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Biden nominates three to USPS board of governors as DeJoy testifies on mail crises

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/25/2021 Jacob Bogage, Christopher Ingraham, Hannah Denham
a man sitting at a table: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy listens during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Feb. 24. (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examner/Bloomberg) © Graeme Jennings/Bloomberg Postmaster General Louis DeJoy listens during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Feb. 24. (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examner/Bloomberg)

The White House moved toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday even as its Republican postmaster general defiantly told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail, brushing off calls for him to resign.

President Biden named two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of the four openings on the Postal Service’s governing board, according to three people briefed on the discussions and later confirmed by the White House: Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.

If all three win Senate confirmation, the nine-member board would be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans with McReynolds, whose organization is a darling of left-leaning groups, as the lone independent.

The new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially the votes to oust DeJoy, whose summer overhaul led to precipitous service declines that snarled up untold numbers of Americans’ bills, prescriptions and paychecks. DeJoy, with the current board’s backing, slashed overtime and dramatically reduced mail processing capabilities, moves deemed by an inspector general’s audit to reflect a lack of preparation or concern for how they might affect service.

Though the mail slowdowns have opened DeJoy to intense public scrutiny and raised the hackles of some postal experts and voting rights activists, he has made clear he would continue to push through his agenda to rein in the agency’s $188.4 billion in liabilities. He testified to a House panel Wednesday that discussions for his new strategic plan included further delivery slowdowns.

Congressional Democrats had pushed Biden to move quickly on the nominations. Mailing industry insiders and Congressional staff briefed by the White House and Biden’s transition team say the governors represent the most direct line for the administration to not only revitalize mail delivery but to expand government services, including broadband and banking access, as well as fortify agency oversight.

“I’m pleased the Biden administration is making the postal board of governors a top priority," said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will oversee the nominees’ confirmation process. "We need to get qualified nominees in these seats who will work with Congress to ensure the Postal Service is focused on strong service performance — and we need to do it quickly.”

The move is a potential boon for voting rights groups, which have pressed Congress to use the Postal Service to expand vote-by-mail access as a firewall against Republican state legislatures that have introduced bills to do the opposite.

The new bloc is likely to be embraced by the powerful postal unions, whose leaders have privately expressed worries that DeJoy would cut jobs or contract work to private firms to reduce expenses.

More than 70 House Democrats called on Biden to move quickly on the nominations in a letter last week. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and several House Democrats went further, urging Biden to fire the board’s six sitting members and start from scratch.

The board’s lack of diversity drew pointed remarks during Wednesday’s hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The White House, in a statement this month, said Biden would choose nominees who “reflect his commitment to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service — who deliver on the post office’s vital universal service obligation.”

The White House, Stroman and McReynolds did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hajjar declined to comment.

“I applaud President Biden’s nominations of three new members to the Postal Service Board of Governors. It is crystal clear that the Postal Service’s performance and its financial condition have deteriorated significantly, and new and better leadership is urgently needed,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “I also commend the President for his continuing commitment to appoint individuals who represent the diversity of America. The board nominations today reflect that commitment.”

The body’s six sitting members are all older men, and all but one is White. The Postal Service’s workforce is disproportionately Black and female, compared to the rest of the federal workforce, and the agency has been a historical driver of employment in Black communities.

“Do you see it as a problem that the board of governors of the United States Postal Service looks like a millionaire White boys’ club?” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) asked DeJoy, noting that “more than 35 percent of postal workers are people of color.”

DeJoy responded that “the Postal Service would love to have a diverse board that reflects its population,” and that the nomination process was controlled solely by the White House and Senate.

“The quicker we get some new board members from the administration, the less we can talk about this and move on to the plan and the real, real problems that we need to fix here,” he added.

Industry officials lauded the nominations, but said they had much to learn about McReynolds, whose postal background is largely on voting rights, and Hajjar, who left APWU several years ago.

“We’re very encouraged that the administration moved this fast,” said Art Sackler, manager of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, an industry group whose members include Amazon, eBay and other commercial mailers. “We hope there will be a speedy confirmation process.” (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

DeJoy spent most of the hearing dodging questions about his forthcoming strategic plan for the Postal Service, which includes higher prices and slower delivery, according to two people briefed on the details, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is not yet complete.

Under questioning from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about the agency’s plan to eliminate two-day delivery windows for local mail, DeJoy said the agency was “evaluating all service standards.” When pressed further, he said that his plan would include two-day mail but that “some percentage of where the reach is right now may change” and “you need to define local.”

“If we in fact get the relief that we need in terms of time, we will put more mail on the ground,” DeJoy told Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) moments later, citing problems with the Postal Service’s air transportation network as cause for delays over the holiday season.

That policy change, according to mailing and logistics experts, would gridlock the entire postal network.

“It sounds like your solution to the problems we’ve identified is just surrender,” Raskin said.

Several Republicans used the hearing to defend DeJoy and deride Democrats’ concerns from postal hearings over the summer. They had raised questions about the processing of absentee ballots ahead of an election that would largely be conducted by mail. It sparked tense exchanges between Democrats who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, and Republicans who, citing falsehoods about mail-in voting, attempted to overturn the election that removed him from office.

“You were the worst guy on the planet last time you were here,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. “I just want to know what’s changed.”

DeJoy responded, “Well, we had an election.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) called Jordan’s assertions “gaslighting” and referenced Trump’s false claims about fraud in mail-in voting.

