WASHINGTON (AP) – Louis DeJoy doesn’t care about the intricacies of Washington. The wealthy longtime businessman with a New York accent prides itself on being a problem solver ready to disrupt an unwieldy bureaucracy. And he’s grappling with potential legal issues.
In other words, the Postmaster General might be the closest thing to former President Donald Trump who is left in the country’s capital. But there is little President Joe Biden can do about it.
“Get used to me,” DeJoy said at a hearing before critics in Congress earlier this year.
DeJoy faces mounting pressure to step down ahead of his first anniversary at the helm of the U.S. Postal Service. He has been criticized by both party lawmakers for changes to the agency that have slowed the service down. Democrats are particularly concerned that it is deliberately undermining the post office, which is vital to the conduct of elections and is one of the few federal agencies that a large majority of Americans like.
The review of DeJoy, 63, tightened when the Justice Department investigated him for political fundraising at the North Carolina-based company he ran prior to joining the Post.
“Postmaster General DeJoy wouldn’t be in his job if he worked for another company,” said Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who heads the House of Representatives oversight committee.
DeJoy spokesman Mark Corallo said the postmaster general “never knowingly broke” campaign funding laws.
DeJoy was born in Brooklyn and retains his pronounced accent despite a long life in Greensboro, North Carolina. Raised in New York, he took over his father’s small, declining trucking business in the 1980s and converted it into New Breed Logistics, which he sold in 2014. His company provided logistics services nationwide, with which critics sometimes competed with the post office.
DeJoy became postmaster general shortly after Trump declared the post office “a joke”. DeJoy implemented cost-cutting mechanisms that he believed would help make the agency – which lost $ 9.2 billion in fiscal 2020 – more financially liquid. This included reducing overtime for employees and removing mail sorting machines from postal facilities across the country.
“I’m direct and decisive,” DeJoy said in a video message to employees last summer. “And I don’t mince my words.”
After the changes, the Post slowed to the point that Democrats were concerned about an electoral crisis. The coronavirus pandemic led to a surge in postal votes in last year’s presidential election, and widespread delays sparked concerns that millions of ballots would not arrive on time.
A federal judge wrote in September that “the actions of the postal service are not the result of legitimate business concerns” but are in line with the Trump administration’s goals of “disrupting and challenging the legitimacy of elections.”
While there have been complaints of post delays affecting some votes and counts, fears of widespread electoral disruption due to DeJoy’s major changes mostly proved unfounded. The postal service said it had delivered at least 135 million ballots to or from voters – and 99.89% of those sent after September 4, before election day November 4, within seven days as promised.
“Some people may be relieved,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 postal workers, of passing the election test. “But as important as postal ballot papers are … all mail is important.”
DeJoy nonetheless apologized to customers affected by the service delays during last year’s holiday season rush, saying his entire agency would “make an effort” in the face of bipartisan criticism at a House hearing in February.
Such frustrations were new. A poll by the Pew Research Center, released prior to the DeJoy acquisition, found 91% of Americans view the Post positively.
“I think the Postmaster General’s intentions were good, but the execution was far less good,” said John McHugh, a former Republican Congressman from Ohio who now leads the Package Coalition, an advocacy group for parcel-dependent companies. “I would like to think that he has learned his lesson.”
The Postal Service has lost $ 87 billion over the past 14 fiscal years, according to the Government Accountability Office. While many of the budget problems stem from a 2006 law requiring the agency to fully fund costly retirees’ health services for the next 75 years, the Post is also suffering from an inevitable decline in mail volumes caused by the internet. That was made worse by the pandemic.
In March, DeJoy announced a 10-year plan that can help the Post avoid additional projected losses of $ 160 billion over the next decade by reducing post times, easing delivery standards, and allowing some mail takes longer, and other austerity measures.
Swiss Post also wants to increase the cost of a first-class postage stamp to 58 cents at the end of August.
The overhaul proposed by DeJoy could help the post office function more like a company than a public service. But he’s annoyed with suggestions that he’s a Trump holdover with an ideology now at odds with a democratic government.
“I’m not a political officer,” DeJoy said at the House hearing. “I was selected by a bipartisan board of governors and I would be very happy if you clarified that.” When asked how long he would stay in his post, DeJoy replied, “A long time. Get used to me. ”
Wisconsin MP Mark Pocan, who organized a letter signed by 90 Democrats in the House in August calling for DeJoy to be removed, said the postmaster general was “a guy who is obviously very confident.”
“He doesn’t seem to understand that one of the few federal government services enshrined in the constitution is the postal service,” Pocan said, “and we have a greater obligation to do the job right.”
DeJoy can only be deposed by a vote by the Post’s Board of Directors, which has nine members in addition to DeJoy and the Deputy Postmaster General. The Senate recently approved three new members appointed by Biden. However, the law does not allow more than five of the nine voting board members to belong to the same party, and two existing Democratic members have publicly endorsed DeJoy and his 10-year plan.
Biden could fire existing board members and replace them with his own agents who could help replace DeJoy – but he’d have to show a reason to do so.
In the meantime, Congress can push the changes to the post offices, with DeJoy remaining in charge. A bipartisan plan to remove the requirement that the postal service pre-fund health care services for retirees, potentially saving the agency billions of dollars, is moving forward. This is surprising because the legislature has been fighting this issue for years.
Republican supporters say the move would complement DeJoy’s 10-year plan rather than replace it. A proposal by the Democrats that could oppose the revision of the Postmaster General has stalled.
When Pocan urged him during another house hearing about what grade he would give himself as postmaster general, DeJoy refused to respond, eventually saying, “An ‘A’ for strategy and planning and effort.”
Recalling the exchange, Pocan joked that almost no one would give DeJoy’s performance an ‘A’: “Unless it was followed by a derogatory name.”