Lawmakers question new postmaster general on delays and restructuring

Tonda Rush

Sep 1, 2020


Baptism by fire seemed to be the challenge for new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who made his first public appearances in a sometimes-hostile environment: the Congressional hearing room.

DeJoy has been mostly invisible in the world of USPS stakeholders, having so far neither declined nor accepted numerous invitations to meet, speak and collaborate from organizations like National Newspaper Association, the American Catalog Mailers Association and even Amazon. But Congress was in no mood to wait to meet with him. When controversies about mail delivery reached the headlines, DeJoy was summoned.

His work to date apparently has been within his management team, where he announced during his eighth week on the job a major shakeup that kicked out some senior executives and reassigned many more. The result was a flatter organizational structure with the reporting lines clearly coming to his own office,where previous PMGs had assigned a chief operating officer to a vice president. No nomination of a Deputy Postmaster General, a position mandated by statute, has yet surfaced.

It was the changes that appeared to affect mail service that drew fire to the new PMG, who came to the Postal Service from the trucking industry and whose credentials have been challenged by Democrats because of his past donations to President Trump. Social media began to thrum in August with purported changes in the service network of USPS: the taking down of mail processing machines, curtailment of overtime and one major disruption in local post office delivery that required letter carriers to hit the streets right after clocking in rather than spending part of their mornings putting flat mail in cases to prepare for the delivery sequence. The Expedited to Street/Afternoon Sortation (ESAS) was intended as an experiment to reduce carrier work hours, but it also caused the largest letter carriers’ organization to cry foul and to assert that mail was being left behind. Similarly, the shutting down of sorting machines led the labor union of USPS mailing plant employees, the American Postal Workers Union, to insist that mail was being left behind in the plants, undelivered.

Service performance has lagged across the nation. The USPS quarterly service reports indicate that Periodicals outside the county arrived only 66% on time through the end of June, with particularly low scores in the Northeast where half the Periodicals mail failed to achieve on-time delivery. Even Marketing Mail entered at Sectional Center Facilities fell off, achieving only 88% on time delivery through the third USPS quarter. The report did not capture the results from July when DeJoy’s management changes took hold.

NNA members surveyed in August indicated they were seeing service problems across the board in all mail classes, even for Within County mail.

These issues drove Congress to call in DeJoy to account for the USPS performance. He appeared before both key oversight committees, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and House Committee on Oversight and Reform in August. In the Senate HSGAC, he heard support from the majority Republicans who decried press reports that his actions had created problems for the mail. But in the Democrat–led House, he was grilled for more than five hours on the importance of the mail.

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, said in her opening statement:

“In all of our districts, we are hearing from constituents about significant delays in the delivery of mail, medicines, food and other supplies. These delays are especially concerning — and potentially life-threatening — during the coronavirus crisis. These are not isolated complaints. They are widespread. Our offices have been inundated with thousands of calls and emails about the detrimental effects these delays are having on our veterans, seniors, small businesses and families across the country.”

DeJoy’s opening statement denied that his actions had slowed the mail.

“First, I did not direct the removal of blue collection boxes or the removal of mail processing equipment.

“Second, I did not direct the cutback on hours at any of our post offices.

“Finally, I did not direct the elimination or any cutback in overtime.” But DeJoy admitted the service performance was down and pledged to fix it.

He said his management changes were not at the root of the issues and that COVID-related issues had also had an effect. Nonetheless, he pledged to halt some of the changes he had implemented, including taking out more mail processing machines and changing the carriers’ patterns in ESAS, until after the November election. He refused to pledge to restore the machines that had been taken out, making an angry Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, press him for a commitment.

“You won’t promise to put the machines back?” Lynch said.

“No,” DeJoy said.

“No, you will not?” Lynch said.

“No, I will not,” DeJoy said. Lynch, incredulous, sat back and said, “Well, there you go.”

Unpersuaded by the testimony, House Democrats proceeded the following day to drive through legislation requiring restoration of service levels, equipment and personnel through the election season or the pandemic, whichever comes later, and to appropriate $25 billion for USPS. The bill passed on mostly partisan votes, but more than 20 Republicans voted with the Democrats. The bill is not likely to see action in the Senate.

“NNA has been monitoring all of these changes with concern,” NNA President Matt Adelman, publisher of the Douglas (Wyoming) Budget, said. “We have written DeJoy twice, once to invite him to meet with us at our convention and the other to ask what effect ESAS would have on service. We received responses to both. He is still considering our invitation to speak. He has not said no. We remain hopeful. On ESAS, we received a commitment from his management team that overnight delivered newspapers would not be affected by the changes.

“The Congressional reactions have been partly driven by political concerns and partly from widespread complaints about service, including NNA’s testimony before both House and Senate that delivery delays are being reported by our members across the country. In DeJoy’s defense, the changes in the mail processing plants are ones NNA has monitored since March. We are participating in an executive level task force on re-engineering the flats mail delivery network and are working on some experiments to see if we can improve the mailflow. This is something that must be done because there is simply not enough mail to keep the operation running as it is. When the Postmaster General said the machines were being taken down before he arrived, we accept his statement as truth and can validate it. When he says COVID is causing delays, we certainly are seeing that. As to other changes, we are awaiting more data-driven conclusions so we can see exactly what is going on.”

NNA has been alerted that USPS plans to roll out a new restructuring plan in the fall. An outlook for much higher rates and more service changes is anticipated by the NNA Congressional Action Team and Postal Committee.

Tonda Rush is the director of public policy and serves as general counsel to the National Newspaper Association. Email her at