- Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before the US Senate on Friday.
- Lawmakers asked DeJoy about the Postal Service’s financial state and how recent operational changes could affect the 2020 election.
- DeJoy said that while the Postal Service is committed to delivering mail ballots on time and securely in November, long-term legislative fixes are needed.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday about the US Postal Service’s financial status and how it plans to handle a large number of Americans casting ballots by mail this fall.
A firestorm of controversy has erupted around DeJoy, a shipping-and-logistics executive and GOP donor who had no experience at the Postal Service, since he announced new protocols meant to cut costs at the cash-strapped agency, which has seen mail volume plummet in the past decade and was hit hard economically by the pandemic.
Changes that the Postal Service leadership enacted to limit overtime and late trips have contributed to mail delays in some parts of the country and sparked fears that voters’ ballots could be among the mail items delayed.
Despite the Postal Service’s robust capacity for processing mail and its assurances that election mail will represent a small percentage of its total mail volume, operational changes to the agency could still cause delays in delivering ballots this fall.
On Tuesday, DeJoy reversed course and announced he would suspend operational changes to Postal Service until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
In particular, DeJoy promised that there would be no equipment removals, closures of processing facilities, or changes to retail hours at post offices. He also, importantly, said overtime for carriers would be “approved as needed.”
Still, his statement and the vague guidance around overtime and late trips left many Democrats unsatisfied and seeking more concrete answers from DeJoy on how the Postal Service plans to keep providing consistent service.
In the hearing, DeJoy faced some tough questions about mail delivery and the USPS’s changes. He spent considerable time pushing back on Democrats’ claims that he is actively working to undermine the election. He said that he was committed to ensuring that election mail will be delivered on time but that he had no plans to restore mail-sorting machines that have been removed.
Watch the hearing and follow along for updates here:
In response to a question from Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, DeJoy said postal employees would be approved for extra trips and overtime to process mail-in votes.
“Will local postal managers be authorised to make decisions and have postal employees make extra trips, late trips, and work overtime in order to deliver ballots to ensure that plants and post offices don’t fall behind in processing election mail?” Sinema asked.
“Yes ma’am. Effective October 1, we will have redundant resources… and aggressive efforts to make sure that everything is moving and flowing timely,” DeJoy responded.
Sinema then asked what steps, if any, DeJoy was taking to communicate those efforts to “postal managers, election officials, and the public.”
DeJoy said that the Postal Service has had over 50,000 points of contact with election officials since February to plan for the election and was planning a big public-relations and voter-education push, including letters and video public-service announcements, to assure Americans that their ballots will be processed and counted.
“In fact, I think in September we’re going to send a letter to every American with what our process is, going out to every American citizen,” he said. “So I feel good about the whole organisation, from the board of directors down to our letter carriers and plant personnel.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, asked DeJoy about the Postal Service’s financial state and what it needs.
“The biggest thing is legislative reform,” DeJoy said. “We estimate about $US10 billion cost on the COVID expense side, and we have to negotiate with Treasury the long-term financing to buy new vehicles.”
Under the Cares Act, Congress extended the Postal Service an additional $US10 billion in borrowing authority, but DeJoy told Hawley that it would need a solid plan to pay back a loan.
DeJoy assured Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who has been critical of Trump, that all election mail that’s mailed seven days before Election Day will arrive.
“Do you have a high degree of confidence that virtually all ballots sent, mailed, let’s say seven days before the election would actually be able to be received and counted?” Romney asked. “If people vote within seven days of the election, are you confident those ballots will be received?”
“Extremely, highly confident,” DeJoy said. “We will scour every plant each night leading up to Election Day. Very, very confident.”
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire asked DeJoy about medication delivery delays, election mail, and the removal of sorting machines.
“Will you ensure any future changes you make will not delay delivery of medications and other necessities?” Hassan asked.
“Yes, Senator, and I look forward to working with you on legislation to ensure that,” he said.
Hassan also expressed concern that malfunctioning sorting machines – especially with fewer available – could delay mail delivery.
In response to reports that managers are instructed not to plug in sorting machines that have been removed, DeJoy said, “I have no idea about that.”
DeJoy also told Hassan that Postal Service workers who speak out to their members of Congress or the media would not be retaliated against.
DeJoy told Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, that he would support emergency funding to the Postal Service to help it deal with COVID-19-related losses.
“Yes, COVID-related losses I would support,” he said.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman and DeJoy broke with Trump to agree that voting by mail is safe and secure.
“I voted by mail for a number of years,” DeJoy said. “The Postal Service will deliver every ballot and process every ballot in time that it receives.”
Portman asked, “Do you support voting by mail?”
“I think the American public should be able to vote by mail, and the Postal Service will support it,” DeJoy responded. “So in that sense, yes.”
DeJoy clarified that the Postal Service’s guidance for states was that voters may not have their ballots delivered on time not because of postal delays but because of states’ unrealistic deadlines that don’t allow voters enough time to request and receive their ballots.
“This was not a change from anything that we have done in previous years,” DeJoy said. “This year we put more emphasis on it because of the expected rise in vote by mail and the pandemic.”
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters grilled DeJoy on election-mail procedures.
“The change was to adhere to the transportation schedule,” De Joy said. “Certainly, there was a slowdown in the mail when production did not meet the schedule. Our employees are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have significant availability issues in many parts of the country.”
DeJoy also said that he would not reverse policy changes limiting extra trips and late trips and that that he had not eliminated or curtailed overtime.
DeJoy said there was “no intention” to bring back the sorting machines that have been removed, saying the machines are “not needed.”
In response to a question from Peters, DeJoy said he had just told Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that he was working on a plan but had not discussed specifics with Trump.
DeJoy said he would deploy “processes and procedures” to “advance election mail at rates at our above delivery rates of first-class mail.”
“I don’t get to charge anybody, but we’re not going to change any rates,” he said.
DeJoy assured the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, that the Postal Service was prepared for the election.
“We deliver 243 million pieces of mail a day,” he said. “So 150 or 160 million ballots over the course of the week is a small amount. We have adequate capacity. Plus, mail volume is down 13%, 14% this year. Plus, we’ll have additional resources on hand.”
In his opening statement, DeJoy said that Congress must enact “common-sense” reforms to the Postal Service and that delivering election mail was his “No. 1 priority.”
“I want to assure this committee that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering election mail securely and on time,” DeJoy said. “It’s my No. 1 priority between now and Election Day.”
But DeJoy also said that even though the Postal Service would be able to handle election mail this year, long-term fixes from Congress are necessary to ensure that the agency is financially viable through the next year.
“Legislative actions have been discussed and debated for years, but no action has been taken. I urge the Congress to expeditiously enact these reforms,” DeJoy said. “I also urge Congress to enact legislation that would provide the Postal Service with financial relief to account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our financial condition.”