 2014. Some viewed him as a demanding leader who got the best out of his team. Others’ recollections are not so charitable.

“It was like a cult of personality,” says Cody Jordan, a retired Marine who worked in operations at New Breed from 2008 to 2013. “Some were scared of him. Some totally respected him and were in awe of him. When I was in Iraq, every house I went into had a picture of Saddam Hussein. I told people I was surprised not every office at New Breed had a photo of Louis DeJoy.”

DeJoy was a rabid Yankees fan, a fierce opponent of organized labor, a maestro with profanity, a cheapskate professionally but a showoff personally, and a sharp dresser who sometimes welcomed tailors to his office and enforced a strict dress code.

Doize-Hyatt, the former personal assistant who spoke of DeJoy’s strictness, says that she quit after 10 months because of the rude and dismissive way he treated her.

“All the vendors that worked for him in his house — like the [swimming] pool people — they were all terrified of him,” she says. “I just think about all the people that worked for him and how miserable they were.”

Through a personal publicist, DeJoy said he “aggressively” denied the allegations “or any attempt to paint a negative culture at New Breed.” He said dozens of executives and hundreds of employees remained with the company for years as it grew.

“I’m proud of the culture we built at New Breed,” DeJoy says.

“I loved the work. The work was great,” says Anne Bartley, who started at New Breed in 2008 as a business systems analyst and left in 2019, after the company’s sale to XPO Logistics. But DeJoy was “a beast. Oh gosh, his executive meetings — I had a girlfriend who couldn’t stand going to his meetings because he was just a brute. The f-bomb was a normal part of his process, and humiliation. If you couldn’t answer a question, his role was to humiliate you in front of the group.” (Bartley says she was not in those meetings but that multiple colleagues described them to her. Others corroborated the intensity and volatility of meetings and interactions with DeJoy.)

DeJoy, says Bartley, was “two different people.” One was the hard-charging overlord, adored and feared, of his privately held business. The other was the benevolent and rather shy convener and philanthropist — who happened to be the husband of Aldona Z. Wos, a physician who became a star in Republican politics before he did.

The first guy learned how the post office works after he won its business in the 1980s. The second guy was hand-delivered to Washington with the purpose of changing it.

In his office at New Breed, DeJoy kept photos of himself with George W. Bush and other prominent GOP figures. Republican cheerleading permeated the workplace atmosphere, former employees say.

Wos was a political appointee before her husband. Previously a physician in New York, Wos, the immigrant daughter of Holocaust survivors from Warsaw, began a rapid ascent through Republican politics by raising money for Elizabeth Dole’s 2002 Senate campaign. She co-chaired campaign financing in North Carolina for George W. Bush’s reelection and served as his U.S. ambassador to Estonia from 2004 to 2006.

“She is a very worldly, intellectual thinker who speaks three or four languages, and she’s a scholar and a medical doctor,” says former governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory, whose 2012 campaign benefited from the couple’s fundraising muscle. “He has a very strong business and financial acumen, and he’s got a little of that blue-collar New York competitiveness in him.”

In 2010, she and DeJoy were instrumental in raising funds to help Republicans capture both chambers of the North Carolina legislature for the first time since 1870. They were also integral in helping to elect McCrory as governor in 2012 and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and 2014, respectively.

Before DeJoy moved from New York to North Carolina and established a hub of employment and money, state Republicans had struggled for 30 years with very limited leadership and a weak ability to raise money for campaigns, according to Ed Broyhill, the former chairman of North Carolina’s GOP Senate finance effort.

“We had a veto-proof majority largely because of his success,” Broyhill says of DeJoy and his fundraising prowess. “And that carried forward in his ability to take over the Trump campaign and do the same then and there.”

DeJoy advertised himself as a conduit to Republicans in the White House and Congress, according to a GOP operative familiar with DeJoy’s fundraising activities.

“He has really tried to cement himself as the go-to guy in North Carolina for politicians — for particularly national politicians — who want to get money out of North Carolina,” says the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the two have mutual friends and associates. DeJoy has tried to foster a reputation as someone who “can get his phone calls returned by the White House, whoever you need in the executive branch and the Senate.”

This year, before starting at the Postal Service, DeJoy gave $70,000 to the Republican National Committee, bringing his total giving to at least $1.4 million. Wos has given at least $700,000 to Republican politicians over time and served as McCrory’s secretary of health and human services from 2013 to 2015. DeJoy and Wos have often hosted fundraisers at their gated $6 million house across the street from the second hole of the Greensboro Country Club. Their family foundation supports a bevy of entities, including United Way, Duke University School of Law and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

“I remember as a child in Poland, police coming to take my father away in the middle of the night for interrogation,” Wos told the Raleigh News & Observer in 2004, adding that living under tyranny is what focused her attention on politics. “You never knew if he was going to come back.”

