WASHINGTON – The White House moved toward reasserting control of the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday even as its Republican postmaster general defiantly told Congress he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail, brushing off calls for him to resign.
President Joe Biden named two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of the four openings on the Postal Service’s governing board, according to three people briefed on the discussions and later confirmed by the White House: Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.
If all three win Senate confirmation, the nine-member board would be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans with McReynolds, whose organization is a darling of left-leaning groups, as the lone independent.
The new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially the votes to oust DeJoy, whose summer overhaul led to precipitous service declines that snarled up untold numbers of Americans’ bills, prescriptions and paychecks. DeJoy, with the current board’s backing, slashed overtime and dramatically reduced mail processing capabilities, moves deemed by an inspector general’s audit to reflect a lack of preparation or concern for how they might affect service.
Though the mail slowdowns have opened DeJoy to intense public scrutiny and raised the hackles of some postal experts and voting rights activists, he has made clear he would continue to push through his agenda to rein in the agency’s $188.4 billion in liabilities. He testified to a House panel Wednesday that discussion for his new strategic plan included further delivery slowdowns.
Congressional Democrats had pushed Biden to move quickly on the nominations. Mailing industry insiders and Congressional staff briefed by the White House and Biden’s transition team, say the governors represent the most direct line for the administration to not only revitalize mail delivery but to expand government services, including broadband and banking access, as well as fortify agency oversight.
“I’m pleased the Biden administration is making the postal board of governors a top priority,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will oversee the nominees’ confirmation process. “We need to get qualified nominees in these seats who will work with Congress to ensure the Postal Service is focused on strong service performance – and we need to do it quickly.”
The move is a potential boon for voting rights groups, which have pressed Congress to use the Postal Service to expand vote-by-mail access as a firewall against Republican state legislatures that have introduced bills to do the opposite.
The new bloc is likely to be embraced by the powerful postal unions, whose leaders have privately expressed worries that DeJoy would cut jobs or contract work out to private firms to reduce expenses.
More than 70 House Democrats called on Biden to move quickly on the nominations in a letter last week. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and several House Democrats went further, urging Biden to fire the board’s six sitting members and start from scratch.
The board’s lack of diversity drew pointed remarks during Wednesday’s hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The White House, in a statement this month, said Biden would choose nominees who “reflect his commitment to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service – who deliver on the post office’s vital universal service obligation.”
The White House, Stroman and McReynolds did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hajjar declined to comment.
“I applaud President Biden’s nominations of three new members to the Postal Service Board of Governors. It is crystal clear that the Postal Service’s performance and its financial condition have deteriorated significantly, and new and better leadership is urgently needed,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “I also commend the President for his continuing commitment to appoint individuals who represent the diversity of America. The board nominations today reflect that commitment.”
The body’s six sitting members are all older men, and all but one is White. The Postal Service’s workforce is disproportionately Black and female, compared to the rest of the federal workforce, and the agency has been a historical driver of employment in Black communities.
“Do you see it as a problem that the board of governors of the United States Postal Service looks like a millionaire White boys’ club,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., asked DeJoy, noting that “more than 35 percent of postal workers are people of color.”
DeJoy responded that “the Postal Service would love to have a diverse board that reflects its population,” and that the nomination process was controlled solely by the White House and Senate.
“The quicker we get some new board members from the administration, the less we can talk about this and move on to the plan and the real, real problems that we need to fix here,” he added.
Industry officials lauded the nominations, but said they had much to learn about McReynolds, whose postal background is largely on voting rights, and Hajjar, who left APWU several years ago.
“We’re very encouraged that the administration moved this fast,” said Art Sackler, manager of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, an industry group whose members include Amazon, eBay and other commercial mailers. “We hope there will be a speedy confirmation process.” (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
DeJoy spent most of the hearing dodging questions about his forthcoming strategic plan for the Postal Service, which includes higher prices and slower delivery, according to two people briefed on the details, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is not yet complete.
Under questioning from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., about the agency’s plan to eliminate two-day delivery windows for local mail, DeJoy said the agency was “evaluating all service standards.” When pressed further, he said that his plan would include two-day mail but that “some percentage of where the reach is right now may change” and “you need to define local.”
“If we in fact get the relief that we need in terms of time, we will put more mail on the ground,” DeJoy told Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., moments later, citing problems with the Postal Service’s air transportation network as cause for delays over the holiday season.
That policy change, according to mailing and logistics experts, would gridlock the entire postal network.
“It sounds like your solution to the problems we’ve identified is just surrender,” Raskin said.
Several Republicans used the hearing to defend DeJoy and deride Democrats’ concerns from postal hearings over the summer. They had raised questions about the processing of absentee ballots ahead of an election that would largely conducted by mail. It sparked tense exchanges between Democrats who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, and Republicans who, citing falsehoods about mail-in voting, attempted to overturn the election that removed him from office.
“You were the worst guy on the planet last time you were here,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said. “I just want to know what’s changed.”
DeJoy responded, “Well, we had an election.”
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., called Jordan’s assertions “gaslighting” and referenced Trump’s false claims about fraud in mail-in voting.
Connolly asked Bloom whether the board was still “tickled pink” by the hiring of DeJoy, alluding to the description used by GOP board member John Barger in testimony before a Senate panel Sept. 9, 2020.
“I’m generally not tickled pink by things,” Bloom said. “But as I said, the board of governors believes the postmaster general in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.”
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The Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/dejoy-confirms-usps-plan-may-include-slower-first-class-mail/2021/02/24/a89ec312-90a5-41de-b9b1-ab5a871321dd_video.html(The Washington Post)
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