Connolly asked Ron Bloom, the board chair, whether the governors were still “tickled pink” by the hiring of DeJoy, alluding to the description used by GOP board member John Barger in testimony before a Senate panel on Sept. 9, 2020.

“I’m generally not tickled pink by things,” Bloom said. “But as I said, the board of governors believes the postmaster general in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.”

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.

3:59 PM: Rep. Pressley makes case for postal banking to raise revenue and advance ‘economic justice’

Ayanna Pressley standing in front of a television: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) questions Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Wednesday. © Jim Watson/AP Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) questions Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Wednesday.

Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) argued in favor of allowing the Postal Service to provide expanded financial services “to simultaneously increase revenue for the U.S. Postal Service while advancing economic justice.”

Postal banking, as it’s generally called, would allow the agency to provide services such as check cashing, savings accounts and certain loans. The idea has the backing of the American Postal Workers Union. Dimondstein, its president, said the agency already has statutory authority to expand its existing financial offerings, which include money orders and limited check cashing.

“We’re in all these neighborhoods where banks have pulled out,” Dimondstein said. “We’re trusted, we’re trained, we’re accountable, we’re dedicated, and 91 percent of the people in the country, through the entire political spectrum, support the Postal Service and trust postal workers.”

Advocates for postal banking, including a number of economists, say expanded financial services could help reach the 6 percent of adults who currently do not have access to a bank account. A 2014 report by the Postal Service inspector general estimated that expanded banking could generate roughly $8.9 billion in new annual revenue.

As historian Christopher W. Shaw recently noted in an essay for The Washington Post, postal banking was widespread in the United States until the 1960s, when private sector bankers “successfully lobbied to shutter the Postal Savings System.”

By: Christopher Ingraham

3:02 PM: Biden is said to nominate three to USPS board of governors

President Biden will nominate a former U.S. Postal Service executive, a leading voting rights advocate and a former postal union leader to the mail service’s governing board, according to three people briefed on the nominees, a move that will reshape the agency’s leadership and increase pressure on the embattled postmaster general.

Biden will nominate Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy.

If confirmed, the nominees would give Democrats a majority on the nine-member board of governors, with potentially enough votes to oust DeJoy, who testified Wednesday before a House panel that his new strategic plan for the mail service included slowing deliveries.

The composition of the postal board elicited sharp remarks before and during Wednesday’s hearing. Several lawmakers have decried the lack of diversity among the governors.

The move is a potential boon for voting rights groups, which have urged congressional Democrats to use the Postal Service to expand vote by mail access as a firewall against Republicans in state legislatures that have introduced bills to do the opposite.

It also is likely to be embraced by the powerful postal unions, whose leaders have privately expressed worries that DeJoy would cut jobs or contract work to private firms to cut costs.

The people briefed on the nominations said a formal announcement from the White House could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

More than 70 congressional Democrats wrote to Biden on Feb. 17, asking him to submit nominations for three of the four openings on the governing board. Bloom, the board chairman and the body’s senior Democrat, is serving in a one-year holdover role after his term expired in December.

The White House, in a statement this month, said Biden would choose nominees who “reflect his commitment to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service — who deliver on the post office’s vital universal service obligation.”

The White House, Stroman and McReynolds did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hajjar declined to comment.

Cleve Wootson and Hannah Denham contributed to this report.

By: Jacob Bogage

3:01 PM: USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb says agency needs more revenue to stay afloat

Tammy Whitcomb, the inspector general whose office oversees the Postal Service’s finances and operations, said the agency should explore new revenue sources such as partnering with Internet providers or government agencies to improve infrastructure.

While testifying virtually during Wednesday’s hearing, Whitcomb said that even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States nearly one year ago, the Postal Service‘s processing network wasn’t as efficient as it could be, largely due to revenue loss persistent for nearly 15 years.

“The ability of the Postal Service to meet its service standards is always important, especially during the current pandemic, when Americans are relying so heavily on it to deliver critical items like checks, medicines, packages and balance,” she said, highlighting the “perfect storm” of postal challenges that the agency has had to navigate.

Whitcomb said her office is investigating struggling service performance in Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; and Detroit, as well as looking into overwhelmed facilities where the agency stopped accepting mail.

In the weeks leading up to the November election, Whitcomb’s office sent 500 employees to conduct field work in more than 2,000 postal facilities across the country. She said that the agency generally prioritized and delivered ballots effectively and that her office would release a report on its service performance soon.

Whitcomb was appointed by the Postal Service’s nine-member board of governors in November 2018 as the third inspector general. Her role involves reporting to the Postal Service’s governors and keeping Congress and Postal Service management informed about her office’s work and areas to improve efficiency and finances.

By: Hannah Denham

2:58 PM: Why do committee members keep asking about the Hatch Act?

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was blocked from touring mail-processing facilities in September. At the time, the Postal Service cited the Hatch Act, a law designed to separate public office from politics, in its refusal of facility tours by Wasserman Schultz and other lawmakers in the weeks leading up to the November election, as concern over mail delays affecting ballots swelled.

During Wednesday’s hearing, she asked DeJoy whether he would allow members of Congress to tour facilities moving forward. DeJoy said he would check with the agency’s legal counsel.

But what is the Hatch Act? The anti-corruption law was passed in 1939, prohibiting civil servants and federal workers from mixing their employment with partisan politics — such as using their title, office or government resources while engaging in political activities.

The law was passed following the Great Depression, after Democratic officials co-opted Works Progress Administration federal employees to help with swing-state campaigning. The Office of Special Counsel is responsible for investigating and charging individuals —- the law applies to millions of workers, ranging from top national security officials to unpaid interns. If charged, employees can lose pay or their jobs, but it’s not a criminal offense.

