Postmaster General confronted on mail delays since he took job

Daniel Flatley and Todd Shields Bloomberg News (TNS)
U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Aug. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is holding a hearing on "Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots"

WASHINGTON - U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he's let Donald Trump's reelection campaign know that the president's denigration of the Postal Service and voting by mail has been harmful to the agency.

"I have put word around to different people that this is not helpful," DeJoy, a major Trump donor, said in response to a question at a hearing on mail delays and service cutbacks. "I've spoken to people that are friends of mine who are associated with the campaign."

Trump has called the Postal Service "a joke," and as DeJoy was testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the president repeated his unfounded assertion that using mail ballots would open the way for fraud and could delay results of the November election indefinitely.

DeJoy said the Postal Service has enough resources make sure mailed ballots would get delivered promptly. He said election security is primarily the responsibility of local election officials, but, "It is our intent not to have any fraud to do with the United States Postal Service."

The agency has become the center of political clash between Democrats and Trump. As he trails Democrat Joe Biden in polls and election officials anticipate a record number of mailed ballots in November because of the pandemic, Trump has stepped up his attacks. Democrats have suggested postal service cutbacks are politically motivated - something DeJoy has denied.

Under pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, DeJoy has put a halt to some of the cutbacks until after the election. He defended his management of the agency as he was confronted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who leads the oversight panel, with internal Postal Service data showing a drop in service levels in July, shortly after he took over.

The presentation prepared by the Postal Service showed that beginning about at the end of June and beginning of July, the post office had a significant decline in service for multiple categories of mail, deeper than what was experienced at the start of the pandemic. Service levels fell 6 percent to 10 percent, Maloney said.

"These steep declines did not start in April or May with the coronavirus crisis, but in July when Mr. DeJoy came on board and began making his changes," Maloney said.

DeJoy said the agency had "a temporary service decline which should not have happened," adding that, "We are fixing this."

He insisted that demanding on-time truck departures was the sole operational change he's made since took the job as Postmaster General in June.

"I made one change," DeJoy said while standing by his earlier refusal to consider returning to service sorting machines that he said aren't needed or to replace blue collection boxes that he said were pulled in accordance with previous plans.

"I will repeat again for the hundredth time, I have not removed any machines," he said in response to questions from Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California.

The hearing was DeJoy's second appearance on Capitol Hill since Friday, when he testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. In both sessions, the questioning reflected the partisan divide, as Democrats pushed DeJoy on post office cutbacks and Republicans repeated accused the other party of pursuing a "conspiracy theory" that the cuts were related to the election.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, pressed DeJoy to replace sorting machines, saying the move would reassure the public. "What is the harm?" he asked.

"We don't need the machines to process the election," DeJoy said. "In Washington, it makes plenty of sense. To me it makes none."

DeJoy said that while he is halting some cost-cutting steps until after the November election, there will continue to be changes after that.

He said backlogs would be cleared up quickly and that he would provide the committee an update on postal services by next Monday.

Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy called the hearing "a political exercise."

The Postal Service is consistently one of the most popular federal agencies, and complaints about recent slowdowns in service have drawn complaints from Republicans as well as Democrats.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, in a largely friendly round of questioning, said that she and her husband have received "some very, very inefficient service on the part of the post office in the last few weeks."

Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan joined DeJoy in testifying at Monday's hearing. He said the post office was operating with a "broken business model." The postal board selected DeJoy to be a "transformational leader" who can lead to putting the agency on a more sustainable path.

DeJoy, a former logistics executive, has said he was implementing changes recommended by earlier studies of problems at the Postal Service. He denied there has been any political interference from Trump.

The House of Representatives, where Democrats have the majority, passed a bill on Saturday aimed at rolling back some of the changes DeJoy has overseen that Democrats say could harm the ability of Americans to vote by mail.

The bill also would allocate an additional $25 billion for the Postal Service. It had limited Republican support, passing 257-150, with 26 GOP members voting yes. It has almost no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.