Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was slightly less bombastic than the last time he testified in front of a House oversight committee, when he declared he was going to be in this job for "a long time. Get used to me." He was marginally less obnoxious on Thursday, when he testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial service. He even attempted contrition, sort of.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a former U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employee of 30 years, chided DeJoy for springing his plans on the public. "I am going to use all the power I have to require you to stop doing press releases on massive changes and to at least give the United States Congress the courtesy of knowing your plan," Lawrence told him. His response didn't go over well. He said Lawrence was "well-known and respected within the Postal Service for your career and your position today," but—you know there had to be one—"But honestly, the Postal Service of today and the condition we are in is not the Postal Service of 2008 when you retired," he continued. "We are in dire, dire financial crisis." Bad move. "I am not naïve," Lawrence replied, reminding him that she's been in an oversight position in Congress. "So please don't imply that I'm ignorant." She wasn't done. "I don't want to be in this position again where we're going tit-for-tat and you seem annoyed and arrogant about answering the questions. We must work together because the Postal Service is bigger than you and I," she said.
Somewhat chided, DeJoy launched his "sorry, not sorry" routine. "Yes there are times where I leave these sessions, and I'm a little embarrassed about my behavior," DeJoy said by way of not really apologizing. "But I would also offer—I've been accused of many, many, many things every time I come in front of the Congress. And I am a human being, and I am trying to do the right thing. And I apologize to you if I have offended you in some way," he said, once again not apologizing for his behavior. And to top it all off, he said "I would give myself an 'A' for bringing strategy and the planning and effort to here."
It wasn't a smart move for someone asking for money for his agency from people he has regularly antagonized. That was, after all, why he was at the Appropriations committee. He was asking the committee to give him more money so that he can implement his plan to slow mail delivery down. Yes, you read that right. More money so he can make the USPS operations worse from the customer's standpoint, on delivery.
DeJoy is about to announce a 10-year restructuring plan that would "recast that expectation of what it is that we're able to do," which would be making efficient and timely mail deliveries to every part of the nation as it has been doing for more than 200 years. DeJoy reiterated his intention to stop using air transport for first-class mail, slowing it down considerably, and also to eliminate one-day local first-class mail delivery, slowing it to two- or three-day. "It does involve a service standard change,” DeJoy said of his plan. "We cannot go to California from New York in three days without going on planes, and we don't own planes."
Never mind that the USPS also doesn't own enough trucks to carry all that mail and would have to contract out to companies like XPOLogistics, DeJoy's former company which he continued to have a financial stake in as recently as last fall. A company that had a booming 2020 following DeJoy's appointment to the job.
DeJoy's argument that this is going to be necessary to save the USPS financially, and that he's already made great strides toward doing so, is countered by the fact that the delays he's caused have caused some of the country's big national mailers, like bank and insurance companies, to encourage their customers to switch to electronic communication to make sure critical things like payments are made on time. Losing that custom will mean even less revenue for the agency.
The plan that had Lawrence so pissed off is another head-scratcher when it comes to fulfilling DeJoy's stated goal of saving money. This was announced in a press release, with Congress being given no advanced notice. DeJoy intends to change both operational and geographical units, a plan that experts find baffling and say will end up creating more delays and bureaucracy. "My reading is that it seems to overcomplicate some of the field relationships in the way that different parts of the network execute exchanges with one another," Michael Plunkett, president and chief executive of PostCom, a national postal commerce advocacy group, told The Washington Post. "This appears like you're just reshuffling the deck, but you're still going to get the same cards at the end."
The other major topic of the hearing was DeJoy's decision to award a contract for a new fleet of vehicles to Oshkosh Defense, and to commit to just 10% of that fleet being electric vehicles according to his plan. "It seems that we’ve tied our hands if we purchase a fleet that’s really meant for the last 100 years," said Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley. "And by the time this fleet will have served its purpose, very few cars will be operating in the same manner." DeJoy countered that if Congress gave him more money, "we would be able to maybe, of the first buy, go 50 percent electric."
That contract is another sore point with congressional Democrats, because elements of it are pretty fishy in that there was a mysterious $54 million trade in Oshkosh stock that happened mere hours before DeJoy made the announcement that it was getting the $6 billion contract. Another company, Workhorse group, was viewed as the favorite to win the contract because of its commitment to providing an all-electric fleet.
Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, has asked the Securities & Exchange Commission to investigate. "I write to pass along reports of what might be unusual trading of Oshkosh stock that took place less than 24 hours before Postmaster General Louis DeJoy publicly announced the contract decision in front of a House panel on February 23rd," Ryan wrote to the SEC. "Specifically, an over $54 million purchase of OSK [was] made 20 hours before Mr. DeJoy's announcement," Ryan added.
Given DeJoy's record of being a purely political hire, one who donated hundreds of thousands to the Trump campaign and did so right before his nomination to the job, it is smart for Democrats to examine everything he does. That includes the potential financial stake he might have in sabotaging the Postal Service.
Oversight is essential now, but so is accelerating his departure from the job. The Senate needs to prioritize getting President Biden's nominees to the Board of Governors of the USPS seated, and to getting DeJoy ousted.