USPS Board Meeting Turns Testy as Biden Appointees Voice Disagreements With DeJoy’s Vision
The postmaster general's plan is "ill-conceived" and "dangerous," newly sworn-in board member says.
The tenure of the U.S. Postal Service’s newest board members got off to a tense start on Friday as President Biden’s appointees voiced their displeasure with the agency's direction and USPS' leader stated he will still move forward with reforms.
The disagreements surrounded Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to slow down deliveries for some mail and packages, a key element of the embattled leader’s 10-year blueprint to improve USPS’ service and financial footing. It was the first meeting with a full slate of governors on the postal board in more than a decade, after Biden nominated and the Senate confirmed individuals for the final three slots in recent months.
Ronald Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general and one of Biden’s nominees, took the most aggressive approach in criticizing DeJoy’s plan, saying the delivery slowdowns would hinder the agency’s ability to provide prompt and reliable service without federal funding. He said the plan is “strategically-ill conceived, creates dangerous risks that are not justified by the relatively low financial return, and doesn’t meet our responsibility as an essential part of America’s critical infrastructure.” USPS expects to save about $170 million annually from the changes, a small fraction of its operating budget.
“There is no compelling financial reason to make this change,” Stroman said. “The relatively minor savings associated with changing service standards, even if achieved, will have no significant impact on the Postal Service’s financial future.”
Stroman accused DeJoy and the existing board members of abandoning the customers most loyal to and dependent on the Postal Service and said the plan would accelerate people and businesses turning away from the mailing system. He added that “rarely, if ever,” has a USPS policy change received such widespread pushback.
Anton Hajjar, a former American Postal Workers Union official and another recently confirmed Biden nominee, took a more measured approach, saying there was “a whole lot to like” in DeJoy’s plan. He questioned why the slowdowns were necessary, however, before examining the impacts of the investments and other reforms postal management plans to implement.
The postal board met in a private session on Thursday, during which the governors and DeJoy went through their disagreements point by point. Anticipating the rare public display of division at Friday’s public meeting, Chairman Ron Bloom, a Trump-appointed Democrat who has endorsed DeJoy and his plan, previewed Stroman and Hajjar’s remarks and sought to downplay the discord.
“We do not and will not always agree,” Bloom said, but each of the governors “has the best interest of the Postal Service at heart.” He preemptively defended the 10-year plan, saying it “further embeds the Postal Service as a critical part of this nation’s infrastructure, providing reliable and affordable mail and package delivery to 161 million American households six and seven days a week.”
The Postal Regulatory Commission last month flagged several issues with the reform proposals, saying the mail slowdowns were not fully thought out and their success was far from guaranteed. It faulted postal management for not piloting the changes or engaging with its customers about them, leading to assumptions that were “not grounded in reality.” The plan would not violate the mailing agency’s legal obligations, the regulator said, but USPS failed to demonstrate the benefits would outweigh the downsides.
DeJoy on Friday vowed to implement most of the regulatory commission's recommendations, which included setting more realistic performance targets, developing new data to support USPS' projections, ensuring cost savings are not prioritized over adequate service and monitoring customer satisfaction as the plan is implemented. DeJoy said his plan was “not perfect,” but it could get there with increased stakeholder engagement. Still, he said most of those pushing back have offered ideas “disguised as solutions, which they are not.” The postmaster general defiantly promised to push ahead with his plan over any criticism.
“We must move forward, and we are moving forward,” DeJoy said.
Stroman, lamenting he was powerless to stop the mail slowdowns, called on postal management to at least ensure it met its goal of delivering 95% of mail on time within the new delivery windows “as soon as possible.”
“I look forward to working with my colleagues on this,” Stroman said.
Postal management also unveiled its financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2021, during which it saw a net loss of $3 billion. USPS Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett noted, however, that much of that total stemmed from forces outside of management's control and highlighted that operating revenue increased by $840 million in the quarter compared to the same three-month period in fiscal 2020. Excluding factors like inflationary adjustments to postal liabilities, USPS losses dropped to $1 billion. In a potentially troubling sign for the Postal Service, package volume dropped by 14% in the quarter compared to last year. Corbett noted that management expected package business to drop off from its pandemic peak and said competition in the space has grown significantly.
Delays remained up in the quarter compared to the same period last year, with USPS delivering just 88% of First-Class mail on time compared to 91% in the third quarter of fiscal 2020.