Even in a drama-filled election unlike any other, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his assault on the postal service stood out.
After Trump appointed the businessman to run the agency, DeJoy largely failed in his mission to help the former president discourage voters from casting ballots by mail, but evidence suggests his policies and the pandemic have decimated the postal service. Now many, including Democratic lawmakers, are calling on Biden to act swiftly to remove him and the Trump-majority UnitedStates Postal Service board of governors.
Though Biden doesn’t have the authority to remove DeJoy himself, he could immediately appoint a Democratic majority-board that could fire the postmaster general, but the administration has yet to act. That’s left many asking “Why?”
“We think he can move quickly and should move quickly and should be bold – there’s no debate about anyone being confirmed by the Senate, so let’s make it strong and powerful,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.
But it might take some time for that to happen. Representative Gerry Connolly, chair of the subcommittee on government operations, which oversees the postal service, labeled DeJoy a “huge problem” and is calling on Biden to fire the entire board, but told the Guardian he doesn’t think it’s “a fair question” to ask why the president hasn’t acted during his first three weeks in office.
“Give him a little bit of time. We’re dealing with huge problems – a pandemic, huge economic challenges, he’s got to make cabinet appointments, he’s got his environmental agenda,” Connolly added. “But this needs to be on the priority list and I believe it will be.”
Representative Tim Ryan, who in January sent a letter to Biden calling on him to “clean house,” stressed that late bill payments, late checks, and delayed medication deliveries cause problems for many Americans and underscored the urgency. Though DeJoy has refused to release 2021 on time delivery data, December numbers made public in lawsuits shows that only about 40% of first class mail was arriving on time – down from about 92% the year before.
Those who spoke with the Guardian agreed that the delays impact Americans’ daily lives more than sub-cabinet appointments at a federal agency like the Department of Commerce.
“We’ve got to hit the reset button because there’s no confidence in DeJoy and the board of governors who obviously have lost all control, and that’s inflicting pain on working class people in places like Ohio,” Ryan said.
Connolly said part of the delay in Biden taking action could stem from the administration “wrestling with” a strategy to remove DeJoy and deal with the board, which currently holds four Republicans and two Democrats. Biden could appoint three new Democrats, and that majority could, in theory, fire DeJoy. But some, like Connolly and Ryan, are calling on Biden to fire the entire board, including its Democrats, who Connolly accused of not providing meaningful resistance to DeJoy’s assault.
“They’ve gone along to get along and that’s not what we needed,” Connolly said. “We needed forthright voices calling out DeJoy, so I believe they’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
Ryan said the Biden administration didn’t respond to his letter, and he suspects that it may fear that immediate action would “create a lot of chaos”.
Dimondstein also noted that the board is composed of older white men with no experience in the industry and who want to run the postal service as a business, when it’s actually a service.
“We’re asking him to fill the openings immediately with strong postal service advocates and to bring some diversity to the board,” Dimondstein said. That includes someone who represents the interest of rural America, which relies heavily on the postal service because private delivery companies often won’t serve it.
There’s also the symbolism: DeJoy, a Trump donor, was appointed to his role in May and immediately set to work enacting controversial changes that dramatically slowed first class mail service in critical swing states where large numbers of Democrats were expected to vote by mail. That’s viewed by many as an attack on democracy and weaponization of an essential service.
“If you needed a reminder of how quickly this can become a political hot potato, that was it, and you ignore it at your own peril,” Connolly said.
The postal service’s struggles don’t end at DeJoy. Its workforce has been flattened by the pandemic and officials say the operation is in need of a cash infusion and tens of thousands of additional employees. Its aging equipment and 25-year-old delivery truck fleet are designed to largely handle first class mail but the postal service increasingly delivers packages, which makes the operation significantly less efficient.
Meanwhile, a 2006 reform bill required the post office to pre-fund 75 years of its retiree health-care costs, which has been a financial anchor.
Bipartisan legislation already introduced in the Senate and House would repeal the 2006 law, but Connolly said he’s preparing a “more comprehensive” package that would address other major issues. Democrats are having “internal discussions” about the best approach, he added. Meanwhile, Ryan called on the federal government to provide relief to those who have incurred late fees or had credit scores dinged as a result of slowed mail service.
Dimondstein applauded all the ideas, and said the USPS is also well-positioned to expand the services it offers, suggesting ideas like postal banking or electric vehicle charging infrastructure should the fleet be upgraded. That would help generate new revenue, but, regardless of what Democrats do, Dimondstein said they need to move quickly: “People are watching and patience is going to run thin.”