But in 2018, the Office of Special Counsel issued guidance that allowed for elected officials to visit federal facilities for an “official purpose, such as receiving briefings, tours, or other official information.”

“I am not aware of any violations,” DeJoy said during Wednesday’s hearing when asked about the existence of Hatch Act violations by postal employees during 2020.

Read the full story

By: Hannah Denham

2:42 PM: Rep. Bush questions lack of diversity on postal board: ‘Looks like a millionaire white boys’ club’

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) focused on the board of governors as a potential target for postal reform.

Under questioning from Bush, Chairman Ron Bloom noted that the panel has six members plus the postmaster general, fewer than the 11 members mandated by statute.

“I believe it’s been at least six or seven years since we had a full board,” he said. In response to a follow-up question about diversity, Bloom said that “the board is comprised today of six white males.”

Board member Roman Martinez, an investment banker, immigrated to the United States from Cuba as a child in 1960, according to testimony he presented during his nomination.

Current members include three investment bankers, one coal industry lobbyist, the chief executive of an air industry lobbying firm, and the CEO of a shipping and transportation company. Louis DeJoy also helmed a shipping firm before taking over the Postal Service.

Bush’s next question was for DeJoy: “Do you see it as a problem that the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service looks like a millionaire white boys’ club,” she asked, noting that “more than 35 percent of postal workers are people of color.”

DeJoy responded that “the Postal Service would love to have a diverse board that reflects its population,” and that the nomination process was controlled solely by the White House and the Senate.

“The quicker we get some new board members from the administration, the less we can talk about this and move on to the plan and the real, real problems that we need to fix here,” he added.

Democratic lawmakers are pressing Joe Biden’s administration to fill empty seats on the board, with an eye toward potentially ousting DeJoy from power.

By: Christopher Ingraham

2:27 PM: Rep. Porter tells DeJoy she’s concerned his new strategic plan is neither ‘strategic nor a plan’

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked DeJoy whether his proposed reforms could serve both performance and financial objectives at the agency.

DeJoy said the Postal Service’s total liabilities are $80 billion, but according to The Washington Post’s reporting, liabilities have climbed to $188 billion.

“I’ve heard that you have a new strategic plan, but I’m really concerned that this plan may neither be strategic nor a plan,” Porter said. “Have you figured out if this new plan would save money and improve performance?”

DeJoy said the Postal Service has conducted several “extensive studies” in the past eight months on how it can improve reliability and reduce costs, which will be reflected in his strategic plan, though it has yet to be finalized.

Porter said the committee will request that he share this analysis, the studies and a list of consultants that contributed to the studies and new strategic plan.

“You’ve said you’re committed to managing the U.S. Postal Service with excellence. With that in mind, what are the aspects of Postal Service today that you view as most critical, that you treasure the most?” Porter asked DeJoy. “What are you not willing to change just to make a buck?”

“One of the key attributes of the Postal Service that I think is very important, both from the standpoint of what it does for the nation and also for its viability, because this Congress, as previous Congresses say, it needs to remain self-sustaining,” DeJoy said.

By: Hannah Denham

2:02 PM: Mfume: Mail delays ‘harmful’ to constituents yet ‘continue to worsen’

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) noted that regardless of the intent behind DeJoy’s cutbacks to mail service, the net effects of the changes include a lot of human suffering.

“There are a lot of people who have suffered and had to pay extra money, late fees for bills” that were sent on time but delayed by the Postal Service, he said. “And there were the many of those who missed out on their medication schedules because their medications were not on time. These delays have had harmful impacts on the lives of our constituents, and yet they continue to worsen.”

Last fall, major pharmacies told lawmakers they had experienced increased delivery times for medications. Conditions deteriorated further over the holidays. While service has improved somewhat since then, reports of extreme mail delays remain common.

Pressed by Mfume, DeJoy said he expected to be ready to unveil the agency’s new strategic plan “within the next two weeks.”

By: Christopher Ingraham

1:56 PM: 400,000 sign petition urging Biden to quickly fill empty USPS board seats

a man sitting on a table: Mark Dimondstein is the president of the American Postal Workers Union. © Graeme Jennings/AFP/Getty Images Mark Dimondstein is the president of the American Postal Workers Union.

More than 400,000 people have signed a petition urging President Biden to fill four vacant seats on the U.S. Postal Service’s governing board, a move that would reshape the agency’s leadership and add to mounting pressure on DeJoy.

The petition, circulated by the American Postal Workers Union and such advocacy groups as Move On, Public Citizen and People for the American Way, calls on Biden to nominate governors for Senate confirmation who “are fully committed to vibrant, public and universal postal services; reject the postmaster general’s agenda of cutting service and slowing the mail; will champion emergency COVID-relief for USPS; will support an agenda of expanding the role of the USPS in serving our communities.”

“We need a strong board that reflects the will of the people,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said in a statement. “We need leaders who will support prompt, reliable and efficient service, and public servants who understand that this is the United States Postal ‘Service’ and not the United States Postal ‘Business.’”

Governors serve staggered seven-year terms on the nine-member board. President Donald Trump inherited an empty governing board and appointed seven members; Democrat David C. Williams resigned in May in protest over the board’s selection of DeJoy as postmaster general.

Democrats have pushed Biden to use the new appointments to create a majority bloc with the votes to oust DeJoy, who has presided over a historic decline in mail service linked to pandemic conditions and delays caused by his operational changes.

