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DeJoy pushes back on criticism of changes to Postal Service, says he won’t restore sorting machines

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)
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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers on Monday that the U.S. Postal Service would not undo the cost-cutting moves he instituted earlier this summer to restore mail processing capacity before the November election, sparring with Democrats in a heated hearing before the House Oversight Committee.

DeJoy in July mandated that trucks that transport mail from processing facilities to distribution centers adhere to stricter schedules, leaving mail behind if they were running late or it 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 mid-level managers and obtained by The Washington Post also show DeJoy cracked down on overtime and additional delivery trips to ensure on-time mail service. DeJoy denied in sworn testimony that he issued any such guidance.

Internal USPS document tells employees to leave mail at distribution centers

Those moves, according to agency employees and postal experts, caused multiday 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.

DeJoy, former supply chain logistics executive and ally of President Trump, last week suspended some of the Postal Service’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 DeJoy’s resignation.

“What the heck are you doing?” asked Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (Mass.) after a five-minute lecture on the history on the Postal Service.

“Is your backup plan to be pardoned, like Roger Stone?” Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.) asked.

Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.) asked DeJoy if he could recite the Postal Service’s unofficial motto. DeJoy stumbled through part of it. “Nor rain, nor snow, that sleet nor hail will make our delivery,” he said.

Rep. Katie Porter (Calif.) asked DeJoy if 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 (70 pounds).

“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 DeJoy’s defense. Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the committee’s top Republican, called the debate over the Postal Service a “hysterical frenzy.”

“Why are they out to get you?” asked Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio).

“I have no idea,” DeJoy replied.

The postmaster general swung back at times.

“It’s my time now,” he chided Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as he pushed to answer a question. “Is it my time?”

“No, no,” Wasserman Schultz replied. “It’s always my time.”

In response to Khanna’s question about turning sorting machines back on, DeJoy dismissively said. “In Washington, it makes plenty of sense. To me, it makes none.”

Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) scheduled the emergency hearing — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the chamber back to order — after Trump on Aug. 12, said he’d withhold funding from the Postal Service to hobble its ability to distribute and collect mailed ballots. Days later, The Washington Post reported that the Postal Service warned 46 states 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 mailboxes.

DeJoy told Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) that he contacted people close to Trump or his reelection campaign to ask that he stop discussing the Postal Service, as the president’s remarks harmed the agency.

“I have put word around to different people that this is not helpful to the Postal Service,” DeJoy said.

Democrats over the weekend pushed Maloney’s Delivering For America Act through the House, which would provide the Postal Service with $25 billion in emergency funding, fulfilling a request from the agency’s bipartisan governing board, and bar 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 DeJoy to roll back the changes himself. In a five-minute monologue, Lynch told DeJoy, “You have ended a once proud tradition” of reliable mail delivery. As DeJoy began to respond, Lynch cut in, “Will you put the machines back?”

“The rest of your accusations are actually outrageous,” DeJoy said.

“Will you put the machines back?” Lynch asked again.

“I will not,” DeJoy said.

He told Rep. Harley Rouda that the Postal Service’s operations department, the leaders of which DeJoy removed in an executive realignment on Aug. 7, was responsible for the decision to draw down processing capacity.

“There must be a reason. I didn’t do it,” DeJoy said.

Khanna said to DeJoy: If Congress approved $1 billion in funding, would he restore the machines if only to improve voters’ confidence in the Postal Service?

“Get me the billion and I’ll put the machines in,” DeJoy said.

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 DeJoy authorize plant managers to turn machines back on if local authorities think they are needed?

“We have a management team that is responsible for making decisions as to what machines are used and not used,” DeJoy said.

“But those things are decided locally,” Wasserman Schultz responded, as Republican members of the committee argued that she had exceeded her time. “Will you let them decide that locally?”

“No,” DeJoy said.

He and the Postal Service also face lawsuits from 21 state attorneys general who allege that DeJoy did not have legal authority to change policies as he did without first consulting the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is leading the suit, said 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,” Shapiro said in an interview 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.”

Shapiro said he is seeking written assurances that 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,” Shapiro said.

When asked about DeJoy’s Senate testimony on Friday assuring the public that the Postal Service will continue to prioritize election mail as it had in the past, Shapiro said DeJoy’s words 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 prioritized as it has been historically,” Shapiro added. “And until he does those concrete things, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to his rhetoric.”

Democrats also pressed DeJoy, and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert M. Duncan, about the selection process through which DeJoy was appointed, and the Postal Service’s independence from the White House.

Under questioning from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), 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. DeJoy said he was contacted by the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates about the role. Duncan said 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,” DeJoy said. “I did not accept the offer immediately, okay.”

“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.”