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House and Senate Oversight Committees Question Postmaster General

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform (COR) conducted back-to-back hearings Friday and Monday to question Postmaster General Louis DeJoy following several weeks of reported mail service delays.

Both Committees questioned DeJoy on a wide-range of issues, including: his work and interaction with letter carriers/unions; recently announced structural changes;, changes in overtime and operations resulting in service delays; preparations for the upcoming election; his views on needed legislative reforms and the need for Covid-relief; and his background, political leanings, and ties to the Trump administration and the private shipping industry from which he hails.

The hearings held August 21 in the Senate and August 24 in the House, sandwiched a successful bipartisan House vote Saturday night on the Delivering for America (H.R. 8015), which would provide $25 billion to the Postal Service for Covid-related losses/expenses and reverse any changes that result in mail service delays. While the vote on H.R. 8015 was bipartisan in nature, the hearings showed the sharp partisan divisions that exist between Democrats and Republicans on virtually every issue raised in both hearings.

HSGAC Chair Ron Johnson, who has refused to take up postal reform legislation for years, defended DeJoy’s service cuts as long-overdue reforms while Senate Democrats focused on the negative impact of the cuts as we approach the November election.

 “The country is anxious about whether the damage you have inflicted so far can be quickly reversed and what other plans you have in store that could further disrupt or damage reliable, timely delivery from the Postal Service,” said Ranking Member Gary Peters. “If you plan to continue pursuing these kinds of changes, I think my colleagues, and many of our constituents, will continue to question whether you are the right person to lead this indispensable public institution.”

Overall, the Senate HSGAC hearing was largely cordial with members tactfully raising questions about service and seeking assurances from DeJoy about halting disruptions that could lead to delays. The subsequent House hearing following the vote was anything but cordial.

That COR committee hearing spanned nearly seven hours. Joining DeJoy at the House hearing was Postal Board of Governors Chairman Mike Duncan. Both men were on defense for much of the hearing, with Democrats sharply criticizing the new PMG and recent changes on his watch.

“You're withholding information from us, concealing documents and downplaying the damage that you're causing,” said Maloney. "If you continue to withhold information or otherwise fail to comply, you can expect a subpoena."

On the Republican side of the aisle, members were complimentary in nature and at times apologetic for the aggressive treatment from the Democrats. Their line of questioning focused on whether USPS needs immediate financial relief and whether the agency has the capacity to process every ballot received by Election Day.  Some questioned if recent reports about the delayed processing of ballots were the fault of USPS as opposed to State Boards of Election.  Republicans also accused Democrats of conspiracy theories to smear the President.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) used the hearing to attack the character of city letter carriers, suggesting that they could not be trusted to handle ballots because NALC had recently endorsed Joe Biden for President. “Congressman Hice’s baseless claims are offensive and deeply troubling,” NALC President Fred Rolando said. “Letter carriers take their responsibility to protect the privacy and sanctity of the mail very seriously. We never let politics interfere with our duties as public servants – Congressman Hice owes every letter carrier in his district an apology.”

 With repeated questions over removal of sortation equipment and collection boxes during his brief tenure, Committee members grew frustrated with PMG DeJoy‘s  responses, leading some Democrats to call for his immediate resignation.

For his part, DeJoy was unapologetic and tried to assure lawmakers. “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election. We will do everything in our power and structure to deliver the ballots on time.” He went on to reassure lawmakers that the Postal Service could operate without taxpayer assistance  until 2021.

What was not covered by either Committee was the amount and scope of Covid-related losses and expenses, which clearly justifies a need for relief. In addition, members on both Committees failed to discuss how financial relief would be a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for the agency, which is unable to make basic infrastructure investments, such as new vehicles. In addition, there was little conversation about preparations for staffing shortages nationwide as the nation prepares for Covid-19 this fall, when cases are expected to rise, including among letter carriers and postal employees.

While the House and Senate hearings generated even more interest in the Postal Service, it is not likely the last postal-related activity on Capitol Hill during August recess. Members of Congress have returned home to their districts, but they are on high alert. Many are sending letters and inquiries to the new PMG. NALC remains focused on the need for financial relief, favorable loan terms and conditions, and hazard pay for letter carriers. With the House passing two separate measures aimed at addressing these issues, letter carriers should remain focused on contacting their Senators to urge them to act.