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Postal Service will prioritize ballots over other mail, postmaster general testifies – The Washington Post

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“I’d like to emphasize there has been no changes of any policies in regard to election mail for the 2020 election,” DeJoy said, adding later that the agency would deploy “processes and procedures to advance the election mail, in some cases ahead of first-class mail.”

But DeJoy, a former logistics executive and an ally of President Trump, also acknowledged plans to reimagine the Postal Service soon after the election, including a geography-based pricing model that would charge residents in rural areas or outside the Lower 48 more money for routine mail service.

Several people familiar with the plans, which are still subject to change, told The Washington Post on Thursday that DeJoy wanted to raise package rates; set higher prices for service in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico; curb discounts for nonprofit groups; require first-class postage on ballots; and lease space in Postal Service facilities to other government agencies and companies.

“We are not self-sustaining,” DeJoy said in response to questions from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “We have a $10 billion shortfall, and over the next 10 years we’ll have a $245 billion shortfall.”

“There is a path that we are planning, okay, with the help of some legislation, with some cost impacts, with some new revenue strategies that will help and some pricing freedom from the [Postal Regulatory Commission] — we believe we have a plan to do that,” he added. “But one thing that’s not in the plan is not doing anything after the election.”

DeJoy, who has led the agency since mid-June, enacted broad operational changes to return the Postal Service to solvency — it’s carrying $160.9 billion in debt, most of which is connected to retiree obligations — amid steep declines in letter volume. But he shelved his cost-cutting until after the Nov. 3 vote, after a public outcry over service delays and worries it might interfere with an expected surge in mailed ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

His remarks Friday elicited mixed responses from committee members, falling along party lines. Republicans, including the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), called DeJoy’s cost-cutting zeal “commendable” and alleged, without evidence, that constituent complaints about mail delays — which have been pouring into House and Senate lawmakers’ offices for weeks — were fabricated. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) joked that he was surprised to learn DeJoy did not deliver every piece of mail himself and was therefore not personally responsible for delays.

Democrats assailed DeJoy for policies that degraded service — including cutting overtime and banning extra mail delivery trips — without saving a significant amount of money. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said DeJoy had “wreaked havoc on veterans, seniors, rural communities and people across our country” and said the postmaster general owed the public an apology. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) criticized the Postal Service’s lack of transparency.

“With all due respect to our postmaster,” Carper said, “I reached out to you when you were initially selected. … I tried to reach you again and again for weeks.” Carper, the dean of postal policy among Senate Democrats, and DeJoy spoke for the first time by phone Wednesday.

DeJoy and Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, are set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Monday in what will probably be an even less hospitable environment. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House panel, called for the Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate DeJoy’s cost-cutting maneuvers and potential financial conflicts of interests. That inquiry is ongoing. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee responsible for postal oversight, has called for DeJoy’s removal, along with 90 other House Democrats.

August 21, 2020 at 12:27 PM EDT

Democrats on mail delays: ‘These are real concerns’

Senate Democrats defended their criticism of DeJoy’s operational changes Friday after the committee’s Republican chairman accused the left of fabricating complaints as part of a “political hit job.”

“These are real concerns I’m hearing,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the panel’s ranking Democrat. “These are not manufactured. These are people who are coming forward talking about delays, talking about medicine this is not available for them. … This is why we’re standing up and making sure the Postal Service does what they have done [in the past]” to guarantee good service.

Peters urged DeJoy and his staff to be “fully forthcoming” in response to inquiries from Capitol Hill.

“I know you have a very hard job, and frankly, I think you’ve made it harder on yourself because of the lack of transparency we’ve seen these last few weeks,” he said.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) echoed those concerns, telling DeJoy he has “got to be willing to communicate” like other members of the Trump administration, such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“With all due respect to our postmaster,” Carper said, “I reached out to you when you were initially selected. … I tried to reach you again and again for weeks.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee chairman, cast doubt on what Democrats described as national, grass-roots concerns about the performance of USPS.

“There is also no doubt a lot of this is being ginned up,” Johnson said, accusing Democrats of promoting a “false narrative designed to extract a political advantage.”