By: Jacob Bogage

1:47 PM: Private sector is losing confidence in the Postal Service, company CEO warns

a group of people riding on the back of a truck: Postal workers load their mail delivery vehicles at the Panorama City post office in Los Angeles on Thursday. © Richard Vogel/AP Postal workers load their mail delivery vehicles at the Panorama City post office in Los Angeles on Thursday.

One of the less familiar witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing was Joel Quadracci, chief executive of Quad. The Wisconsin-based company is one of the nation’s largest printing operations, responsible for about 8 billion pieces of mail annually — “approximately 12% of the overall marketing mail volume in the country,” according to Quadracci’s prepared testimony.

Marketing mail — “direct mail” in U.S. Postal Service parlance or “junk mail” to its detractors — is a major component of the Postal Service’s operations. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of total revenue and roughly half of all mail volume, according to the agency’s latest annual report to Congress.

“From a combination of service and pricing circumstances over the past year, our coalition and the industry as a whole are alarmed about and questioning not only their own continued use of the postal system, but the overall impact on postal volumes and revenues, and the Postal Service’s continued ability to fund and do its job,” Quadracci wrote.

The industry was particularly unhappy with “planning that left USPS short of personnel and transportation capacity” and “a lack of transparency as to where USPS was struggling with staffing and other shortages” in the past year, he added.

Quadracci contends that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s proposed postal-rate increases will incentivize individuals and businesses to find cheaper ways to get their messages out, causing mail volume and service to drop even further. Mailers would be “paying more — a lot more — and getting less,” he wrote. “For small businesses and nonprofits, this can be problematic to the point of leaving the system altogether, or even existential.”

The industry prefers the provisions included in the draft legislation being considered by the House Oversight Committee, he wrote, including eliminating the onerous requirement to pre-fund Postal Service retiree health benefits, requiring postal employees to enroll in Medicare upon retirement, and improved reporting on the agency’s performance.

“The industry’s faith and confidence in the USPS to perform is critical; without that confidence, alternatives for mailers throughout our coalition will become more attractive out of necessity,” Quadracci added. “And, unfortunately, the industry’s confidence in USPS has been shaken.”

By: Christopher Ingraham

1:32 PM: DeJoy confirms his USPS plan may include slower first-class mail

DeJoy confirmed Wednesday that his forthcoming strategic plan for the U.S. Postal Service will include cuts to delivery service standards, specifically the two-day standard for local mail, and that less first-class mail will be transported by plane.

Under questioning from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), DeJoy said the agency was “evaluating all service standards.” When pressed further, he said that his plan would include two-day mail but that “some percentage of where the reach is right now may change” and “you need to define local.”

“If we in fact get the relief that we need in terms of time, we will put more mail on the ground,” DeJoy told Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) moments later, citing problems with the Postal Service’s air transportation network as cause for delays over the holiday season.

That policy change, according to mailing and logistics experts, would slow the entire postal network, something DeJoy appeared to acknowledge.

To get from New York to California … we can’t do that on a truck,” DeJoy said.

“It sounds like your solution to the problems we’ve identified is just surrender,” Raskin shot back. “You’re basically saying, ‘Because the mail has been late under your leadership, we’re just going to change the standards and build it into the system that it will be late.’”

By: Jacob Bogage

1:24 PM: Congressman who spread unfounded mail ballot allegations very concerned about unfounded mail ballot allegations

a person sitting on a table: Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on postal reform. © Jim Watson/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on postal reform.

“We’ve got to get away from the attacks and allegations that are unfounded,” said Hice, the Georgia Republican, referring to statements from Congressional Democrats accusing DeJoy of deliberately sabotaging mail-in voting in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Democrats voiced suspicion about the timing of DeJoy’s service changes last year — which have been blamed for much of the service slowdown and came as Trump ramped up his baseless attacks on the integrity of voting by mail. While there is no evidence indicating the changes were intended to suppress vote by mail, many outside observers questioned the wisdom of cutting Postal Service during a pandemic and before an election in which record numbers of Americans would mail their ballots.

Lawmakers’ suspicions were deepened by Trump’s own remarks linking postal funding to mailed ballots.

Hice is no stranger to unfounded allegations. Ahead of the Nov. 3 vote, he echoed many of Trump’s false and misleading remarks about mailed ballots and voter fraud. Afterward, he signed on to a letter by Georgia’s Republican Congressional delegation that made unsupported claims of “voting irregularities” in the state.

Hice was a key player in GOP efforts to throw out Georgia’s election results based on baseless accusations of fraud. After a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, he joined 146 other Republican lawmakers in voting to overturn presidential election results.

Hice closed his remarks by saying “there was a record-setting 135 million mail-in ballots with almost perfect delivery with those. And so I am hopeful that with this information cleared, we’ll be able to move forward in a bipartisan manner.”

“Thank you for your bipartisan comments,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) responded dryly.

By: Christopher Ingraham

1:07 PM: Jordan asks about protesters; Connolly wants to know if board is still ‘tickled pink’ with DeJoy

a person sitting on a table: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Wednesday asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy whether protesters were still showing up outside his home. © Jim Watson/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Wednesday asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy whether protesters were still showing up outside his home.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) began his questioning of DeJoy asserting that previous scrutiny of the postal leader and mail service performance was a politically motivated “charade,” coinciding with the lead-up to the November election.

“Mr. DeJoy, do you have any protesters at your house last night?”

“Not last night,” he responded.

