• Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Postmaster General DeJoy fields tough questions from House on mail delays

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee Monday and grew increasingly defensive as Democrats demanded answers about delayed U.S. Postal Service mail delivery.

DeJoy denied that policies he implemented had a major effect on the time of mail delivery, stating that all he had done was reshuffle the organization and attempt to have the Postal Service trucks run on time. He said many changes, such as the removal of blue collection boxes and mail sorting machines, preceded his taking the post on June 15.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, D-N.Y., presented an internal Postal Service document, which appeared to have been prepared for DeJoy on Aug. 12, that showed an 8 to 10 percent drop in on-time mail deliveries.

She emphasized that DeJoy, a former logistics executive, had been in charge during this collapse in service. DeJoy refused to take sole responsibility for the slow down.

“There are a lot of reasons for delays besides the action I took to run your trucks on time,” he said. “There are other reasons for delays in the nation.”

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Critics and some lawmakers have questioned if the delays were intended to interfere with mail-in voting, which President Trump has opposed in the past. DeJoy, a close ally of the president, said last week that he would suspend further changes to the Postal Service until after the election to avoid the appearance of influence.

Maloney emphasized this point during her opening statement and said that DeJoy’s acts were “reckless,” signs of “incompetence” or were directed by the president.

“Perhaps Mr. DeJoy is doing exactly what President Trump said he wanted on national television: using the blocking of funds to justify sweeping changes to hobble mail-in voting,” Maloney said.

Beyond the election, however, the delays have hurt thousands who rely on the Postal Service to deliver sometimes crucial or life-saving prescriptions and small businesses that are increasingly reliant on the agency’s affordable and previously reliable delivery services.

Postal Service insiders blamed the DeJoy’s policies, primarily a ban of overtime and extra trips for carriers to ensure mail arrives on time, as some of the reasons for the delays. DeJoy denied banning overtime, stating Monday that the Postal Service had spent $700 million on overtime since he took office and was providing overtime at the same rate prior to his appointment.

During a particularly heated moment, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., emphasized the history of the Postal Service and its ability to deliver mail amid the most difficult periods of American history, including the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II.

“In my heart I’m tempted to ask: After 240 years of patriotic service to delivering the mail, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?” Lynch said. “Now I understand you bring private sector expertise, I guess we couldn’t find a government worker to screw it up this fast. It would take them a while.”

DeJoy called Lynch’s questions, including his final one about reconnecting mail sorting machines, “more misinformation for the American public.”

Postal service delays have gained increasing attention in past weeks, and the House passed a bill late Saturday authorizing $25 billion in emergency funds for the Postal Service. While it gained some support from House Republicans, it is expected to be met with opposition in the Senate.

House Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., decried the passage of the USPS funding bill that received the approval in the House on Saturday, particularly as the House passed the bill before Monday’s hearing.

“The president does not support the bill, the Postal Service does not support the bill and the Senate will likely not take up the bill,” Comer said. “This is a political stunt.”

DeJoy told the Senate Homeland Committee Friday that he would commit to delivering ballots within one to three days, as they have been in past elections, and he noted that he himself has voted by mail. He reaffirmed that expectation on Monday, though he encouraged Americans to request their ballots and vote early.

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“The Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nations ballots securely and on time,” DeJoy said Monday. “This sacred duty is my No. 1 priority between now and election day.”

He did not speak directly about other effects of the delays, such as the delayed prescriptions, but said he regretted the outcomes, though he largely blamed the pandemic and the agency itself for the long waits.

“We are working here feverishly to get the system running, add stability and also to hire more workers to handle the delivery process,” DeJoy told the Senate Friday. “We all feel bad about the dip in our service level.”

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Robert M. Duncan, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, will also testify before the committee on Monday. The board has come under scrutiny recently for meetings it held with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin prior to DeJoy’s appointment.

During his opening statement, Duncan said when the previous postmaster general announced her retirement, the board was “faced with the most important decision we would make as governors: the selection of the new postmaster general.”

The governors sought someone who would “increase our efficiency and cut down on unnecessary expenses,” and they were particularly interested in a “transformational leader” from the private sector.

“Mr. DeJoy was selected to be that transformational leader, who can help strengthen the Postal Service for the long term,” he said.