Postmaster General Previews Slower Mail and Improved Employee Benefits, Supports New Postal Reform Bill
DeJoy says the new legislation, coupled with his business plan, would allow USPS to break even after years of losses.
House lawmakers on Wednesday put forward new legislation to reform the U.S. Postal Service that won instant praise from the agency’s embattled leader, who defended his tenure during at times heated congressional testimony.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy inched closer to releasing details of his 10-year business plan, which he has teased for months as a blueprint for transformational change at the financially struggling USPS. While some members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee took a contentious approach with DeJoy, many struck a more conciliatory tone while preaching the need to finally come together on long-discussed but never-enacted postal reform.
DeJoy repeated his suggestion that the status quo at USPS is unsustainable and expressed optimism that all stakeholders can come together in recognition of that fact. He summarized the problems with the mailing agency as tied to an inability to keep up with mail trends, outdated pricing, underinvestment in infrastructure, inadequate engagement with customers and an insufficient strategy to grow. As he previously previewed, DeJoy promised continued six-day mail delivery, more support for employees and investments in network infrastructure. While previous postal leadership has targeted worker benefits to cut costs, DeJoy said his proposals can be implemented “while sustaining and improving our valued benefits to our employees.”
DeJoy repeated that slower mail delivery will likely be part of the 10-year business plan he will release in the next two weeks, stressing that USPS is unable to meet its current standards. He committed to maintaining a two-day delivery standard for some mail, but said some mail currently in that category would be slowed and less of it would use air transportation. That drew the ire of some lawmakers, who said it would ultimately harm the Postal Service’s business.
“If the business plan for the postal service is to deliver an inferior product, and we’re in competition with FedEx, and UPS and Amazon, that spells trouble,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. “That sounds to me like we are going into a downward spiral.”
Faced with accusations that he was simply surrendering to prior failures, DeJoy said his plan merely sought to reflect reality.
“The standards have not been met,” he said. “You can sit here and think I’m bringing all this damage to the Postal Service, but as I said earlier, the place was operationally faulty because of lack of investment and a lack of ability to move forward, which is what we are trying to do.”
Unlike previous iterations of postal reform legislation, which consistently won bipartisan support in committee but never advanced to bicameral consideration, the updated draft placed a much greater emphasis on USPS service and timely mail delivery. The proposal came in the wake of mail delays unprecedented in recent history, for which DeJoy has repeatedly apologized. The USPS inspector general is investigating the slowdown.
The mailing agency would be required under the bill to set annual performance targets to meet mail delivery service standards. The Postal Regulatory Commission would be responsible for ensuring compliance with those goals and if USPS failed to meet them, postal management would have to either develop a plan to do so or adjust its service windows. PRC would then have to sign off on that proposal and conduct occasional reviews of the agency’s service standards. Upon enactment of the bill, the Postal Service would be prohibited from slowing mail delivery standards until its regulator conducted such a review.
Similar to previous proposals, the measure would require postal retirees electing to receive federal health insurance to enroll in Medicare parts A and B as their primary care provider. Most postal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would have to select a plan specific to USPS workers. The draft bill, like all recent attempts at postal reform, would take onerous payments toward health care benefits for future retirees off the agency’s balance sheets. The Medicare integration would go a long way toward reducing USPS’ future liabilities. Both provisions have gained broad bipartisan support, and endorsements from USPS management and unions, in the past.
DeJoy threw his support behind the bill, saying it, taken in combination with his forthcoming 10-year plan, would reverse the Postal Service’s more-than-a-dozen-year run of losses.
“Absent this legislation that the chair proposes, there is no path to totally eliminating our loss,” DeJoy said.
The measure did not have unanimous support, however. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., who worked at USPS for three decades, said the potential for slower mail delivery would “chip away at the foundation of what makes this agency great.” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the committee, praised Democrats for seeking bipartisan input, but criticized them for their previous allegations against DeJoy and said postal reform would require “hard decisions” that the draft bill did not address.
DeJoy has come under fire during his eight months as postmaster general, beginning with questions surrounding his selection process and continuing with controversial reforms he issued after first taking office that—according to his own admission and confirmed by the USPS inspector general—led to widespread mail delays. Some Democrats and advocacy groups have called on President Biden to appoint members to vacant seats on the postal board of governors who would remove DeJoy from office, but the postmaster general expressed optimism he would stay in his job.
"Get used to me," he told committee members, adding he would remain in his job for “a long time.” He added, however, he could get tired of the position and leave: “There are other things I could do.”
The White House announced on Wednesday that Biden planned to name three individuals—Ron Stroman, until recently the deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, a voting rights activist; and Anton Hajjar, a former American Postal Workers Union official—to fill those slots, which would give Democrats a majority. Biden is "committed to the USPS' success," the White House said, and the nominated officials would "ensure the USPS is running at the highest of service standards and that it can effectively and efficiently serve all communities in our country." Earlier this month, Ron Bloom, a Democrat and former Obama administration appointee, became chairman of the panel. Bloom suggested on Wednesday he worked closely with DeJoy on the forthcoming business plan and it would have his support.
Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., made clear her primary focus was on shepherding her reform legislation through Congress and to Biden’s desk.
“We will not be delayed or deterred from our north star,” Maloney said. “We need to pass meaningful reforms, and hopefully bipartisan reforms, to put the Postal Service on more sustainable and financially firm footing for years to come.”