At first DeJoy supported Jeb Bush for president in 2016 and was worried that Trump was “out of control,” according to Broyhill, but after in-person meetings, DeJoy “dove right in” for his fellow New York businessman. For Trump’s birthday in June 2016, before a rally in Greensboro, DeJoy and Wos hosted a 100-person fundraiser lunch in an air-conditioned tent on their lawn. In 2017, DeJoy became a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, and in 2019, he became the local finance chairman for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

“People have misinterpreted Louis, thinking that he would be submissive to Trump personally or professionally,” Broyhill says. “It’s the total opposite. Trump is in awe of Louis DeJoy. He’s definitely proven himself in accomplishments, not only in raising money but as an administrator of the [Republican] Party and in helping Donald Trump organize and shape his campaign. He’s definitely a man behind the scenes, but when I’ve been in the room with Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy, Trump pays deference to Louis.”

“I think I went to three Trump events that Louis hosted,” says Bill Church, an executive first at New Breed and now XPO Logistics. “And every time Trump said, ‘I keep asking what Louis wants. Does he want an ambassadorship or something?’ But Louis didn’t want anything.”

Louis finally got something this year — perhaps something more than he bargained for.

Politics is a complex system. Money is traded for influence. Loyalty is leveraged for votes. Policies are assembled by lobbyists, ideologues and officials, shipped to Washington, routed through various branches of government and eventually delivered to Americans, in some combination of order fulfillment and junk mail.

The game, in short, is logistics.

In May, after years of loyal support to Republicans, DeJoy was named postmaster general by the Postal Service Board of Governors, whose current roster consists only of Senate-confirmed Trump appointees (four Republicans, two Democrats).

DeJoy’s name was not on a list of 212 candidates for postmaster general compiled for the Board of Governors by an outside headhunting firm. Instead, he was suggested by Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service’s board, according to Duncan’s own testimony to the House. Duncan is also a big money guy for the GOP. He raised $428 million as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2007 to 2009. Duncan is currently the director of the Senate Leadership Fund, the Republican PAC closely associated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

The germs of some of DeJoy’s cost-cutting maneuvers predate his tenure and the president’s fulminations about mail-in ballots. A presidential task force report led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin placed its orders with the Postal Service in 2018: cut costs, outsource services and weaken postal workers’ ability to negotiate pay increases. “USPS must operate in a more cost-efficient manner by exercising discretion to lower service standards and to increase the use of third parties,” the report advised.

In response to the public outcry over the recent changes, DeJoy said he has partially suspended the cost-cutting initiatives until after the election — canceling service reductions, reinstituting overtime pay for workers and halting the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines (though 658 machines had already been marked for removal by Aug. 1).

So what is DeJoy delivering, and for whom?

To community leaders in Greensboro and party stalwarts, DeJoy has made crucial investments in the civic and political life of North Carolina. He and Wos are admired humanitarians who have accepted tricky, bruising jobs in government because they believe in America and what it’s given them.

But in their dual engagement in Washington, critics worry that they stand to benefit beyond the intangible rewards of civic leadership. DeJoy and Wos hold between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in Postal Service competitors or contractors, according to Wos’s financial disclosures as she awaits Senate confirmation to another appointment — in February she was nominated by Trump to be ambassador to Canada. The couple has millions in a private-equity fund invested in logistics companies that could benefit from privatizing or disassembling the Postal Service, according to researcher Lisa Graves, the executive director of True North Research.

“The fact that the American people do not know the actual financial holdings of the Trump funder heading the Postal Service is unacceptable, especially as he orders disruptions sabotaging prompt mail delivery that could destabilize our 2020 election,” wrote Graves, a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, in a report on DeJoy.

During his congressional testimony, DeJoy claimed full compliance with all ethical requirements and denied and scoffed at the accusation that he was interfering with the election, as did the Republicans who support him. To them, he is indeed like Trump: a savvy businessman who “gets things done,” partly through the force of his personality.

“If he says he’s going to deliver ballots, he’s going to deliver ballots,” says Broyhill. “And there will not be any political influence that will deter him from that goal. His reputation is at stake.”

Ditto the reputation of the agency Trump’s allies have appointed him to run.

The American people “don’t want anyone messing with the post office, and they certainly don’t want it politicized,” said Maloney during DeJoy’s recent testimony. “They want to have confidence that their mail, their medicine, their ballots, will be delivered on time.”

“This is a political stunt for the Democrats’ newest interference hoax,” said Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).

At one point, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tried to get DeJoy to commit to restoring mail-sorting machines if Congress provided extra funding, even if those machines were actually unnecessary — if only to restore public faith in the political neutrality of the post office.

“In Washington it makes plenty of sense,” DeJoy said of the idea, a hint of derision in his voice. “To me, it makes none.”

Amy Gardner, Karen Heller, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Lisa Rein contributed to this report.