Questions for the Postmaster General

SteveBlog, Slideshow

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been on the job just two months, but he can already boast of many accomplishments, including these:

  • He has become the subject of a review by the USPS Office of Inspector General concerning allegations of a conflict of interest over his investments and his controversial policy changes; the review may lead to an investigation.
  • He has provoked calls for his immediate resignation from Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin and Representatives Gerry Connolly, Peter DeFazio and Alma Adams, as well as 800,000 people on a MoveOn petition.
  • He has implemented changes to postal operations that are delaying the mail and heightening fears about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver election mail on time.
  • He has inspired 175 members of Congress to write a letter calling on him to reverse his overhaul of the Postal Service, citing the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming elections.
  • He has also inspired four House Republicans — Reps. Peter King, David McKinley, Brian Fitzpatrick and Daniel Webster — to join 80 House Democrats in signing a letter expressing “deep concerns” about DeJoy’s changes and calling for them to be reversed, and Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte have separately sent their own letters criticizing the mail delays.
  • He has caused U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. to call on the New Jersey Attorney General to convene a grand jury to investigate him for election subversion, and Arizona Secretary of State to ask the Election Integrity Unit of the Attorney General’s office to investigate him for deliberate delay of ballots.
  • He has spurred protestors to take to the street in front his DC condo (in a very nice historic building) rallying against his complicity in Trump’s effort to suppress voting by mail.
  • He has demoralized thousands of postal workers by implementing changes they view as undermining the mission of the post office.
  • He has put at risk the reputation of “the most trusted brand in the nation” and “America’s favorite federal agency.”

The Postmaster General needs to appear before Congress immediately, not a month from now, as currently scheduled, and he needs to speak to the American people in a press conference.  Here are some of the questions he should be asked.

Conversations with the president; When the president was asked about your cutbacks on August 9th, he said he hadn’t spoken with you, but news report later said you had met with him a few days previously, on August 3. How many times have you met with the President or spoken with him over the phone? Have you discussed mail voting in conversations with the president or with other members of the White House or Cabinet, including Secretary Mnuchin?

Financial support for voting by mail: The president has said that the Post Office needs the $25 billion in the proposed stimulus bill in order to handle millions and millions of ballots? Is this true? Does the Postal Service need any additional financial support in order to be successful in performing its role during the election?

Delay of the mail: Why have you implemented operational changes that you now acknowledge (in an internal USPS memo) are causing mail delays across the country? Why have you chosen to do this during a pandemic and right before an election, at a time when Americans depend more than ever on mail? Given that slowing down the mail on a nationwide basis is the equivalent of a change in service standards, why have you done so without presenting a plan to the Postal Regulatory Commission for an Advisory Opinion, as required by law?

Warnings about disenfranchising voters: Why did you have the Postal Service’s General Counsel send letters to the secretaries of state across the country warning them that voters may be disenfranchised because ballots may not be received by the state’s deadlines? Why did the letter strike a tone that made these officials feel that the Postal Service is changing its policies about the priority it will give to delivering election mail? Why did you have the General Counsel, rather than USPS election coordinators, communicate with the secretaries, as they’ve traditionally done? Is the Postal Service preparing to be sued for its failures to deliver ballots on time? Why haven’t you scheduled a meeting with the secretaries of state, as they have requested, to discuss election mail issues?

Treatment of election mail: Why does the Postal Service keep saying that it will deliver election mail according to the service standards of the rate at which it was sent? Most election mail is sent third-class (Marketing Mail), which can take up to 10 days. Are you saying election mail sent that way will not get any special treatment?  If so, what’s the purpose of the special Election Mail logo, bar code IDs, and green 191 tags? What specific plans, other than those normally taken during an election, have you developed to ensure the Postal Service responds to the challenge of an election during a pandemic, when there will be twice as many mail votes as in 2016?

