WASHIINGTON, D.C. — It took seven weeks for a 10-by-12 envelope mailed in Cleveland on Jan. 5 to arrive at its destination in Columbus. A five-figure check that an Ohio veterans services center sent by certified mail to Falls Church, Virginia, on Dec. 9 wasn’t delivered until Jan. 9.
And a third constituent of Holmes County GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs told him it took five weeks for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver a letter between the communities of Navarre and Massillon, which are five miles apart.
Gibbs got the opportunity Wednesday to ask Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to explain long delivery delays around the country, telling DeJoy he won’t send payments through the mail anymore because he’s lost confidence in the system.
“Personally, my goal is to be able to get the point where I put my mailbox in the garbage can,” Gibbs declared at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing. “That’s how I feel about service that’s been horrible.”
DeJoy told Gibbs the postal service has delivered mail to 161 million addresses around the nation six days a week in a timely fashion over 96 percent of the time, even through the pandemic.
He attributed delays to factors caused by the coronavirus, including reduced capacity to send mail on airplanes because of canceled flights, and unprecedented demand to mail parcels at a time when absences were high because of the pandemic. In addition, he said there was a 100 percent increase in the mailing of boxes too large for post office machines to handle.
“This was the environment,” DeJoy said. “We had a 650,000-person organization that hired 200,000 people last year. That was turnover because of the environment and the stress and historical lack of concern of good tactical procedures with regard to our workforce.”
Champaign County GOP Rep. Jim Jordan used his time to contrast the polite tone of Wednesday’s hearing with past political pressure directed at DeJoy.
“The last time you were here, you had protesters banging on pots and pans outside your house, you had 90 some people calling for you to resign, you were the worst guy on the planet last time you were here, I just want to know what’s changed,” Jordan asked DeJoy, who answered “the election,” after repeated prodding by Jordan.
Jordan called criticism directed at DeJoy last year “a charade” and “giant conspiracy theory” meant to lay the groundwork for “mail-in balloting and all the chaos and confusion the Democrats wanted and the laws that I think they passed in many states, frankly, in an unconstitutional fashion. It was all about politics. It was all about the election.”
Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly accused Jordan of “gaslighting,” observing that former President Donald Trump was the one who publicly and falsely claimed that voting by mail would lead to massive fraud.
“It was Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, who was planting the idea, aided and abetted by disruptive changes proposed by a new postmaster general and a compliant board of governors, that actually eroded public confidence in the ability to vote by mail,” said Connolly. “That wasn’t a Democratic narrative, that was a Republican narrative by the President of the United States.”
DeJoy said he is devising a 10-year strategy to restore the postal service to the level of services that people expect. He said the plan he hopes to release next month will reinforce the postal service’s strengths and address its weaknesses. He said it will include mail delivery every day of the week and service to every address in the nation “not just because it’s the law but because it is the key ingredient to our future success.”
He also said it will give employees the tools, training and support they need to enjoy a long-term career with the postal service, and a commitment to investing in infrastructure such as electric vehicles. He applauded Congress for working on legislation to address “unfair and unaffordable health benefit costs” for its workforce that will give the postal service “a fighting chance” for financial sustainability.
“I see a bright future ahead for the postal service and the public we serve if we have the collective courage to act,” said DeJoy.
He said the postal service lost $9.2 billion last year, has around $80 billion in unfunded liabilities, and hasn’t operated at a profit in years, and “could run out of cash tomorrow if we paid our bills.” Postal authorities at the hearing attributed its longterm decline to decreasing first-class mail volume and revenue, a continually growing number of delivery points, and large retirement-related expenses.
USPS Inspector General Tammy L. Whitcomb told the committee that even before the challenges associated with COVID-19 arose, the postal service’s processing network wasn’t operating efficiently, and efforts to push mail through the system to meet service targets actually led to costly inefficiencies caused by the lack of coordination between mail processing, delivery and transportation operations.
When the pandemic hit, she said “it brought a perfect storm of postal challenges,” including declines in mail volume and revenue; a surge in parcel volume, which offset the revenue loss from mail, but required costly operational shifts; and further reduced employee availability due to illness and quarantine.
She said it effectively handled a surge in mail-in ballots during the election, but performance was “severely challenged” during the peak holiday mailing season. She said her office is examining service performance in a number of low-performing districts, evaluating recent embargoes where overwhelmed postal facilities stopped accepting mail, and is “currently finalizing a project specifically focused on the Cleveland, Ohio plant, where commercial drivers experienced excessive wait times.”
“While there are no easy answers, there are potential reforms that can help move towards financial solvency,” said Whitcomb.