“You had protesters banging on pots and pans outside your house. You had 90-some people calling for you to resign,” Jordan said to DeJoy, referring to the Aug. 24 committee hearing at which he testified. “You were the worst guy on the planet last time you were here. I just want to know what’s changed.”

DeJoy responded, “Well, we had an election.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) followed up by calling Jordan’s assertions “gaslighting” that don’t change the facts about mail delays. He referenced Trump’s unsupported claims last summer that voting by mail is fraudulent.

Connolly asked Bloom whether the board was still “tickled pink” by the hiring of DeJoy. That was the description used by John Barger, a Republican board member, in testimony before a Senate panel Sept. 9, 2020.

“I’m generally not tickled pink by things,” Bloom said. “But as I said, the board of governors believes the postmaster general in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.”

Connolly said he disagreed, calling on Biden to overhaul the board of governors.

By: Hannah Denham

12:33 PM: Postal Service finances are dire. Congress is partly to blame.

At the heart of today’s hearing is the dire financial condition of the Postal Service. But that situation is, in some ways, Congress’s fault: In 2006 the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA, in postal parlance) included the highly unusual mandate for the agency to pre-fund its employees’ retirement and health benefits.

At the time the Postal Service was posting annual operating profits, as The Post’s Jacob Bogage explained earlier this year, so the law made a certain amount of sense. But the timing could not have been worse: 2006 was the last year the agency was profitable.

The rise of smartphones in the following decade made texting, emailing and online bill-paying easier. Annual mail volume dropped at the worst possible time, just as the agency began shifting massive sums of money toward its retirement obligations. And the Great Recession compounded all of these problems.

The result is that in 2020 the Postal Service posted an operating loss of $9.2 billion, its 14th straight year in the red. The crises of the past year, including the coronavirus pandemic and drastic service changes instituted by DeJoy, have created even more instability. The task before House members now is to figure out how to right the postal ship before conditions deteriorate further.

Read the full story

By: Christopher Ingraham

12:25 PM: Here’s why President Biden can’t fire Louis DeJoy, and who can

President Biden has very limited authority to oversee U.S. Postal Service operations — or Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

DeJoy was hired by, and reports to, the Postal Service’s governing board, a nine-member, bipartisan, Senate-confirmed panel. Only six of the nine seats on the board are filled, all appointed by former president Donald Trump, leaving Biden to fill the others.

But that is about as close as the president can come to directly influencing the agency. Postal policy is purposefully insulated from elected officials to prevent politicians from tinkering with the mail for political or personal gain.

Of the six members of the board of governors, four are Republicans and two are Democrats. The members serve staggered seven-year terms. The board’s chair, Democrat Ron Bloom, is serving in a one-year holdover slot after his term expired in December.

DeJoy told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Wednesday that none of the members of the board of governors have called for him to resign.

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More than 70 House Democrats last week urged Biden to quickly fill three of the four board vacancies to create the majority bloc with the votes necessary to oust DeJoy, if desired. More than 90 House Democrats called on the board to fire DeJoy in August.

“We do not doubt that the Postal Service requires some thoughtful reforms in order to continue to provide excellent service to the American people in the years to come; however, there is a plethora of evidence that Postmaster General DeJoy is not equipped to meet the rigors of these challenges,” the letter to Biden stated. “Filling the vacant seats on the Postal Service’s Board of Governors with strong, passionate advocates for the institution will allow it to function in a nonpartisan manner, and will allow the Board to seriously consider whether the current Postmaster General is suitable to continue in his role.”

The letter represents a growing split along familiar lines in the Democratic ranks, according to three people involved with caucus deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal disagreements. More progressive members are pushing for Biden to fire all six sitting members of the governing board — including Democrats Ron Bloom, the board’s chairman, and Donald Lee Moak — and start fresh with new governors that would dispatch DeJoy.

Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) have already called for such an approach. The rest of the caucus has pushed Biden to be more deliberate and simply install new governors, rather than firing the lot. The letter, the people said, tries to walk a narrow line between the two camps, giving Biden political cover to reshape the agency while maintaining pressure on DeJoy and the governors.

“Joe Biden has talked about wanting to govern by consensus his whole presidential race,” said one of the people. “He’s not going to all of a sudden become someone he’s not, and go fire the board of governors.”

Read the full story

By: Jacob Bogage and Kevin Schaul

12:19 PM: Rep. Lynch: ‘The solution can’t be not to deliver the mail’

a man sitting on a table: Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) questioned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (right) during a House hearing Wednesday on postal reforms. © Jim Watson/AP Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) questioned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (right) during a House hearing Wednesday on postal reforms.

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, one of the House’s longest-tenured Postal Service advocates, scolded House Republicans who objected to the results of the November election based on false theories about mail-in voting and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over proposed policies to slow mail delivery in his forthcoming strategic plan.

Lynch (D-Mass.), who during an August hearing on the Postal Service spent his full five-minute questioning period bellowing at DeJoy, used his time Wednesday asking DeJoy and Postal Service board of governors chair Ron Bloom if it was “unconscionable” that lawmakers would object to election results based on mail-in voting, a system that both witnesses had just spent time defending.

Neither DeJoy nor Bloom responded to Lynch’s questions, which were a thinly veiled swipe at Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who voted to decertify the very votes that secured his reelection to Congress.

Hice earlier in the hearing sought to defend DeJoy from allegations that he was installed at the Postal Service to disrupt election mail and prevent voters from casting ballots for President Biden.

Lynch turned back to DeJoy on a separate topic, pressing the postmaster general on a Washington Post report, later confirmed by NBC News, that the agency’s strategic business plan would include measures to slow the mail.