“I’m just very sorry that you are on the targeting end of this political hit piece,” he told DeJoy.

By Elise Viebeck

August 21, 2020 at 12:07 PM EDT

Johnson says another coronavirus relief package would ‘probably’ include funding for the Postal Service

In his closing remarks, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) hinted at possible funding for the Postal Service in another coronavirus relief package, but said that money must go toward lasting reform.

“We might have an opportunity here,” he said. “There may be another covid relief package — it probably will include something for postal — so if there’s going to be dollars allocated, what I’m certainly asking you for is the information, the data, the suggestions for true reforms.”

Johnson also cast doubt that thousands of complaints that other senators said they have received from constituents about postal delays were connected to changes made by the postmaster general, saying slowdowns were the result of the coronavirus pandemic.

He asserted that the Postal Service has been “every bit as affected by covid as the rest of this nation.”

“It’s economically devastating,” he said. “For anybody to assume that service would maintain its high level of standards when we’re in the midst of the pandemic I think is quite unrealistic.”

Johnson said the changes DeJoy has made so far are designed for long-term improvement, and despite creating some disruptions, “should be commended not condemned.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler

August 21, 2020 at 12:01 PM EDT

DeJoy acknowledges mail delays but says they are minimal and temporary, and largely caused by covid-19

In his first Senate hearing, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy acknowledged that there were some recent mail delays, but he largely attributed them to the impact of the novel coronavirus on his workers.

Peppered with questions from Senate Democrats seeking details on recent operational changes enacted under DeJoy and their role in mail delays across the country, the embattled postal leader defended his changes, saying he acted quickly to stop the delays once he found out about them.

DeJoy said his efforts were intended to “safeguard the election, safeguard the processing of ballots, not to get in the way of it” and expressed regret about recent delivery delays across the system.

But DeJoy assured senators that the delays were minimal and a temporary part of limited structural changes he said will strengthen on-time service and produce cost-savings across the Postal Service in the near future.

DeJoy said he had been receiving a number of “proud and positive comments” about the delivery service since he began his role mid-June.

“We had some delays in the mail and our recovery process in this should have been a few days and it’s amounted to being a few weeks,” he said. “We all feel bad about the dip in our service, what the level has been.”

Toward the end of the two-and-half hour hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, suggested that the mail delays were a product of the coronavirus pandemic and were unfairly politicized by Democrats against DeJoy.

While DeJoy acknowledged that the pandemic had greatly affected his agency and the health of his employees, he said about 4 to 5 percent of the recent reduction in service has been caused by backlogs that were unrelated to the virus.

“A substantial portion of our delays are related to covid. I won’t go as far as to not say that we have had maybe a 4 or 5 percent hit on our service level for all sorts of mail — marketing mail, everything — because it got stuck on the docket,” he said. “We’re drastically bringing it down. Once that is aligned, we should have a smooth running system and a much more high performance rate.”

By Michelle Lee and Elise Viebeck

August 21, 2020 at 11:53 AM EDT

What would Ben Franklin, our first postmaster general, think of Louis DeJoy?

The postal service was a mess when Philadelphia’s 47-year-old postmaster general was appointed in 1753 to help run it. His name: Benjamin Franklin.

The Colonial postal service was still run under the Crown as a moneymaking venture for Britain. The service was expensive and used mostly by lawyers and business executives to send legal documents. Franklin got paid with any profit that was left after mail service was conducted. For years, it ran a deficit, and Franklin realized the best way to turn a profit was to improve services instead of gutting them.

The future Founding Father — a statesman, scientist and shrewd businessman — believed in efficiency and innovation. Some historians say he would have been alarmed at the Trump administration’s threats to slash operations of one of the nation’s founding institutions.

By Diane Bernard

August 21, 2020 at 11:38 AM EDT

Harris submitted questions in writing for USPS hearing

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris submitted “a lengthy list of questions” in writing for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy when he testified Friday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, according to her spokesman Chris Harris.

Sen. Harris (D-Calif.) has made a name for herself with pointed interrogations in high-profile Senate hearing in recent years, earning praise from fellow Democrats for her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, Attorney General William P. Barr and others. Through her positions on the Homeland Security committee, as well as the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary panels, she has found herself in the center of many key Senate inquiries in recent years.

