Postmaster General Louis DeJoy bows to pressure on some issues, but it's unclear if he'll roll back all changes causing delays.
The U.S. Postal Service will pause some of the operational changes it implemented in recent months, ceding in part to significant pressure from lawmakers and the American public.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has promised sweeping changes to the cash-strapped mailing agency since his swearing-in last month, said in a statement Tuesday the Postal Service will suspend reform initiatives underway prior to his arrival. That will include any changes to retail hours at post offices, decommissioning or relocating processing equipment, removal of blue collection boxes and processing facility closures. Such changes have led to widespread outcry that the Postal Service was interfering with the timely delivery of mail, causing particular concern in the run up to the November election.
DeJoy’s statement did not address, however, changes he has implemented since taking charge. He did not indicate that his push to ensure network, plant and delivery trips take place on schedule, even if that means leaving mail behind for the next day, would be subject to any pause. Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, confirmed only the initiatives DeJoy specifically mentioned would be affected. The prioritization for on-schedule trips—rather than the usual emphasis on getting all the mail out—has had a significant impact on service disruptions, which have been reported by employees, large-scale mailers, unions and DeJoy himself.
The announcement also does not appear to impact a pilot program USPS is running at 200 sites around the country to push mail sorting to the afternoon in order to get letter carriers on their routes earlier in the morning. Under the Expedited to Street/Afternoon Sortation initiative, city letter carriers are expected to return to their post offices by 2 p.m., at which point they sort any new items and mail left behind for delivery the following day. They are also responsible for taking some of the unsorted mail to be "routed in delivery sequence while on the street."
DeJoy said he was pausing the operational changes that are affected due to the timing and concerns many have raised.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” he said.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who has launched an investigation into DeJoy as the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the postmaster general's statement created "too many unanswered questions."
"The American people deserve to know whether he will be returning sorting machines he already removed from facilities across the country, the details of any changes he is leaving in place and any future changes he plans to enact that could continue to harm the millions of Americans who count on the Postal Service for reliable, timely delivery," Peters said.
The postmaster general reiterated that overtime will be approved as needed, though USPS has maintained that overtime was never disallowed in the first place. While the agency’s push to operate on schedule regardless of mail volumes had the goal of lessening its dependence on overtime—the extra work category has made up 19% of total work hours paid to city letter carriers in fiscal 2020—at least some postal employees have told Government Executive they have had no issues getting overtime approved since DeJoy’s policies went into effect.
DeJoy’s statement also did not address a limited hiring freeze on the small portion of the USPS workforce that is not unionized, nor did it mention the practice of treating ballots designated as marketing mail as first-class pieces for the purposes of prioritized delivery. Government Executive reported on Monday that USPS had begun rerouting mail away from some smaller processing plants, though the suspension of changes to processing equipment will likely also pause those efforts. DeJoy’s reorganization of the Postal Service into three business operating units, which shifted around several executives but kept long-time postal officials in key positions, appears to remain in effect.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he spoke to DeJoy Wednesday evening and asked him for more clarity on what exactly he was rolling back.
"I told Mr. DeJoy I want a specific, written document from him outlining exactly what changes he is rescinding, which reforms will remain, and an explicit confirmation that all election mail will continue to be treated as first-class priority," Schumer said, adding that DeJoy promised a written response shortly.
In his statement, the postmaster general recommitted to instituting all of his reforms after the election.
“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability,” DeJoy said. “I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election.”
He also announced he is expanding his task force on election mail, which will include union officials and management associations. USPS will put transportation and other resources on standby starting Oct. 1 to “satisfy any unforeseen demand.”
“Because of the unprecedented demands of the 2020 election, this task force will help ensure that election officials and voters are well informed and fully supported by the Postal Service,” DeJoy said.
DeJoy’s reversal comes after mounting pressure from states and lawmakers in both parties. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called lawmakers back from an August recess to vote on postal legislation to roll back operational changes and provide the agency with a cash infusion of $25 billion to offset losses stemming from the novel coronavirus pandemic. DeJoy is set to testify at a Senate hearing on Friday and a House hearing on Monday. The USPS inspector general has launched an investigation into the reforms, while several lawmakers are engaged in probes of their own. Twenty state attorneys general said they plan to sue the Postal Service over the changes, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, arguing DeJoy violated various federal laws, including a requirement to bring major changes that impact service standards before the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee's panel on Government Operations, called DeJoy's announcement a "victory for all voters and every American that relies on the USPS," but said congressional oversight must continue unabated.
"Postmaster General DeJoy cannot put the genie back in the bottle," Connolly said.