Former Deputy Postmaster Skeptical Of DeJoy’s Assurances That Mail Slowdown Is On Hold

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 17: A USPS mail worker puts mail into a mailbox in Park Slope as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 17, 202... NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 17: A USPS mail worker puts mail into a mailbox in Park Slope as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 17, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 18, 2020 5:51 p.m.

Around 90 minutes after the postmaster general sought to assure Americans that he was pausing certain new initiatives “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail,” the former deputy postmaster general appeared via webcam before an assembly of reporters, unimpressed. 

“It’s important to be candid here,” said Ronald Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general and now a senior fellow at Democracy Fund.

“I mean, as far as we can tell, this is more than just the appearance of a problem,” Stroman said. “There is delayed mail across the system.”

Stroman resigned his position in mid-May, a few days after news broke that Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy would be the Postal Service’s next leader. 

DeJoy’s statement Tuesday, following a week of intense and critical news coverage, announced he was “suspending” various initiatives a few days before he’s set to testify before the Senate. DeJoy is expected to answer questions about widespread reports of a slowdown in mail delivery across the country. 

Critics have cited reports of DeJoy slashing overtime hours and extra delivery trips necessary to get mail delivered without unnecessary delays. It hasn’t helped that President Donald Trump recently suggested he’s against a proposed $25 billion package for the USPS because it would enable more Americans to vote by mail. 

But DeJoy’s statement Tuesday, Stroman told reporters, “raises more questions than it provides answers.” 

For one thing, Stroman said, DeJoy didn’t actually define what policies he was talking about. 

For example, DeJoy’s statement referenced “longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service.” But Stroman said the postmaster general had that wrong.

“Unless these were implemented in the two weeks between the time when I left and the time that the new PMG arrived, certainly these were not implemented,” he said. 

Stroman did appreciate that DeJoy was actually releasing a public statement himself — but that only underlined the extent to which the postmaster hasn’t been “transparent” on operational changes, he said. 

“There has not been transparency about what initiatives the Postal Service was actually implemented,” he observed.

The statement didn’t really help.

For example, DeJoy said Tuesday that “Retail hours at Post Offices will not change.” But Stroman pointed out this did not answer whether hours have already been changed — nor whether those changes would now be reversed. 

Mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes, DeJoy said, “will remain where they are.” But if sorting machines have already been dismantled or removed, Stroman said, the statement doesn’t assure the public that the machinery will be returned. 

“Part of it is a lack of transparency,” he said. “We just don’t know. There has not been clarity about what has happened with regard to the mail processing equipment.” 

Then there’s the question of the USPS overtime policy. Despite reported documents showing DeJoy slashing overtime, DeJoy said in his statement that “we reassert that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed.

“What does that mean?” Stroman said. “One could determine, at any point, that overtime is not needed in a particular instance.” 

“Is the Post Office going to deliver all of the ballots that it has received that day?” Stroman asked.

Tammy Patrick, senior elections adviser at Democracy Fund, said later in the call that the postmaster general needed to be explicit — the statement wasn’t enough. 

“We need to make sure, as Election Day draws near, that late trips are absolutely going to be authorized, that overtime is going to be authorized, that postal carriers will complete their routes, even if it means overtime” she said.

“We need to have some definitive statements from the postmaster general to ensure that all of the ballots that are being dropped — whether it’s in a blue box or someone’s mailbox at the their home — that they are going to be picked up that day and postmarked that day, no matter whether or not it means an additional trip or additional overtime,” Patrick added.

In fact, shortly after DeJoy’s statement, a USPS spokesperson told Government Executive that DeJoy’s statement only applied to the specific policies he mentioned — which did not include an assurance about late trips.

The genie, Stroman said, was out of the bottle. He urged the postmaster general to hold regular briefings focused on election mail, and for members of Congress to hold his feet to the fire.

“When you make changes that potentially have detrimental impacts, and you do it without a clear explanation, then it fosters concern,” he said.

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