“I’d like to emphasize there has been no changes of any policies in regard to election mail for the 2020 election,” DeJoy said, adding later that the agency would deploy “processes and procedures to advance the election mail, in some cases ahead of first-class mail.”
And he still plans to press forward with a larger agency overhaul after the election, several people familiar with the plans told The Washington Post on Thursday, one that would move the Postal Service to geography-based pricing, lower mail delivery standards and increase prices.
DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump, drew the ire of Democrats and voting rights advocates after he implemented several cost-cutting measures widely blamed for mail slowdowns, especially in the run up to Nov. 3 election, which will rely heavily on mailed ballots.
Despite his assurances, Democrats were skeptical.
DeJoy has “wreaked havoc on veterans, seniors, rural communities and people across our country,” said Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, and owed the public an apology.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the dean of postal policy among Senate Democrats, criticized the agency’s lack of transparency. “With all due respect to our postmaster,” he said, “I reached out to you when you were initially selected. … I tried to reach you again and again for weeks.” They spoke for the first time on Wednesday, Carper said.
Tensions around the agency have been escalating for weeks, especially after President Trump announced he would block its funding to impede its ability to process ballots. On Tuesday, DeJoy retreated from the cutbacks, which included prohibitions on overtime and extra mail-delivery trips and the removal of hundreds of mail-sorters and public collection boxes, after the public backlash. “We all feel bad about what the dip in our service level has been,” he said Friday.
But some of those changes won’t be reversed. For example, any mailbox or sorter that’s already been removed will not be reinstalled. “There’s no intention to do that. They’re not needed, sir,” DeJoy told Peters of the sorters.
DeJoy said his prohibition on extra mail delivery trips would remain in place.
DeJoy also disputed that he curtailed overtime, one of the more contentious policy changes. “We never eliminated overtime,” he testified. “It has not been curtailed by me or the leadership team.”
However, multiple postal workers interviewed by The Washington Post and some of the industry’s largest unions dispute that. And an internal USPS document obtained by The Post in July that was circulated to mid-level management stated, “Overtime will be eliminated. Again, we are paying too much in OT and it is not cost effective and will soon (sic) taken off the table.”
“You’ve seen the missives that went out to the workers,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in an interview. “It’s probably uneven throughout the country, but there’s no question that this mail wouldn’t be backing up if they hadn’t cut the overtime.”
DeJoy’s remarks Friday elicited mixed responses from committee members, falling along party lines. Republicans, including the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), called DeJoy’s cost-cutting zeal “commendable” and alleged, without evidence, that constituent complaints about mail delays — which have poured into House and Senate lawmakers’ offices for weeks — were fabricated. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) joked that he was surprised to learn DeJoy did not deliver every piece of mail himself and was therefore not personally responsible for delays.
Democrats assailed DeJoy for policies that degraded service — including the overtime and delivery cuts — without saving a significant amount of money.
“These are real concerns I’m hearing,” Peters said. “These are not manufactured. These are people who are coming forward talking about delays, talking about medicine this is not available for them. … This is why we’re standing up and making sure the Postal Service does what they have done [in the past]” to guarantee good service.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, submitted “a lengthy list of questions” in writing, according to a spokesperson, but did not attend the hearing.
DeJoy and Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, are set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Monday in what will probably be an even less hospitable environment. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House panel, called for the Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate DeJoy’s cost-cutting maneuvers and potential financial conflicts of interests. That inquiry is ongoing. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee responsible for postal oversight, has called for DeJoy’s removal, along with 90 other House Democrats.
The House on Saturday is expected to pass legislation that would provide $25 billion in emergency coronavirus funding the Postal Service, an amount requested by the USPS’s governing board, and also prohibit DeJoy from instituting operational changes until after the pandemic.
This week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the administration is “certainly open” to that amount, depending on the other provisions that are contained in the coronavirus relief package. But Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has repeatedly said that the Postal Service does not need a bailout to successfully deliver election mail. The agency has $15 billion in cash and can also access a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department.
DeJoy came short of renouncing the governing board’s funding request, but also said the agency had sufficient liquidity in the run up to the election.
“I don’t need anything to deliver mail on election night, but we do need legislative reform, we do need freedom from a change in the [Postal Regulatory Commission] regulation, and we do need to be reimbursed for our costs,” he said.
DeJoy also acknowledged plans to reimagine the Postal Service soon after the election, including implementing a geography-based pricing model that would charge residents in rural areas or outside the Lower 48 more money for routine mail service.
Several people familiar with the plans, which are still subject to change, said that DeJoy wanted to raise package rates; set higher prices for service in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico; curb discounts for nonprofit groups; require first-class postage on ballots; and lease space in Postal Service facilities to other government agencies and companies.
“We are not self-sustaining,” DeJoy said in response to questions from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “We have a $10 billion shortfall, and over the next 10 years we’ll have a $245 billion shortfall.”
“There is a path that we are planning, okay, with the help of some legislation, with some cost impacts, with some new revenue strategies that will help and some pricing freedom from the [Postal Regulatory Commission] — we believe we have a plan to do that,” he added. “But one thing that’s not in the plan is not doing anything after the election.”
The plans also include eliminating the Alaska Bypass program, DeJoy said, a federal program exclusive to the state in which the Postal Service subsidizes the cost of freight shipping of groceries and other goods for remote areas to keep its commitment to universal service. The program costs the USPS at least $100 million a year. The Postal Service could look to discontinue the program, the people said, unless Congress specifically earmarked funding for it.
“Take the Alaska Bypass plan discussion, that’s an item on the table,” he said. “That’s an unfunded mandate. … What I asked for is all the unfunded mandates, that’s a way for us to get healthy, pay something for the unfunded mandates. If we just throw $25 billion [in an emergency infusion from Congress] at us this year and we don’t do anything, we’ll be back in two years.
“Then maybe we should change the legislation and not make us be self-sustaining. But as a leadership team and a board, that’s what our mission is, to be self-sustaining and deliver at a high level of precision. And I’m committed to both, and I think both can be done with a little help from the Congress and from the Postal Regulatory Commission.”
The people said the plans also include requiring election mail to carry first-class postage in future elections, something DeJoy did not address at the hearing, but did says he supported mail-in voting.
“I’m going to vote by mail myself. I’ve voted by mail for a number of years.” DeJoy said to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). He added, “The general word around here is, ‘Vote early.’”
DeJoy said he told staff to “double” election mail resources during his first meeting on the topic, and that the USPS’s governing board will a new election mail committee. The newest Democratic governor, Donald L. Moak, will chair the committee. He will be joined by Democrat Ron Bloom and Republican John Barger.