Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday morning, the first time the embattled leader of the U.S. Postal Service will publicly answer lawmakers’ questions about mail slowdowns attributed to his cost-cutting policies that have spurred worries about the delivery of ballots for the November election.
DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump, announced he would suspend those policies — including cutting overtime and prohibiting extra mail-delivery trips — and would halt the removal of mail-sorting machines and public mailboxes before Nov. 3. But DeJoy is also considering a massive overhaul of the agency after the vote, The Washington Post reported Thursday, that would see the Postal Service implement geographic pricing, reducing mail-delivery standards and hiking prices.
On Friday, DeJoy told the Senate committee that there have been “no changes of any policies in regard to election mail for the 2020 election.”
The postmaster general is also set to testify before the House Oversight Committee with Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert M. Duncan on Monday.
In his opening remarks, DeJoy said he took the job of postmaster general in June because he believes the Postal Service plays a “tremendously positive role in the lives of the America public and the life of the nation.”
But he lamented the fact that the Postal Service would report a loss of more than $9 billion. He said he seeks to do a better job serving the nation while “operating in a financially sustainable manner.” Changes are necessary, he added, for the Postal Service to remain to be sustainable in the years and decades ahead.
“Our business model, established by the Congress, requires us to pay our bills through our own efforts,” DeJoy said. “I view it as my personal obligation to put the organization in a position to fulfill that mandate.”
He cited retirement payments and the current health benefits programs as partial reasons for the losses. He asked Congress to help mitigate these issues, and also provide more relief to counter financial strain caused by covid-19.
“We must adapt to the realities of our marketplace generate more revenue and control our costs,” he said. “…As we head into the election season I want to sure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully committed and capable of delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time.”
“This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and election day,” he added.
Answering questions from committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the Postal Service has “adequate capacity” to handle a flood of election mail for the November election and that the agency’s policies for election mail have not changed.
“I’d like to emphasized there has been no changes of any policies in regard to election mail for the 2020 election,” DeJoy said.
“We deliver 433 million pieces of mail a day; 160 million ballots over the course of a week is a very small amount,” he added.
But voting rights advocates are still wary that though high-level Postal Service policies have not changed, ballots could still be handled differently in the coming election.
All completed ballots sent to boards of election travel as first-class mail. But unfilled ballots going from local officials to voters are more complicated. Some localities send them first-class, which costs 55 cents per item and takes two and five days to arrive. But many others have long sent ballots as third-class or the “bulk rate” of 20 cents an item with a delivery time of three to 10 days. Historically, postal workers have treated ballots with third-class postage as though they were first-class items.
In recent days, the Postal Service has refused to clarify at the national level whether those norms will be respected in the November election, and letters it sent in July — which warned 46 states that their requirements and deadlines for voters were “incongruous” with mail service — raised concerns that they won’t.
Sen. Gary Peters set the tone for sharp Democratic criticism of DeJoy at the beginning of Friday’s hearing, saying the postmaster general has “undermined one of our nation’s most trusted institutions” and “wrecked havoc on veterans, seniors, rural communities and people across our country.”
In an opening statement, the Michigan Democrat accused DeJoy of hastily implementing operational changes that have caused significant mail delays and said those backlogs have hurt people who rely on the Postal Service for timely delivery of medications and small businesses that have been forced to lay off staff while paying more to send their products.
DeJoy’s policies have cost these people “their health, their time, their livelihoods and their peace of mind,” Peters said. “I believe you owe them an apology for the harm you have caused.”
Peters, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also accused DeJoy of seeking to avoid proper congressional oversight.
“It wasn’t until I launched an investigation that you admitted that you have directed these changes yourself,” he said. “Despite multiple requests, it took more than one month [to receive your response].”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) opened the 9 a.m., hearing by saying that “commendable” efforts by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy were being “cynically used to create this false political narrative” that the administration was trying to make it harder to for Americans to vote by mail.
DeJoy swiftly implemented cost-cutting efforts upon taking office, including cutting overtime hours and eliminating extra mail delivery trips to ensure on-time mail delivery. A USPS inspector general report issued the day DeJoy took office in June cited high overtime costs as room for cost savings.
Johnson also described the Postal Service’s financial condition, which has improved greatly since dire projections were released in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The Postal Service holds $15 billion in cash, and has access to $10 billion in a loan from the Treasury Department. Those numbers are being propped up by high package volumes and smaller declines in first- and second-class mail volumes, the agency’s most profitable products.
Johnson also said that the postal system has “more than enough capacity” to handle excess volume of mail ballots this fall.
Senate Democrats are ramping up their investigation of the U.S. Postal Service and how its operational changes might have affected the delivery of election mail so far this year.
Ahead of public testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday morning, a group of 11 Senate Democrats requested details from state election officials about disrupted mail service, the percentage of mail ballots that arrived too late to be counted during the primaries and any contact between their offices and the Postal Service about related problems.
Letters were sent to election officials in every state with a request for answers by Aug. 31.
“Delays in the delivery of election mail can lead to voters being disenfranchised,” the letters stated. “It is our goal to ensure that all states have policies in place that will allow ample time for ballots to arrive and be counted, and that USPS delivers ballots in the timely manner it has in past years to ensure that election officials are able to administer successful elections.”
The effort, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, and signed by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), among others, also sought to gather information about states’ approaches to mail voting this year, such as whether voters have access to drop boxes for returning mail ballots.
Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris has “a lengthy list of questions” for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy when he testifies Friday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, but she will be submitting them in writing, 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.
But Harris, who accepted the Democratic vice-presidential nomination on Wednesday, has been particularly busy since Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has mapped out far more sweeping changes to the U.S. Postal Service than previously disclosed, considering actions that could lead to slower mail delivery in parts of the country and higher prices for some mail services, according to several people familiar with the plans.
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.
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