Before entering politics, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) spent decades at the United States Postal Service. And during a congressional hearing Thursday, she sought to get some answers about a big restructuring for the USPS, one that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has hyped for weeks without offering any details.
Lawrence pressed DeJoy, noting that the service issues currently plaguing the postal agency are unlike anything she’d seen in her 30 years at USPS. Why, she asked, hasn’t DeJoy explained his plan to Congress?
DeJoy recognized the congresswoman’s USPS service but offered a retort.
“Honestly,” he said, “the Postal Service of today and the condition we are in is not the Postal Service of 2008 when you retired.”
Lawrence wasn’t having it.
“I’m not naive, sir,” she responded. “When I left the Postal Service, I came to Congress and have had responsibility for eight years of the operations of the Postal Service, and had my thumbprint on what’s going on. So please don’t imply that I’m ignorant.”
The dust-up, during a hearing of the House Appropriation Committee’s panel on financial services and general government, represents a simmering tension between Congress and DeJoy.
Though he’s spent less than a year on the job, DeJoy has attempted massive changes in the USPS’ operations, often with disastrous results, including dramatic mail delays. That dynamic came to a head in the lead-up to the 2020 election as Americans voted by mail in unprecedented numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, despite ongoing mail delays, it looks like the postmaster general is keeping that position, and members of Congress are eager to hear some details about what he’s going to do to improve delivery times.
According to reports, and DeJoy’s testimony on Thursday and in previous hearings, his big new plan will essentially involve slower mail and higher prices. He’s said he will unveil the effort by the end of the month.
In an opening statement for Thursday’s hearing, the postmaster general provided only a few sloganeering sentences about what the plan would entail. “Boldly transform our network, delivery, and retail operations while building new capabilities that will position the Postal Service to meet the rapidly changing needs of our household and business customers for e-commerce and digital solutions,” one slide read.
During the hearing, DeJoy offered a bit more detail.
“The service standards that we have now have not been met in the last seven or eight years,” he said at one point. “They are not achievable in the current environment. We cannot go to California from New York in three days without going on planes, and we don’t own planes.”
The postmaster general and Democrats on the subcommittee did agree on some major steps that Congress can take, including repealing a congressional mandate that requires the USPS to pre-fund its employees’ retirement health benefits, which over the years has created billions of dollars of debt for the service, and integrating retirees into Medicare when they become eligible.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who had earlier grilled DeJoy on what grade he would give his own service as postmaster general (an “A,” DeJoy eventually said), was happy about those shared priorities.
“Anything you can do to help us with that, the whole organization would really appreciate, it’s a big part of our plan and we’re working it hard,” DeJoy pitched.
“I give you an ‘A’ grade on that answer,” Pocan said.
By the end of the hearing, the postmaster general had even offered an apology to Lawrence … sort of. After Pocan ended his second round of questioning, Lawrence said Congress was working to stabilize the Postal Service, but that it needed DeJoy’s cooperation.
“I don’t want to be in this position again, where we’re going tit-for-tat and you seemed annoyed and arrogant about answering questions,” she said. “We must work together, because the Postal Service is bigger than you and I.”
DeJoy said he appreciated the congresswoman’s comments and committed to working with Congress as the USPS implemented his plan.
“There are times when I leave these sessions and I’m a little embarrassed of my behavior,” DeJoy responded. “But I would also offer, I’ve been accused of many, many things every time I come in front of the Congress. And I am a human being, and I am trying to do the right thing, and I apologize to you if I have offended you in some way. I didn’t really mean to.”