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Postal chief under questioning defends changes, says he will not put removed machines back

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Posted at 9:21 AM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 16:07:22-04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers Monday that he has warned allies of President Donald Trump that the president’s repeated attacks on mail-in ballots are “not helpful,” but denied that recent changes at the Postal Service are linked to the November elections.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said, adding that, like Trump, he personally plans to vote by mail.

The House hearing quickly became a debate over mail delivery disruptions being reported nationwide. Democrats said the changes under DeJoy’s watch are causing widespread delays, but Republicans dismissed the worries as unfounded and part of a Democratic “conspiracy” against Trump.

DeJoy made clear his role in changes that have recently been reported at the USPS.

“As part of this conversation, there are many inaccuracies about my actions that I wish to again correct. First, I did not direct the removal of blue collection boxes or the removal of mail processing equipment. Second, I did not direct the cut back on hours at any of our post offices. Finally, I did not direct the elimination or any cutback in overtime. I did however suspend these practices, to remove any misperceptions about our commitment to delivering the nation’s election mail,” DeJoy stated in his opening remarks.

During questioning, DeJoy clarified that his changes were intended to get the trucks to run on time, as a fundamental change needed for the whole process to be more efficient.

“If the trucks don’t run on time, the mail carriers can’t leave on time,” DeJoy said, defending the change, explaining that late trucks lead to overtime and late night deliveries.

A story from NewsChannel 5 found that this policy change is leading to empty mail trucks leaving without its intended cargo in order to leave on time.

A heated exchange happened during Monday’s hearing, when Representative Stephen Lynch asked DeJoy if he would put mail sorting machines back, reportedly removed earlier this summer, before the election.

“Will you put the machines back?” Representative Lynch pressed multiple times, reaching a shouting level.

“No, I will not,” DeJoy repeatedly answered.

DeJoy has argued the machines were planned to be removed as part of a transition to more package-handling equipment since the post office is handling fewer letters.

A little later, during questioning from Representative Ro Khanna, DeJoy seemed to indicate he may put the machines back. Rep. Khanna asked how much money it would take to put the machines back, if the appearance of doing so helped Americans feel confident about voting and sending mail. He asked if it would take a billion dollars.

DeJoy responded that Congress “couldn’t get the money,” referencing stalled efforts to pass bipartisan legislation, and the history of not funding the postal service.

However, when pressed by Rep. Khanna, DeJoy responded, “Get me a billion (dollars) and I’ll put the machines in.”

During the questioning, DeJoy stated he was “surprised by the lack of attention paid to the postal service in the last decade,” referencing comments from a handful of representatives that the postal service has struggled financially for years.

The Postmaster General says the postal service is funded through late 2021 without new funding approved by Congress.

The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on Monday on operational changes at the Postal Service that have resulted in mail delays across the country, as well as to look into concerns about the process DeJoy became the postmaster general.

DeJoy testified before a Senate committee on Friday, answering similar questions.

Acknowledging an expected surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic, DeJoy said Monday voters should request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election to ensure they have enough time to receive their ballot, complete it and mail it back to elections officials on time.

The House approved legislation Saturday to reverse the changes and send $25 billion to shore up the agency ahead of the election.

In a statement Sunday, the Postal Service said it greatly appreciates House efforts to assist the agency, but remains concerned that some of the bill’s requirements, “while well meaning, will constrain the ability of the Postal Service to make operational changes that will improve efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve service to the American people.″

The House’s bill is not expected to move forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Trump have made it clear they would like the post office funding to be a part of a larger coronavirus relief package.

Below is the oral statement prepared for delivery by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy before Monday's hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“Good morning, Chairwoman Maloney, Ranking Member Comer, and members of the Committee.

I’m proud to be with you today on behalf of the 630,000 dedicated women and men of the United States Postal Service.

On June 15th, I became America’s 75th Postmaster General. Since that time, for a variety of reasons, there has been a great deal of attention to the Postal Service by our elected officials, the media and the American people.

I want to begin by assuring this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s ballots securely and on-time.

This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and election day.

To be clear, we will do everything we can to handle and deliver Election Mail in a manner consistent with the proven processes and procedures that we have relied on for years. Nevertheless, I encourage all Americans who choose to vote by mail to request their ballots early and to vote early, as a common sense best practice.

As part of this conversation, there are many inaccuracies about my actions that I wish to again correct.

First, I did not direct the removal of blue collection boxes or the removal of mail processing equipment.

Second, I did not direct the cut back on hours at any of our post offices.

Finally, I did not direct the elimination or any cutback in overtime.

I did however suspend these practices, to remove any misperceptions about our commitment to delivering the nation’s election mail.

Any further assertions by the media or elected officials is furthering a false narrative to the American People.

Now let me describe the two actions I have taken in the 70 days since my appointment.

I came to the Postal Service with decades of experience in solving large and complex logistical problems.

I planned to use this experience to help lead the operating change required for the Postal Service to grow and embark on a path of sustainability.

On the day of my swearing in-the Postal Service Inspector General issued an astonishing report about the schedule delays in Postal Service transportation and the substantial cost associated with our weakness in this fundamental operating principle.

Upon review, I directed the Postal Service operations team to develop and execute on a plan to improve our adherence to the transportation schedules of our over 40,000 trips a day.

We have accomplished this goal-as our on-time departures are approaching 98% and wasteful extra trips are down by over 70%.

While we have had a temporary service decline which should not have happened, we are fixing this.

In fact, as of last week, service improved across all major mail and package categories, and I am laser-focused on improving service for the American public.

The second of two changes I’ve made while Postmaster General is installing a new organizational reporting structure to better align talent and resources, to instill greater accountability for performance and to focus the organization on service and growth.

These two changes, creating our new on-time transportation network and designing an engaged functional organizational structure, will be the catalyst for the significant improvements in cost, performance and growth that I plan for this vital American Institution.

Madam Chairwoman, the women and men of the Postal Service have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to our mission of service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In every community in America, we continue to work to keep our employees and customers safe as we fulfill our essential role in delivering the medications, benefit checks and financial statements the public depends upon.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a public outpouring of support for our postal employees as they performed their essential service throughout the nation. This is a well-deserved testament to their dedication.

Chairwoman Maloney; Ranking Member Comer; I hope we can agree that the financial state of the Postal Service is unacceptable and needs to be fixed.

I look forward to working with you and this committee and our stakeholders to restore the financial health of the United States Postal Service and to improve the way we serve the American public.

This concludes my remarks. I welcome any questions that you and the committee may have.”