Election assurances: What can you say to assure the country that you will do everything in your power to ensure that the Postal Service delivers election mail in a safe, secure, and expeditious manner, and if the election is contested, there will be no issues concerning ballots that weren’t postmarked properly, ballots that were lost or misplaced while in USPS hands, and ballots that were received by election centers days after the service standards dictated?

Removing mail processing equipment: Why is the Postal Service removing 670 sorting machines from postal facilities at this particular time? The Postal Service says such reductions are “routine,” but when, aside from the possible exception of the network rationalization plan in 2012, which closed over 200 processing centers, has the agency ever decommissioned so many machines in such a short period of time? Aren’t you concerned that this will put more stress on other machines and lead to breakdowns and more mail delays? What’s happening to the machines? Are they being sold to private mail processing companies (like yours) so that the Postal Service can eventually outsource even more of its operations?

Removing collection boxes: Why did you approve plans to remove blue collection boxes in several western states? Why did you backtrack on these plans only hours after they became public? What will you say in response to Montana Senator Tester’s letter expressing concern that these removals seemed “to be occurring without any transparency or communication with impacted Montanans”? Given the context of the controversy over mail voting, why didn’t you anticipate that such steps would “set off a social media panic”?

Changes at post offices: You have already announced reduced hours at several post offices. The AP reports that it has obtained records outlining further reductions of hours at post offices, including closures during lunch and on Saturdays, and there are rumors about post offices closing completely, including several in West Virginia. What are the plans for reducing hours at post offices and closing facilities? If these will be nationwide, when will you submit a request for an Advisory Opinion by the PRC, as the USPS did for Retail Access Optimization Plan and POStPlan in 2011-2012?

Management restructuring: Critics have called your management restructuring a “Friday Night Massacre.” Analysts say the new structure gives you more power. Why, after a few weeks on the job, did you feel that you did not have enough power? Why did you displace two postal executives with decades of experience?

Parcel pricing: Yesterday the Postal Service announced a relatively modest, temporary holiday-season increase on commercial prices for parcels. The hike on Parcel Select, the product used by companies like Amazon for last-mile delivery, was 5 to 10 percent.  The average price for Parcel Select is $2.50 per piece (as shown on the RPW report), so that’s about 13 to 25 cents more per parcel — a far cry from the increase President Trump has been calling for. Now that you have had an opportunity to review the confidential contract with Amazon, is it true that the Postal Service has been undercharging Amazon $1.50 per package, or even more, as the president has claimed? If so, why was the price increase so modest?

Conflicts of interest: Is it true that you continue to hold a multimillion-dollar stake in your former company XPO Logistics, a USPS contractor? What have you done to avoid the apparent conflict of interest? Is it true that you divested large amounts of Amazon shares and then purchased stock options giving you the right to buy new shares at a price much lower than their current market price? And if so, why would you do that knowing Amazon is the Postal Service’s biggest customer?

Postal privatization: Isn’t it true that you and your wife gave the Fund for American Studies $500,000 in 2018 (on top of large donations in previous years), that you are a member of its Board of Trustees, and that The Fund teaches the principles of limited government and free-market economics?  Isn’t is true that your family foundation also donated to three members of the Koch-funded State Policy Network, an alliance of right-wing think-tanks that campaigns against unions and advocates privatization? Given that President Trump’s 2018 Government Reform Plan recommended restructuring the Postal Service “to return it to a sustainable business model or prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately-held corporation,” can you understand why people would be concerned that your ultimate goal is to convert the Postal Service to a private corporation? And wouldn’t the logistics and mail processing industry in which you made your fortune stand to be a major beneficiary of postal privatization?

Advancing the mission: You have taken several very visible steps to cut costs, like reducing overtime, changing delivery operations, removing sorting machines, cutting hours at post offices, culling collection boxes, and putting a management hiring freeze in place, but what concrete steps have you taken to further the Postal Service’s mission of binding the nation together — as opposed to making the Postal Service itself a weapon to further divide the country?

—Steve Hutkins, ed.

(Photo: Protests in front of the PMG’s home, WTOP/John Domen)