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Blog Post | May 6, 2021

Biden Must Continue Cleaning House At USPS

2020 Election/TransitionCongressional OversightGovernment CapacityIndependent AgenciesUSPS
Biden Must Continue Cleaning House At USPS

The Trump administration may be over, but the former President’s appointees continue to wreak havoc at the highest levels of government. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than at the U.S. Postal Service, where Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has led a sustained campaign to dismantle the very agency he heads. 

DeJoy’s tenure at USPS has been an unmitigated disaster. In his first year on the job, DeJoy (a Trump mega-donor with zero prior Postal Service experience and at least a $30 million stake in USPS subcontractor XPO logistics) has implemented an array of destructive “cost-cutting” measures that have included reducing retail post office hours, dismantling hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines, and eliminating extra trips by mail carriers overwhelmed by the pandemic-era surge in package volume. The result has been catastrophic: the Postal Service remains plagued by widespread service delays that have prevented everything from prescription medication to Social Security checks to Christmas presents from being delivered on time, all under the leadership of a Postmaster General who does not even know the cost of mailing a postcard

While some of the worst-case scenario fears about DeJoy’s handling of mail-in ballots in the 2020 election were averted, a staggering seven percent of mail-in ballots failed to be processed in time for submission (compared to the usual target of around three percent). The agency itself also defied an order from a D.C. District Court judge to search 12 postal facilities in 15 states for misplaced or untraceable ballots. Just this past month, the agency was criticized by civil liberties experts Geoffrey Stone and Rachel Levinson-Waldman for allegedly tracking Americans’ social media posts about political protests. 

With such a catastrophic first year, one would assume that DeJoy’s continued employment prospects at the agency (he serves at the pleasure of USPS’s Board of Governors) would be in question. Surprisingly, the exact opposite seems to be true. 

DeJoy Says He’s Here To Stay (And So Does The Board)

Despite mounting opposition from Congressional Democrats and the public at large (a recent Data for Progress poll found that 56 percent of voters want DeJoy fired), DeJoy has confidently asserted that he will keep his job. At a recent House Oversight Committee meeting, he arrogantly proclaimed that he intended to be around “for a long time” and that his opponents should “get used to me”. 

Why? As The American Prospect’s David Dayen noted, DeJoy’s proposals have received the quiet endorsement of the two groups with the most power over his continued employment: postal union leadership and current USPS Board Members. Per Dayen, both the National Association of Letter Carriers and Democratic Board Members Ron Bloom and Donald Moak “appear to be fully on board with these changes”, with Bloom himself joining DeJoy in authoring the plan’s introductory letter.

Their support for DeJoy’s plan highlights a much bigger problem —- the current USPS Board, whose members have the sole power to fire the Postmaster General, seems wholly uninterested in ousting DeJoy. Bloom told The Atlantic last month that DeJoy had “earned my support, and I have no particular reason to believe he will lose it.” Alongside Moak and the four Republican Board members, Bloom has not moved once to invoke the Board of Governors’ legal authority to fire DeJoy for dereliction of duty. Alarmingly, the Board’s unanimous support for DeJoy has even received the backing of NALC President Fredric Rolando, who has urged members of Congress to “not engage in a bitter partisan fight over the Postal Service” despite pushback from Congressional Democrats and his own rank-and-file union members.

Meanwhile, the Postmaster General has unveiled a sweeping 10-year strategic plan to “secure financial sustainability and service excellence” (read: strip for parts) for USPS, seemingly certain that he will remain in office to implement it. A broad coalition of watchdog groups blasted the core tenets of DeJoy’s austerity-minded plan — reducing retail hours at some post offices, extending First Class Mail delivery windows, eliminating extra delivery trips, shifting away from air transportation and towards ground, and raising postage rates. As Take On Wall Street’s Porter McConnell put it, “Asking Louis DeJoy to make a ten year plan for the post office is like asking the fox to build a better henhouse […] the only plans he’s qualified to make at this point are his own retirement plans.” (Take On Wall Street has closely monitored postal issues for years, as part of its campaign in favor of postal banking.)

Congressional Democrats have responded just as harshly to DeJoy’s proposal, with Congressman Gerry Connolly noting it would “guarantee the death spiral of the United States Postal Service.” Several have taken specific aim at its dubious contracting of electric vehicle construction for the USPS fleet to a small firm in Oshkosh, Wisconsin

What Can Biden Do?

All of which brings us to President Biden’s current push to reshape USPS. As of this writing, Biden has only made nominations to fill the Board’s three currently vacant seats. By all accounts, his nominees — Ron Stroman, Anton Hajjar and Amber McReynolds — are well-qualified choices who will fight back against attempts to privatize the agency’s services (unlike some nominees of previous administrations). But their nominations alone will not be enough to end DeJoy’s reign. Much more can and should be done to reshape the board and remove DeJoy from office, particularly if the current Board members are going to remain a roadblock. Here, Biden has two potential approaches.

The first option is for Biden to summarily fire all current USPS board members for enabling DeJoy’s destruction of the agency. This option — which has received the backing of over 50 members of Congress — would set the agency on a rapid course for new leadership, as a new board could dismiss DeJoy and select a new Postmaster General. While legal experts are split over whether a Board Member’s support for DeJoy constitutes a legally-valid cause for removal, the rapid pace at which DeJoy is advancing his agenda makes this an appealing course of action. 

An alternative approach is to make nominations to fill the soon-to-expire terms of Bloom (currently serving a holdover term) and Republican John Barger (whose term ends in December 2021). This option would allow Biden (whose pick of the Independent McReynolds still permits him to appoint more Democrats to the Board) to replace two of DeJoy’s enablers and give the Board a Democratic majority, which could conceivably then fire DeJoy. This option would avoid the potential legal complications of firing current board members, as Bloom’s holdover status permits Biden to replace him at any time. If Moak somehow continues to be a roadblock to removing DeJoy after Bloom is replaced, filling Barger’s seat at the end of this year will ensure that the Board has an anti-DeJoy majority in place by 2022.   

The Longer Biden Waits, The More Damage DeJoy Causes

Whichever option Biden chooses, the bottom line is that he cannot rest on his laurels. Postal observers agree that the additions of Stroman, Hajjar, and McReynolds are unlikely to lead to DeJoy’s removal without further changes to the Board. Even DeJoy’s defenders are confident in his job security — Republican Senator Ron Johnson, for example, flaunted Bloom’s praise for DeJoy during a recent confirmation hearing. 

The stakes are high. Not only will DeJoy’s continued employment at USPS lead to further delivery delays and soaring postage prices for the public, but his leadership will actively prevent policies that could actually help USPS from taking effect. As my colleague Max Sawicky recently noted, proposals like national broadband, public search engines, or even public alternatives to social media platforms could be implemented through USPS if the agency had “a more visionary Board of Governors.” Similarly, a long-shot push by Congressional Democrats to re-introduce postal banking will almost certainly be felled by DeJoy (who is in talks with JPMorgan Chase to set up privatized banking operations in post offices) if it becomes law. Given the overwhelming benefits of a public postal-banking service — from serving historically underbanked communities to reducing the predatory power of Wall Street — DeJoy’s continued leadership is a clear and present danger to the public good itself.  

Louis DeJoy must go, preferably sooner rather than later, and President Biden must determine soon how he will achieve that goal. Allowing this powerful Trump holdover to remain in office will endanger the very survival of one of America’s most beloved public institutions.

2020 Election/TransitionCongressional OversightGovernment CapacityIndependent AgenciesUSPS

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