Scheduling uncertainty forced her to send questions by writing for Friday’s hearing, instead of asking them at the virtual hearing herself, according to a person familiar with her plans. The fluidity of the committee hearing meant staff couldn’t pin down exactly when her seven-minute window for asking questions might open, and they worried she might miss her time if the schedule changed dramatically.

Harris was in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday night as Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, and she will be participating in a grass-roots fundraiser with him later today. The rest of her Friday schedule is unclear.

By Chelsea Janes

August 21, 2020 at 10:54 AM EDT

DeJoy ‘extremely, highly confident’ ballots will be delivered in time for counting

DeJoy said he was “extremely, highly confident” the Postal Service will deliver ballots in time for counting during the general election, under questioning from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

“We will scour every plant each night leading up to Election Day,” he said. “Very, very confident.”

The promise struck a contrast with recent letters from the agency to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee mail ballots will be delivered in time for counting under existing request and receipt deadlines. The warnings were issued at the end of July and planned before DeJoy’s appointment.

Romney praised DeJoy’s comment at the hearing as a “commitment” to the public from “the person who is running the Post Office,” and urged Americans to have confidence that if they send their ballots back in a timely way, “those ballots will be received by the various clerks” by states’ counting deadlines.

Utah is one of five universal mail voting states, and Romney praised systems allowing voters to cast mail ballots as “essential to democracy,” despite Trump’s claims it leads to widespread fraud.

He started his questioning of DeJoy with a joke, saying that by donating to both his and Trump’s campaigns, “some would say you’ve contributed to both sides.”

By Elise Viebeck

August 21, 2020 at 10:52 AM EDT

DeJoy defends six-day postal service delivery schedule as the agency’s ‘biggest strength’

In response to a suggestion from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about whether he would truncate the postal delivery schedule to five days or fewer per week to save money, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the agency’s current six-day delivery schedule.

Paul suggested that having less-frequent delivery could save the agency upward of $1.5 billion, including in rural areas where it takes longer for letter carriers to travel.

DeJoy said he considered cutting back on days as a potential cost-saving measure, but upon research, decided the six-day schedule was a strength of the U.S. Postal Service. He said the longer-term transportation schedule changes he has planned would lead to greater savings than shortening the number of delivery days.

“The six-day delivery, the connection that the postal letter carrier has with the American people that gives us this highly trusted brand, and where the economy is going in the future, I think that is probably our biggest strength to capitalize on,” DeJoy said.

By Michelle Lee

August 21, 2020 at 10:49 AM EDT

DeJoy says he does not need a federal bailout to deliver on election night

The Postal Service does not need a federal bailout to deliver mail on election night, but could use “reimbursement” to help cover losses incurred by the pandemic, DeJoy told senators.

“I don’t need anything to deliver mail on election night, but we do need legislative reform, we do need freedom from a change in the [Postal Regulatory Commission] regulation, and we do need to be reimbursed for our costs,” he said, echoing recent statements by the White House.

“I’m trying to get to a sustainable model, but in this case, I believe we deserve some compensation for it,” he added.

Democrats support $25 billion in emergency funding that the Postal Service sought earlier this year. This week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the administration is “certainly open” to that amount, depending on the other provisions that are contained in the coronavirus relief package. But Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has repeatedly said that the Postal Service does not need a bailout to successfully deliver election mail.

DeJoy also defended his general approach and qualifications to lead the USPS, after prompting from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

“I built a big business from nothing,” said the former logistics executive. “There are some accusations that [USPS] is not a business, but when you have to deliver service and you have to be sustainable, the operating model has to cover costs, and we have to take actions to do that, and I have great experience at that.”

By Elise Viebeck

August 21, 2020 at 10:41 AM EDT

DeJoy says he cannot immediately produce a more detailed plan for improving mail service in the days leading up to the election

While discussing voting by mail, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) noted that DeJoy last week wrote that the Postal Service would “utilize additional resources and maximize our efforts during the 10 days prior to the election to ensure the processing and delivery of all election mail within our system.”