DeJoy demurred. “We’re not finalized,” he said. “We’re getting very close to finalized, and we have taken eight months to do a diagnostic on just about every aspect of our operation.”

“All I got to say is this,” Lynch responded. “If the business plan for the post office is to deliver an inferior product … that spells trouble.

“The solution can’t be not to deliver the mail,” he said.

By: Jacob Bogage

12:09 PM: Committee chair Maloney pushes witnesses on Medicare integration

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney’s (D-N.Y.), the House Oversight and Reform Committee chair, asked each witness Wednesday to weigh in on integrating retired postal workers into Medicare, a provision included in bipartisan legislation to reform the mail agency.

Postal employees have paid $35 billion into Medicare since 1983, Postmaster General DeJoy confirmed during Maloney’s Q&A, but only 73 percent of retirees are enrolled in the health insurance program. If passed, the provision in the draft bill would require current employees to enroll once they turn 65, and retirees older than 65 would have three months to enroll before being penalized. It has gotten pushback from both Republican and Democratic representatives, who worry it could strain the already struggling federal program.

Kevin Kosar, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said it is not something he has closely examined, but he has worried that integrating postal workers into Medicare might have “negative spillovers upon the financial health” of both Medicare and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general; Ron Bloom, chairman of the Postal Service’s governing board; Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union; Joel Quadracci, chief executive of the printing and manufacturing firm Quad; and Tammy Whitcomb, the Postal Service’s inspector general all said they support the provision. Dimondstein did clarify that the integration needs to be part of a broader, more comprehensive reform package, but that it would benefit the agency and its workers.

Maloney said she hopes the provision will attract bipartisan support, moving forward.

“It appears that we have widespread support for this provision among the Postal Service, the workers, the industry and stakeholders,” she said. “I believe we should go forward with this provision when we introduce this bill and mark it up at our business meeting.”

By: Hannah Denham

11:48 AM: DeJoy says USPS’s missions are ‘profoundly threatened’

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told a House panel Wednesday the struggles at the U.S. Postal Service on timely delivery were “acceptable to no one,” and that he would unveil a strategic business plan for the agency in the coming weeks.

DeJoy said that plan would include a commitment to six- and sometimes seven-day delivery — “Not just because it’s the law, but because it’s the key ingredient to our future success,” he said — and seek to convert temporary employees to a career track and invest in network infrastructure, including a new vehicle fleet and more sorting machinery.

“As we improve service, and we are and we will, we must face some hard truths as presently constituted,” DeJoy said. “The Postal Service’s ability to serve its twin mandate to bind the nation together and remain financially self-sufficient is profoundly threatened.”

By: Jacob Bogage

11:40 AM: Board of Governors chair: ‘We fell far short’

The chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors told lawmakers that the mail agency fell “far short” of its service targets in 2020 during Wednesday’s hearing.

Bloom blamed performance declines on covid-19 “sidelining thousands of our employees.” But he also cited “unsustainable liabilities” and the agency’s own “failure to adapt to the changing needs of its customers” as drivers of the poor service.

Bloom previously served in the Obama White House on the group tasked with “the restructuring of GM and Chrysler” in the wake of the Great Recession, so he’s no stranger to major industry overhauls.

He told lawmakers he’s “not in a position to reveal any specifics” about an internal plan to “invest in and revitalize” the Postal Service. But he did say that the measure will ask lawmakers “to give the Postal Service relief from its current requirement to pre-fund its retiree health benefits, and [to] be allowed to fully integrate our retiree health plans with Medicare,” two provisions included in the draft bill under consideration by the committee.

He also suggested the plan will “require tough choices,” warning that “the single largest impediment to achieving a successful outcome is that stakeholders will support the abstract need for change, but will seek to avoid any change that impacts their particular interest."

By: Christopher Ingraham

11:19 AM: Postmaster general’s new plan for USPS is said to include slower mail and higher prices

a truck is parked on the side of a snow covered slope: A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier delivers mail to a snow covered neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, last week. © Smiley N. Pool/AP A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier delivers mail to a snow covered neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, last week.

The postmaster general is preparing to put all first-class mail onto a single delivery track, according to two people briefed on his strategic plan for the U.S. Postal Service, a move that would mean slower and more costly delivery for both consumers and commercial mailers.

DeJoy, with the backing of the agency’s bipartisan but Trump-appointed governing board, has discussed plans to eliminate a tier of first-class mail — letters, bills and other envelope-sized correspondence sent to a local address — designated for delivery in two days. Instead, all first-class mail would be lumped into the same three- to five-day window, the current benchmark for nonlocal mail.

DeJoy said at Wednesday’s hearing that he would formally announce the plan in the coming weeks.

That class of mail is already struggling; only 38 percent was delivered on time at the end of 2020, the Postal Service reported in federal court. Customers have reported bills being held up, and holiday cards and packages still in transit. Pharmacies and prescription benefits managers have told patients to request medication refills early to leave additional time for mail delays. The agency has not disclosed on-time scores yet in 2021.

The new service standards are part of a strategic plan that DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major Republican donor, is set to roll out in the coming days. While the changes are not expected to have a significant impact on local service, the people said, they have commercial mailers, including banks, insurers, retailers and publications, worried they may aggravate existing slowdowns for nonlocal mail.

The plan also prevents first-class mail from being shipped by airplane, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations, forcing all of it into trucks and a relay of distribution depots.

