Postmaster general says even bigger operational reforms are on the horizon.
The head of the U.S. Postal Service promised on Friday to expedite mailed-in ballots to ensure their timely delivery, but also vowed to push forward on his operational changes that have led to significant service delays.
After weeks mired in controversy over various reform efforts, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy repeatedly conceded to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that some of his efforts have led to mail delays. He avoided responsibility, however, for some of the most high-profile changes that until recently were underway at USPS, such as the decommissioning of mail processing machines and the removal of blue drop boxes. Those efforts were part of a years-long process, DeJoy said, denying he even knew about them prior to recent media reports.
DeJoy said he personally has only directed two reforms since taking office in mid-June: restructuring USPS business operations into three silos, and placing renewed emphasis on getting mail out the door on a set schedule at each stage of the delivery process. From processing to distribution to final delivery, he said, postal workers are now responsible for meeting strict timeframes and avoiding late and extra trips.
While DeJoy said this would “theoretically” allow USPS to deliver mail faster, he acknowledged it has so far had the opposite effect. The current structure has “lots of imbalances,” he said, though he expects postal management to sort out those issues in the coming weeks and that the changes will ultimately save the agency billions of dollars. Employees have said they are now forced to leave mail behind so they can start trips on schedule, reversing the longstanding practice of ensuring all available mail is delivered each day.
“Some of the mail coming off the processing lines, we found these imbalances and we did not do as great of a job as we should have in recovering for it, but we will,” DeJoy said.
The postmaster general estimated on-time delivery has taken a 4%-5% hit due to his changes. Lawmakers, postal employees and large-scale mailers have all complained about the delays in recent weeks. While DeJoy has promised to pause removals of drop boxes and processing equipment until after the November election, he vowed to move forward with the delivery schedule adjustments.
DeJoy drew the ire of Democrats on the committee for declining to put decommissioned machines back in place and refusing to provide data and analysis underlying his operational changes. He said the sorting equipment was “not needed” and he would provide only the new transportation schedule he has implemented. DeJoy also denied that he has instituted any changes to USPS overtime policy, saying it made up 13% of hours worked before he arrived and has remained at 13% since he took office. Internal documents have shown DeJoy’s new schedule was meant to cut back on overtime and some local managers have instructed employees not to take it.
In what will appease many of his critics, DeJoy promised to prioritize election mail for delivery even if states and boards of elections use a cheaper designation to deliver ballots. State officials and federal lawmakers have raised concerns that USPS would no longer treat ballots as first-class mail even if they were sent using marketing mail, which has a slower delivery window.
“We will deploy processes and procedures that advance any election mail, in some cases ahead of first-class mail,” DeJoy said, later promising that at least 95% of election mail would be delivered in a one-to-three day window.
The postmaster general stressed USPS has the capacity to deliver any surge in mailed ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it will make up only a small fraction of the service's normal weekly deliveries. DeJoy, a donor to President Trump and the Republican Party, said he has not spoken to the president regarding postal issues. He has informed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin of his operational reform plans, but said he did not go into “great detail.”
For the first time, DeJoy publicly stated he would like to see Congress approve emergency funding to offset losses USPS incurred as a result of the pandemic. Postal management requested $75 billion in financial relief prior to DeJoy’s arrival and there has been bipartisan interest on Capitol Hill in sending USPS a $25 billion cash infusion.
In his written testimony, DeJoy said his plan for USPS to operate on a set schedule was the “only path to consistent, affordable service.”
“I started with one simple step: directing that we be more disciplined by ensuring that our trucks should run on time and on schedule, and that we should eliminate unnecessary extra trips,” DeJoy said. “Running on time and on schedule is the only way that our network can work in the manner that is intended, because each step that is used to accept, process, transport and deliver a piece of mail or package throughout our network must work seamlessly to meet our service standards.”
In a presentation to USPS' largest customers last week, postal management displayed performance data showing significant declines in on-time performance since DeJoy’s reforms went into effect. Joe Corbett, the Postal Service’s chief financial officer, said during that presentation the mailing agency and its employees needed more discipline.
“Basically what we decided to do was to reduce our expenses by realigning our standards in processing plants, transportation, post offices, etc. etc.,” he said, adding there have been some difficulties in implementing the changes. “We have the trucks running on time now. We are adjusting the workflow to adjust to that. It’s a project in motion as we speak.”
Corbett also seemingly took a shot at Trump for his repeated denigration of the Postal Service. “We’re popular,” Corbett said. “You wouldn’t know that based on what you hear from some in this administration.”
At Friday’s hearing, DeJoy said many more changes were likely on the horizon. “We’re considering dramatic changes to improve the service to the American people,” he said.
The House is set to vote on Saturday on legislation that would block USPS from making changes to its delivery network or standards, and provide the agency with $25 billion. DeJoy is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday.
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