WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will unveil on Tuesday the largest rollback of consumer mail services in a generation as part of his 10-year plan for the U.S. Postal Service, according to two people briefed on the proposal, including longer first-class delivery windows, reduced post office hours and higher postage prices.
The announcement is part of DeJoy’s strategic vision for the agency, one that has left postal advocates wary of changes that could further diminish the U.S. Postal Service’s operations. Mailing industry experts have warned that substantial service cuts could drive away business and worsen the mail service’s already-battered balance sheet.
DeJoy is expected to emphasize his desire for austerity to ensure more consistent delivery and rein in billions of dollars in financial losses, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. The agency has $188.4 billion in liabilities, and DeJoy told a House panel last month that he expects that the service will lose $160 billion over the next 10 years.
The plan, which he told the panel was eight months in the making, is meant to reset expectations for the Postal Service and its place in the express-shipping market. It’s couched in the notion that the historically high package volumes of the pandemic era will persist, and it reorients the agency around consumers who do not use the mail for letters, advertisements or business transactions as much as they once did.
“Does it make a difference if it’s an extra day to get to get a letter?” DeJoy told the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February. “Because something has to change. We cannot keep doing the same thing we’re doing.”
DeJoy will roll out his plan after Democrats have renewed calls for his ouster and the removal of the agency’s governing board, which backs him and the proposals. More than 50 House Democrats last week asked President Joe Biden to fire the board’s six sitting members for cause — citing “gross mismanagement,” “self-inflicted” nationwide mail delays and “rampant conflicts of interest” — and to allow a new slate of Biden nominees to consider DeJoy’s fitness for office.
Biden already has nominated two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of four vacancies (board Chairman Ron Bloom, a Democrat, is serving in a one-year holdover term) on the board of governors. If confirmed by the Senate, Democrats and Biden appointees would hold a 5-4 majority with the votes to remove DeJoy, if desired.
Biden cannot fire DeJoy; postal operations are purposefully insulated from the presidency and Congress to prevent politicians from tinkering with the mail system for political gain. The postmaster general answers only to the board of governors. Bloom told the House panel in February that the board “believes the postmaster general in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.”
Most of DeJoy’s changes will not face regulatory obstacles. The postmaster general unilaterally controls operating hours at post offices, and the board of governors appears to back DeJoy’s changes to delivery times. Bloom will join DeJoy on a webinar Tuesday to announce the policies.
The Postal Service must consult the Postal Regulatory Commission on price increases, but the regulator only issues a nonbinding advisory opinion. A group of mailers is suing the commission to block the new pricing regimen, but DeJoy has signaled he plans for forge ahead with new prices regardless.
DeJoy plans to extend the service standard for first-class mail by a day, the people said, confirming a previous Washington Post report. The Postal Service aims to deliver local first-class mail in up to two days, and nonlocal mail in three to five days. The agency has missed those metrics for years, but it has struggled mightily during DeJoy’s tenure.
A representative from the Postal Service declined to comment Monday evening.
Over the holiday season, postal performance reached its worst levels in generations: 71% on-time delivery for two-day mail, and 38% for three-day mail during the last week of December. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., compared those scores to unfavorable odds in a Las Vegas casino.
“Sending a letter should not be a game of chance,” he said.
The Postal Service’s delivery scores have rebounded in recent weeks, nearly 83.7% for first-class mail the week of March 12. The agency attributed the improvement to more capacity in the air transportation network and the end of winter storms that delayed operations in much of the country.
The metrics are short of the agency’s marks from before DeJoy’s arrival in June. The week before DeJoy implemented his midsummer changes, the Postal Service delivered 90.6% of first-class mail on time. It has not reached 90% in the eight months since.
DeJoy also plans to cut retail post office hours, the people said, a return to one of the changes DeJoy first implemented. The Postal Service Office of Inspector General found that the agency expanded lunch breaks in some post offices beginning July 22, and often sought to match consumer demand with operating hours by closing post offices early. DeJoy suspended the policy after public uproar, and after members of Congress accused him of shuttering postal facilities in the run-up to the election.
DeJoy also has discussed an “imminent” postage rate increase with industry officials tied to a new ruling from the Postal Regulatory Commission that created a new pricing system. Industry officials said that increase could come as soon as this summer and be as large as 9%, a cost many say will get passed on to customers.
The rate increase, along with changes proposed in a bill from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., could create budgetary breathing room for the Postal Service for the first time in years. DeJoy backs the legislation, which includes eliminating the agency’s retiree health-care prefunding mandate and enrolling postal workers in Medicare.
Its key provisions would immediately save the Postal Service $35 billion in liabilities — money the agency has not paid into the health-care accounts since 2011. Integrating retired postal employees into Medicare would save the Postal Service another $10 billion over 10 years.