The Thanksgiving holiday weekend opens the most demanding season of the year for America’s postal workers. Last year, according to the United States Postal Service, “13 billion letters, cards, and packages were processed and delivered under some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve faced in the past century.” This year, postal workers will again provide outsize service to this country, while continuing to face unprecedented challenges.
Some of those challenges stem from the coronavirus pandemic and the economic upheaval that has extended from it. Infections are surging once more. There are worker shortages. Supply lines are slow. But the biggest threat facing the postal service comes from its leadership.
Louis DeJoy, the Republican mega-donor who took charge of the USPS during the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency, continues to advance the wrecking-crew agenda that caused Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to label him “the worst Postmaster General in American history.”
DeJoy sparked widespread criticism last year, after it was revealed that he had ordered the decommissioning of more than 600 mail sorting machines across the country, the removal of mail collection boxes in dozens of communities, and scheduling changes that Forbes reported “resulted in widespread mail delays and accusations that the Trump administration is seeking to hobble the agency ahead of [the 2020] Election Day to hinder the delivery of mail-in ballots.” Under pressure from postal unions and Congress, the postmaster general “paused” many of those moves in the fall of 2020.
Now, however, DeJoy is back at it.
Since March of this year, he’s been promoting a 10-year “reorganization” plan for the Postal Service that would slow down delivery times for first-class mail, hike postage rates, and reduce hours for post offices. The postmaster general and his cronies have tried to portray the proposed changes as a streamlining project, but The Washington Post correctly characterized it as a strategic initiative “that diminishes delivery standards and raises prices.” The effect of those changes makes this—in the words of Chuck Zlatkin, the legislative and political director for the New York Metro Area Postal Union—“DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the de facto privatization of the post office.”
The threat has stirred an outcry, and led to loud calls for DeJoy’s removal.
It is not merely that the current postmaster general is a crony-capitalist grifter who owes his job to his political connections. The real problem with DeJoy is that he is determined to downsize the Postal Service at precisely the point when it should be upsized.
That’s the key point to recognize as we entertain the prospect that DeJoy might finally be removed from the position he has occupied since May 2020. President Joe Biden does not have the power to fire DeJoy directly. But he does have the power to appoint board members who can make the change. He took that step last Friday, nominating Daniel Tangherlini and Derek Kan to replace two board board members who have been aligned with the postmaster general: Ron Bloom, the current chair of the governing board, and John Barger.
On a board where no more than five of the nine members can be members of one party, Tangherlini, who served as administrator of the United States General Services Administration under President Obama, will join as a Democrat. Kan, who received appointments from the Obama and Trump administrations, will serve as a Republican. If the Senate approves Biden’s nominations, the board will retain a 4-4 partisan split, along with one Biden-appointed independent. But these nominations have the potential to tip the balance against DeJoy because Bloom, though a Democrat, has backed the postmaster general’s agenda.
“Ron Bloom has defended DeJoy as he’s undermined public trust in the postal service,” explained the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which urged Biden to replace Bloom. “The United States Postal Service also seriously mismanaged DeJoy’s conflicts of interest from the start, creating an exceedingly high risk of him violating criminal conflict of interest laws.”
Porter McConnell, who leads the Save the Post Office Coalition, said, “Ron Bloom has no place in the USPS’s future, and we are glad to see his tenure in the past.”
Nor does Louis DeJoy.
Getting rid of this postmaster general is essential to ending the crisis the agency is facing. But the USPS needs more than a “return to quiet competence.” It needs a reinvention so that this remarkable 246-year-old agency can realize its full potential in the 21st century.
After DeJoy’s removal, the board of governors that oversees the USPS should, as Sanders suggested, select “a Postmaster General who will protect and strengthen the Postal Service, not sabotage it.” That new postmaster general can put the USPS on solid financial footing by working with Congress to ease the crushing burden created by a requirement that the service prepay billions of dollars in retiree healthcare costs decades into the future. “This,” the American Postal Workers Union explains, “is an expense not required of any other employer—public or private—and accounts for nearly 90 percent of the USPS’ structural deficit.”
Then the new postmaster must work with the Biden administration and Congress to implement proposals from stalwart defenders of the USPS—such as Sanders and Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—to let the Postal Service provide more services.
For starters, a robust “postal banking” system would allow the Postal Service to provide basic financial services—something the USPS did until 1967, and that postal services in other countries do to this day. A nationwide postal banking program would benefit underserved communities and the 14.1 million American adults who are “unbanked” because of poverty, isolation, and the systemic injustices that define this country’s private banking system.
The USPS should also be allowed to develop new services. It is absurd, as Sanders noted in a 2018 letter to then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that “it is against the law for workers in post offices to notarize or make copies of documents; to deliver wine or beer; to wrap Christmas presents or to engage in e-commerce activities (such as scanning physical mail into a PDF and sending it through e-mail, sending non-postal products on the Internet or offering a non-commercial version of Gmail).”
The Democrats can also reinstate overnight delivery and improve service standards as part of a smart and necessary modernization program.
As Sanders explained three years ago, while outlining his plan to strengthen the USPS, “the beauty of the Postal Service is that it provides universal service six days a week to every corner of America, no matter how small or how remote.” Once again, we are at a pivotal moment where, as Sanders put it, we can “save and strengthen the Postal Service, not dismantle it.”
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night should stay the work of removing DeJoy and the threat he poses to the swift delivery of our mail—and the future of the USPS.