Asked Friday if he could produce a full, detailed plan to ensure the additional resources and efforts he alluded to, DeJoy said yes — but he would not be able to produce them by Sunday night.

“We’re just putting these committees together,” he said. “I have to check and will get back to you.”

Hassan also asked about the decommissioning of sorting machines in her state. She spoke about a mailing facility in Machester, N.H., where several machines were reportedly taken out of service. That left one working machine at the facility, she said, and if that one breaks, the entire system could come to a halt.

Even though DeJoy promised to suspend the removal of sorting machines, Hassan noted that the machines in Machester had yet to be brought back to service or replaced. When she pressed DeJoy on a plan in writing to get some of those machines back up and running, DeJoy said he “didn’t agree with the premise.”

“But I will comply with your request,” he added.

By Michael Brice-Saddler

August 21, 2020 at 10:38 AM EDT

DeJoy confirms ‘dramatic changes’ at Postal Service after election

DeJoy said the U.S. Postal Service will make “dramatic changes” after the election, continuing an aggressive agenda he says is aimed at getting the nation’s mail service on steadier financial footing.

DeJoy is considering a bevy of cost-cutting and revenue generating changes, including costlier service to remote parts of the country, decreasing mail delivery standards and hiking prices.

Several people familiar with DeJoy’s plans, which could change over the coming months, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the postmaster general was eyeing perhaps the most forceful changes to the agency’s policies and its statutory mandates in a generation, including modifications to items that are liable to cause a political firestorm.

The plans under consideration, described by four people familiar with Postal Service discussions, would come after the election and touch on all corners of the agency’s work. They include raising package rates, particularly when delivering the last mile on behalf of big retailers; setting higher prices for service in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico; curbing discounts for nonprofits; requiring election ballots to use first-class postage; and leasing space in Postal Service facilities to other government agencies and companies.

“We are not self-sustaining,” DeJoy said in response to questions from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “We have a $10 billion shortfall, and over the next 10 years we’ll have a $245 billion shortfall.”

“There is a path that we are planning, okay, with the help of some legislation, with some cost impacts, with some new revenue strategies that will help and some pricing freedom from the [Postal Regulatory Commission], we believe we have a plan to do that,” he added. “But one thing that’s not in the plan is not doing anything after the election. It’s an ambitious plan because we have $10 billion to bridge.”

DeJoy has told associates he was brought in to stem the Postal Service’s losses and that drastic changes were needed to make the agency solvent. He is determined to stay the course and make wholesale changes after the election, according to an associate who spoke with him recently. Like others, the associate spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal USPS strategy.

Among the most significant potential changes would allow the Postal Service to transport its most profitable products — first-class and marketing mail — and periodicals via trucks and trailers, rather than airplanes. The Postal Service could seek annual price increases on packages, the people said. Last week, the USPS filed for package rate increases ranging from 0.7 percent to 7 percent on five products, including priority express mail and first-class package service, timed to this coming holiday season.

The plans also include eliminating the Alaska Bypass program, a federal program exclusive to the state in which the Postal Service subsidizes the cost of freight shipping of groceries and other goods for remote areas to keep its commitment to universal service. The program costs the USPS about $100 million a year. The Postal Service could look to discontinue the program, the people said, unless Congress specifically earmarked funding for it.

“The plan has not been finalized,” DeJoy said, adding that he is reviewing “hundreds of initiatives.”

“Take the Alaska Bypass plan discussion, that’s an item on the table,” he said. “That’s an unfunded mandate. … What I asked for is all the unfunded mandates, that’s a way for us to get healthy, pay something for the unfunded mandates. If we just throw $25 billion [in an emergency infusion from Congress] at us this year and we don’t do anything, we’ll be back in two years. Then maybe we should change the legislation and not make us be self-sustaining. But as a leadership team and a board, that’s what our mission is, to be self-sustaining and deliver at a high level of precision. And I’m committed to both, and I think both can be done with a little help from the Congress and from the Postal Regulatory Commission.”

By Jacob Bogage

August 21, 2020 at 10:16 AM EDT

‘I’m going to vote by mail myself,’ DeJoy says

DeJoy said he has “voted by mail for a number of years” and plans to vote by mail again this fall, offering a personal endorsement of a process Trump has said leads to massive voter fraud.

