Postmaster general says in testy hearing he thought his changes would improve service but "oddly enough" the opposite occurred.
Embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Monday promised to reverse the significant mail delays that have mired his brief tenure, though he declined to disclose specifics underlying his decision making, said many of the issues at the Postal Service are beyond his control and at times demonstrated a lack of basic understanding of postal operations.
DeJoy defended his decision to ensure all facets of postal delivery operate on a set schedule, even as the associated changes have led to significant delays. He conceded during a six-hour hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee the problems were worse than expected, have lasted longer than anticipated and he did not fully grasp why they were happening. DeJoy repeatedly said many lawmaker complaints were outside his control or stemmed from initiatives before he took office, at one point calling it “outrageous” the buck would stop with him on decisions to remove equipment at the local level. He did, however, take responsibility for his specific reform efforts that have caused an increase in delays.
Documents obtained by committee Democrats showed even more severe delays than DeJoy has suggested. The slides, prepared for the postmaster general Aug. 12, show on-time delivery declining by between 8% and 10% across the Postal Service’s mail offerings. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the oversight committee, requested more documents on the data and analysis DeJoy considered before implementing his changes and threatened to issue a subpoena for them if he refused to comply.
DeJoy said he assumed making trucks operate on schedule between each step of delivery would lead to savings and an increase in on-time performance, but “oddly enough” the opposite occurred. He said the timing of getting mail from processing plants to distribution centers to post offices was not aligned, but he still had outstanding questions about why delays were occurring at such high rates. Asked why the problem is still ongoing when he thought it would get resolved in days, DeJoy responded, “I’m trying to figure that out.”
He suggested the practical impacts of his decisions did not rest on his shoulders. “I’m not the COO. I’m the CEO,” DeJoy said. “It should not have impacted anything.”
The postmaster general’s decision to move forward with those changes without understanding their potential impacts repeatedly raised questions from Democrats on the committee, particularly when questioning by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., forced him to admit he did not know the pricing points for some of the Postal Service’s basic offerings.
“I’ll submit to you I know very little about postal stamps,” DeJoy said.
DeJoy faced criticism when the USPS board of governors selected him to lead the agency, as he was the first postmaster general in nearly 20 years without direct experience working for the Postal Service.
“I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency,” Porter said after DeJoy failed to answer questions regarding the cost to send a postcard, greeting card or priority mail, “and I’m particularly concerned about it because you started taking very decisive action when you became postmaster general.”
DeJoy said USPS is already turning around its mail delay issues; on-time performance has jumped in the last week, he said.
“We’re starting to see a nice recovery,” DeJoy said without highlighting any specific data. “We will have it back.” He later added transitions often get off to a rocky start and the Postal Service’s “recovery process is taking too long. It should have been resolved in a couple of days and it has not.”
While lawmakers in both parties have questioned why DeJoy implemented his changes just months before a presidential election that will see unprecedented mail-in voting, the postmaster general countered the timing was perfect.
“We were getting ready for the peak season and the election was three months away,” DeJoy said. “It was a good time to start to roll this out.”
Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., suggested DeJoy should have sought approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission for his changes given the impact they have had, but DeJoy countered he was simply requiring that trucks operate on a set schedule. He also said it was too late to walk back those reforms.
“I wouldn’t know how to reverse that now,” DeJoy said. “Am I to say, ‘Don’t run the trucks on time?’ Is that the answer we’re trying to get me to today?” He later expressed incredulity his reforms were not being more widely celebrated: “Am I the only one in this room that understands we have a $10 billion-a-year loss?”
The postmaster general has paused some changes that caused national backlash, such as the removal of blue collection boxes and processing equipment, but stressed those efforts predated him and he has not paid them much attention since taking office.
“How would I know?” DeJoy responded when asked if any plants had requested that decommissioned machines come back online. The former private sector executive and Republican donor said he did not plan to reinstall any such equipment, but promised to do so if Congress provided adequate funding.
He reiterated that he never directed any overtime reduction, though he later said he instructed local management to stop cutting back overtime last week. Postal employees who have spoken to Government Executive have generally reported that overtime is still available to them, but there have been efforts by local leadership to curtail it and restrict its use. One custodian at a processing plant in Washington, D.C., said he has worked in his position for 10 months and he has been scheduled for no overtime for the first time this week. Other employees reported new policies in which they need advanced permission for overtime.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., criticized DeJoy for boasting of the “transformational” changes he has implemented while also shirking responsibility for much of the agency’s operations.
“You’re being selective in what you’re taking credit for and not,” Quigley said.
Republicans on the committee, meanwhile, said Democrats were creating a “hoax” by probing USPS operations and praised DeJoy for implementing common-sense reforms. They said they were heartened by DeJoy’s promises to ensure prioritization of election mail and said virtually all of the Postal Service’s problems predated his arrival. DeJoy on Monday vowed to make extra overtime and delivery trips, as well as other resources, available in the run up to the election.
The House on Saturday passed a bill that would roll back changes DeJoy has implemented and provide USPS with a $25 billion cash infusion to offset losses sustained as result of the coronavirus pandemic. While the bill received more than two-dozen Republican votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is not expected to bring it up in his chamber.