The operational shifts would coincide with a push for significantly higher postage rates — which DeJoy has said was “imminent” — after the agency lost $9.2 billion in 2020 due to steep, pandemic-related declines in mail volume. It also has $188.4 billion in liabilities, the bulk of which is tied to pension and retiree health-care obligations. Leaders have long sought to raise new revenue and, in 2021, are expected to pursue the first big postage rate increase in more than a decade, which could add up to a 9 percent jump compounded annually.

Read the full story

By: Jacob Bogage and Hannah Denham

11:15 AM: Top Republican says he supports USPS reform bill

Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, a top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday that he supports bipartisan postal reform legislation but cautioned Democrats to ease up on attacks on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

Democrats scolded DeJoy over delivery service shortcomings before the November election and during the holiday season, as well as about perceived conflicts of interested because of DeJoy’s sizable donations to former president Donald Trump and other Republican causes.

In opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, Hice said he backed the preliminary proposals in committee chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) bill, but that the alliance on postal reform was rocky given what Republicans have called “conspiracy theories” about election mail service.

Why should we believe that any steps — other than those in the draft bill here, which really erases tens of billions of dollars in misplaced payments and unfunded liabilities — which frankly, I support …" he said. "But those things are not enough.”

He added: “Why should we believe that the rabid resistance is not going to continue if moving blue [public collection] boxes and mail sorters and trying to bring sanity to overtime usage is somehow viewed as criminal activity by the postmaster? Then what in the world is going to happen to the business plan that he comes up with?”

By: Jacob Bogage

10:58 AM: Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a former postal worker, is worried that reform will hinder service

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years, said during Wednesday’s hearing that she is “critically concerned” about cuts to first-class mail service.

“During a pandemic is not the time to weaken our service standards,” she said. “If we do not make every effort to affirm that commitment to the service standards and accountability, it will chip away at the foundation of what makes this agency so great.”

Lawrence has been an outspoken critic of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, whom she blames for cost-cutting measures implemented during the summer that have led to steep performance declines and mail backlogs.

“Questionable operational changes implemented by Postmaster DeJoy has hindered their work and caused the Postal Service to miss that mark,” she said. “Congress must include language to emphasize the need for service performance targets.”

By: Hannah Denham

10:34 AM: On-time mail service has improved, but remains well below standards

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U.S. Postal Service performance has improved in recent weeks but still lags well behind the agency’s goals and consumers’ expectations, according to data from a prominent mail-tracking vendor.

In the vast majority of states, a piece of first-class makes takes at least five days on average to be delivered, just outside the Postal Service’s on-time delivery windows for nonlocal mail. The agency’s internal metrics say local mail should take two days to be delivered, and nonlocal mail should take three to five days.

The Postal Service has not publicly disclosed service performance metrics in 2021. This data, provided to The Washington Post by GrayHair Software, is the best look to date at operations inside the agency, which continues to grapple with staffing outages caused by the pandemic and confusion from internal restructuring.

The delays have raised alarms among lawmakers and industry officials. More than 90 House Democrats have called for the ouster of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over the delivery difficulties and perceived conflicts of interest. Industry stakeholders have said publicly they’ve begun to lose faith in the Postal Service’s network.

“A large period of the last year, the Postal Service was in the news for the wrong reasons: consistently delayed mail delivery,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), a former postal worker, said during Wednesday’s hearing. “While more than 600,000 employees of the Postal Service have heroically continued to uphold their mission to deliver mail in the midst of a global pandemic, questionable operational changes implemented by Postmaster DeJoy have hindered their work and caused the Postal Service to miss that mark.”

By: Jacob Bogage and Christopher Ingraham

10:18 AM: USPS and industry leaders set to testify

The House Oversight and Reform Committee’s panel on the U.S. Postal Service figures to be an especially robust discussion on the mail service. Witnesses include a who’s who of influential leaders.

Louis DeJoy is the postmaster general of the United States. He took office in June after a successful career overseeing New Breed Logistics, a family trucking firm he transformed into a major transportation broker. He later sold it to XPO Logistics and was briefly a company executive and board member before retiring. DeJoy was a major donor to former president Donald Trump and Republican causes, holding a fundraiser at his home in Greensboro, N.C., in 2017. He gave more than $1.1 million to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising vehicle of Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party. At the time of his selection as postmaster general, he was the finance chairman for the 2020 GOP Convention, and deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee.

Ron Bloom is the chairman of the Postal Service’s governing board, a nine-member body that oversees the agency. Bloom was appointed by Trump in 2019 and is one of two Democrats on the board, which currently has only six members. He was elected chairman earlier this month, and is serving in a one-year holdover slot after his board term expired in December. Bloom was a senior Treasury Department adviser and assistant to the president on manufacturing policy during the Obama administration. He has close ties to the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Service’s largest organized labor group, after the union hired his consulting firm in 2011 to study policy proposals for the Postal Service’s finances.

Tammy Whitcomb is the Postal Service’s inspector general, an independent watchdog that monitors the agency’s finances and operations.

Mark Dimondstein is the president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 200,000 employees mostly involved in mail processing or running retail operations at post offices. Dimondstein has been one of the harshest critics of DeJoy’s policies, but joined with the postmaster general and other union leaders on a special election mail task force ahead of the November vote. In written testimony submitted to lawmakers, Dimondstein called for Congress to repeal the Postal Service’s retiree health care pre-funding mandate — an obligation responsible for the bulk of the agency’s financial liabilities — and integrate postal workers into Medicare. He is calling for $40 billion in new funding for the agency to make up for lost revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic and to fund new infrastructure, such as an electric vehicle fleet.

