WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday will defend his first three months overseeing the Postal Service and denounce what he describes as a “false narrative” that has emerged about his tenure, telling lawmakers that long-planned changes to make the agency more efficient are not meant to complicate mail-in voting in the 2020 election.
In prepared remarks obtained by The New York Times ahead of Mr. DeJoy’s testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the postmaster general contends that a series of cost-cutting measures intended to help improve efficiency have been misconstrued “into accusations that we are degrading the service provided to election mail.”
Mr. DeJoy is at the center of a political firestorm as recent changes aimed at reducing the Postal Service’s costs — including reduced overtime and removal of mail sorting machines — have led to delays in mail delivery. That has fueled concerns about whether the post office will be able to handle what is expected to be a crush of mail-in ballots for the 2020 election in the midst of a pandemic.
“I recognize that it has become impossible to separate the necessary long-term reform efforts we will need to undertake from the broader political environment surrounding the election,” Mr. DeJoy plans to tell senators. “And I do not want to pursue any immediate efforts that might be utilized to tarnish the Postal Service brand, particularly as it relates to our role in the democratic process.”
Mr. DeJoy, who repeatedly emphasizes that he has been in office for less than 70 days, also blames Congress, as well as the body responsible for overseeing the agency, for failing to approve legislative and regulatory reforms he said were necessary for the Postal Service to become solvent.
“Had Congress and the commission fulfilled their obligations to the American people concerning the Postal Service, I am certain that much of our cumulative losses that we have experienced since 2007 could have been avoided, and that the Postal Service’s operational and financial performance would not be in such jeopardy,” Mr. DeJoy will tell senators.
Friday’s hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate committee is expected to be far friendlier to Mr. DeJoy than one with the House Oversight Committee on Monday. In prepared opening remarks, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate panel, accused Democrats of subjecting Mr. DeJoy to “character assassination” and putting him “in the cross hairs of another hyperbolic false narrative.”
Here’s what to watch for during Mr. DeJoy’s testimony.
Will Mr. DeJoy reverse recent policy changes?
On Tuesday, Mr. DeJoy said he would suspend cost-cutting and other operational changes until after the November election. But that has done little to mollify critics, who say some of the changes already put in place have done grave damage to the Postal Service.
Lawmakers have expressed concern over the elimination of overtime, the removal of mailboxes and the reduction of post office hours, because of the impact on delivering medicine, paychecks and critical business material.
In his prepared remarks, Mr. DeJoy vowed to stop removal of mail-processing equipment and blue collection boxes, and to ensure that retail hours will not be changed and that all facilities will remain open. Overtime will continue to be approved, though Mr. DeJoy will argue that “overtime has also been a source of substantial cost, and it is to a certain extent reflective of inefficiency in our operations.”
It remains unclear what will come of the changes that were already made, including decommissioned sorting machines. After talking to Mr. DeJoy this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the postmaster general “frankly admitted that he had no intention” of reversing those changes.
Mr. DeJoy will also reject the suggestion that the recent changes are intended to influence the election, calling such an argument “fundamentally false and unfair,” and defend the agency’s ability to handle an influx of ballots ahead of November.
“A false narrative has developed that the two steps we have taken to improve efficiency — running on time and on schedule and realigning our organizational structure — are somehow designed to harm the ability of voters to use the mail to vote,” he will tell lawmakers.
What led to Mr. DeJoy’s selection as postmaster general?
Mr. DeJoy’s testimony comes a day after David C. Williams, the former vice chairman of the Postal Service’s board of governors, told House Democrats that he had “never seen anything like” the efforts by the Trump administration to interfere in the independent agency.
During the process to select a new postmaster general, Mr. Williams said he raised concerns about Mr. DeJoy, a former logistics executive who had donated large sums to President Trump, and suggested that the board conduct an inquiry into his background. Mr. Williams ultimately resigned, citing Mr. DeJoy’s selection as one of the reasons.
The Postal Service declined to release information about Mr. DeJoy’s selection to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. Democrats will most likely press Mr. DeJoy about his communications with members of the Trump administration before his appointment.
Mr. DeJoy acknowledged that he has been less than readily available to lawmakers, saying in his prepared remarks that he instead “made the deliberate decision to focus my energy on learning the organization.”
“This time was well spent, but I recognize that in these first two months or so, I have not been as available to nonpostal stakeholders for meetings and discussions,” Mr. DeJoy will tell senators. “I recognize the importance of now being more available to Congress and other external stakeholders. I hope my testimony today demonstrates as much.”
How dire are the Postal Service’s finances?
With negotiations over a broad coronavirus relief package stalled, lawmakers have sparred over how much emergency relief the agency needs to help safely deliver ballots and recoup losses during the pandemic. House Democrats on Saturday are set to vote on legislation that will infuse the agency with an additional $25 billion.
Mr. DeJoy and his allies have argued that the postmaster general, in swiftly enacting a combination of existing policy changes and new cost-cutting measures, is merely working to absolve the agency of billions of dollars in debt and help it become more efficient. In his remarks, he warns of an “impending liquidity crisis” that threatens the ability of the Postal Service to deliver the mail, which will require major changes to overcome.
Mr. Johnson, in his opening remarks, will applaud Mr. DeJoy’s “commendable attempt to reduce those excess costs.” But he acknowledges that “the long-term financial reality of the Postal System is bleak, and it has been bleak for years.”