“I’m going to vote by mail myself,” the longtime Republican fundraiser said under questioning from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who also said he plans to vote by mail.

DeJoy urged the public to “vote early” and highlighted cases in recent primaries where mail ballots were issued the day before the election, giving the Postal Service little time to ferry the ballot to and from the voter before the deadline.

He said his efforts were intended to “safeguard the election, safeguard the processing of ballots, not to get in the way of it” and expressed regrets about recent delivery delays across the system.

“We all feel bad about what the dip in our service level has been,” he said.

By Elise Viebeck

August 21, 2020 at 10:01 AM EDT

Dejoy says Postal Service will prioritize election mail, at times ‘ahead of first-class mail’

Pressed to assure state and local governments that he would not require them to send out ballots using the pricier first-class mail, DeJoy said the Postal Service would deploy “processes and procedures to advance the election mail, in some cases ahead of first-class mail.”

DeJoy promised that postal workers would continue the process they’ve done in the past and would not issue special charges for election-related mail.

DeJoy’s assurance comes after the Postal Service refused to clarify in recent days whether it will continue to treat ballots sent at the third-class or the “bulk rate” of 20 cents as first-class items, as postal workers have historically done in past elections.

In July, the agency sent letters warning 46 states that their requirements and deadlines for voters to return ballots were “incongruous” with mail service, and suggested that states consider using first-class postage for all ballots.

But on Friday, DeJoy said that ballots will continue to be prioritized.

“The Postal Service will deliver every ballot,” the postmaster general said, adding that he supports mail voting, a practice that President Trump has repeatedly attacked without evidence as vulnerable to rampant fraud.

“I think the American public should be able to vote by mail,” DeJoy said.

By Michael Brice-Saddler and Jacob Bogage

August 21, 2020 at 9:56 AM EDT

DeJoy says he did not speak with Trump, Meadows or other White House officials about postal changes

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he did not speak with President Trump, White House officials, Trump campaign officials or White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the operational changes he made at the Postal Service.

When asked by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) about whether DeJoy had spoken to the president about the changes, DeJoy said: “I have never spoken to the president about the Postal Service other than to congratulate me when I accepted the position.”

“I’ve not discussed anything with Mark Meadows” about the Postal Service changes, DeJoy added.

DeJoy, a longtime GOP donor and top ally to Trump, said he had discussed with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he was working on a plan to save money for the Postal Service, but did not describe the plan in detail. The Treasury Department has been negotiating with the U.S. Postal Service over potential federal bailout funds.

“I told him I’m working on a plan to improve service and gain cost efficiencies. No great detail; that was about it,” he said.

DeJoy added that he told his staff to ensure election delivery is not affected by the changes he enacted, due to concerns about his political ties to the president and the Republican Party.

“My first election mail meeting, what I instructed the organization, the whole team around us and out in the field: ‘Whatever efforts we will have, double them,’” DeJoy said. “I was greatly concerned about all the political noise that we were hearing, and I have had weekly reviews on this since before all the excitement came out.”

By Michelle Lee

August 21, 2020 at 9:49 AM EDT

DeJoy denies knowledge of equipment removals while defending delivery delays as temporary

DeJoy described the removal of mail-collection boxes and sorting machines as typical within the Postal Service and denied he knew anything about them or the process behind the decisions before the issue became a source of public controversy.

“Since my arrival, we’ve removed 700 collection boxes, of which I had no idea that was a process,” he said, adding that he “decided to stop it” once he “found out about it” and all of the “excitement it was creating.”

Mail-sorting machines were removed regularly in previous years when data showed underutilization, he said, calling it a “process I was not aware about” until it got a “lot of airplay.”

“I was made aware when everybody else was made aware,” he said of the collection box and sorting machine removals, calling it “not a critical issue within the Postal Service.”

DeJoy also defended delays in mail delivery as a temporary part of limited structural changes he said will strengthen on-time service and produce cost-savings across the Postal Service in the near future.

“We had some delays in the mail and our recovery process in this should have been a few days and it’s amounted to being a few weeks,” he said.

By Elise Viebeck

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