Opening statement from Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union

Joel Quadracci is the chief executive of the printing and manufacturing firm Quad and represents the advocacy group Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service. The company, based in Wisconsin, is one of the nation’s largest printing operations, responsible for about 10 billion pieces of mail annually, according to prior testimony by Quadracci. That figure works out to about 7 percent of the Postal Service’s total annual mail volume.

Opening statement from Joel Quadracci, Chairman, President & CEO Quad, Inc.

Kevin Kosar is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, where he studies Congress, federal agencies and the Postal Service.

Testimony from the American Enterprise Institute's Kevin Kosar on the USPS

By: Jacob Bogage and Christopher Ingraham

9:58 AM: USPS to buy up to 165,000 electric delivery trucks

The U.S. Postal Service will buy as many as 165,000 electric delivery trucks over the next 10 years, spending $482 million to replace its 30-year-old vehicle fleet.

Defense contractor Oshkosh will produce trucks — known as next-generation delivery vehicles (NGDVs) — with either fuel-efficient internal-combustion engines or battery-electric powertrains, according to an agency announcement. The first vehicles will appear on the street in 2023.

“As the American institution that binds our country together, the U.S. Postal Service can have a bright and modern future if we make investments today that position us for excellence tomorrow,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement. “The NGDV program expands our capacity for handling more package volume and supports our carriers with cleaner and more efficient technologies, more amenities, and greater comfort and security as they deliver every day on behalf of the American people.”

The vehicles will represent a major upgrade not only for operations, but also for mail carriers’ working conditions and safety. The trucks are designed to hold more packages, according to the agency announcement, as the Postal Service handles higher parcel volumes, and will continue the agency’s tradition of right-side-drive vehicles to allow workers to more easily reach roadside mailboxes.

The trucks also will have heating and air conditioning, a major upgrade from the milk-carton-shaped “long-life vehicles” (LLVs) that most letter carriers currently drive, which have neither. The LLVs also have a mounting safety risk: Decades of use have created a defect that causes the vehicles to catch fire.

By: Jacob Bogage

9:47 AM: USPS reform bill would cut retiree health-care pre-funding, set delivery standard targets

The House’s bipartisan reform proposal for the U.S. Postal Service would eliminate the mail agency’s costly and controversial retiree health-care pre-funding requirement and boost accountability for timely delivery standards, according to a draft of the bill released ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

The long-awaited legislation is the result of months of negotiation between Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. James Comer (Ky.).

Its key provisions would immediately save the Postal Service $35 billion in forgiven liabilities — money the agency has not paid into the health-care accounts since 2011. Integrating retired postal employees into Medicare would save the Postal Service another $10 billion over 10 years.

“Unfortunately, the Postal Service is facing a dire financial situation that requires us to act,” according to a draft of Maloney’s planned remarks for the hearing obtained by The Washington Post. “We need to pass meaningful reforms — and hopefully bipartisan reforms — to put the Postal Service on more sustainable financial footing for years to come.”

Both parties have circled around postal reform for years as the mail agency edged deeper into financial peril. The coronavirus pandemic turned trouble on the balance sheet into a full-blown crisis. Agency leaders in the spring projected $23 billion in losses over the ensuing 18 months because of the economic downturn and said it would struggle to make payroll by October.

Those projections turned out to be overstated, according to an inspector general report, but helped the Postal Service persuade legislators to appropriate $10 billion in emergency funding and jump-start talks on a reform package.

Some mailing industry stakeholders are pushing for a broader bill that would extend the Postal Service more financial help — through more direct funding and $100 billion in credits from years of pension overpayments — and allow it to offer non-mailing services such as banking, and force the Postal Regulatory Commission to rein in its new pricing authority that could result in significantly higher postage costs.

By: Jacob Bogage

9:35 AM: USPS’s biggest (obvious) problem: We’re sending far less mail

diagram

The biggest problem driving the U.S. Postal Service’s financial troubles is both pretty obvious and hard to avoid: We’re all sending less mail.

Americans sent nearly 40 billion fewer pieces of first-class mail — letters, cards, bills and most everything that fits in an envelope — in 2020 than they did in 2008. A great part of that decline comes from the maturation of the Internet and new forms of electronic communication. Consumers can pay their bills online, communicate with their banks and insurance companies online, and send holiday greetings online.

That’s problematic for the Postal Service for a lot of reasons, but the most crucial is that first-class mail is the agency’s main driver of revenue. The vast majority of first-class items originates from businesses, and the vast majority of those are mass mailings. They’re light, clean and easily processed by machinery. They’re easy to deliver and not a great expense for the Postal Service.

But first-class mail is easily affected by changing economic fortunes. When business dries up, companies look for ways to cut costs, and postage is often one of the first on the list, especially when firms can direct customers online to apps or websites. The Postal Service saw a steep drop in first-class volumes during the 2008 economic recession, and recorded another drop — plus declines on top of that in marketing mail — during the coronavirus pandemic.

Skyrocketing package volumes — in December, it was up 61.5 percent year over year, the agency told Congress — have softened the blow to the agency’s finances; 2020 was the first year that package revenue exceeded first-class mail revenue. But first-class mail still remains a more profitable product, because packages are hard to process. They come in lots of sizes, they’re heavy, and they require a higher level of care than envelopes.

Many of the reform measures proposed by lawmakers and postal stakeholders are aimed at addressing this fundamental problem for the Postal Service: How can it continue to sustain itself and deliver to every American household and business six days a week, while the country increasingly sends less mail?

By: Jacob Bogage and Kevin Schaul

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