WASHINGTON (CN) — Suffering losses of $9 billion last year and on track to do worse in 2020, the postmaster general on Friday announced a reorganization of the service and a freeze on executive hiring amid the Covid-19 pandemic and an impending election.
Louis DeJoy, in the position for eight weeks, announced the reductions to overtime for operations but underlined that the U.S. Postal Service would maintain a “robust and proven process” as it prepares to deliver election mail for what is shaping up to be a largely absentee and mail-in venture due to the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Despite any assertions to the contrary we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” DeJoy said Friday.
The postmaster general has a favorable relationship with President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee. He previously served as the RNC convention chairman and donated more than $2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and assorted Republican ventures since the 2016 election. Trump also nominated DeJoy’s wife, Aldona Wos, to serve as ambassador to Canada for the U.S.
In a stance largely attributed to Trump’s personal feud with Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, the president has openly criticized the U.S. Postal Service as inefficient for years. Just this past April, during a press conference at the White House in April, Trump labeled the service a “joke” and called for an increase in delivery rates of up to four times the current amount.
Bezos has drawn the president’s ire both for his incomparable wealth and his ownership of the Washington Post, a news outlet Trump has frequently harangued as a purveyor of “presidential harassment!”
With the hamstrung Postal Service on track to lose more than $11 billion this year, a handful of Democrat lawmakers in both the House and Senate called Friday on Tammy Whitcomb, the Postal Service inspector general, to begin an audit of DeJoy.
Sent weeks after House lawmakers passed an amendment to stop DeJoy’s realignment efforts, the letter is signed by House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden, the latter of whom became the first U.S. senator elected by an all-mail election in 1996.
The service has faced complaints of oppressive overtime forced on mail carriers in the past and increasingly sharper criticism for its decision earlier this year to permit delivery centers the right to delay mail if necessary for up to one day at processing facilities.
Michigan Senator Gary Peters announced Thursday he was initiating an investigation into complaints of widespread mail delays. Peters will have considerable leverage to pursue the probe as the ranking member of the powerful Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Trump regularly asserts without evidence that mail-in elections are prone to fraud. Citing the anticipated high volume of mail-in ballots, he suggested earlier this week the November election would be a “catastrophe.”
DeJoy’s changes are said to include cutbacks to overtime and, as documented by The New York Times and others, reports of carriers leaving mail behind on workroom floors or docks.
“Was Mr. DeJoy’s implementation of these changes consistent with the Postal Service’s internal policies and procedures and applicable legal requirements, including requirements governing consultation with the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission and postal employees and customers?” the lawmakers asked in their letter to the administrator Friday.
DeJoy appeared to anticipate some pushback from legislators while speaking Friday to members of the Postal Service Governors Board.
“Rather than sensationalizing isolated operational incidents that I acknowledge can occur and have always occurred in a business of our size and scope or attempting to impose unfunded mandates unrelated to any postal policies, I ask members of Congress to take action on this one legislative burdensome issue that will actually make a difference,” he said.
Among their queries, Democrats are also probing potential conflicts of interest. DeJoy and his wife own anywhere from $30 million to $75 million worth of assets in competing delivery and shipment services like J.B. Hunt.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with the postmaster general on Wednesday on Capitol Hill amid tense negotiations for the next round of Covid-19 relief. The House initially proposed a $25 billion infusion for the Postal Service — without a call for repayment — but have since pared back, now offering $10 billion loan from the Department of the Treasury.