USPS postpones ‘longstanding’ operational changes until after Election Day

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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says the Postal Service will hold off on “longstanding operational initiatives” to reduce costs until after this November’s election.

While USPS has implemented operational changes in recent months to reduce transportation and overtime costs, DeJoy said the agency will postpone many of the operational decisions that predate his tenure that began in June.

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The Postal Service, he said Tuesday, won’t change the hours at post offices and the agency will continue to approve overtime “as needed.” Mail processing equipment and mailboxes, he added, “will remain where they are” and USPS won’t close mail-processing facilities.

Meanwhile,  DeJoy said USPS will “engage standby resources in all areas of our operations, including transportation” starting in October to meet any unforeseen demand in delivery.

“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective and work toward those reforms will commence after the election,” DeJoy said in a statement.

The Postal Service will also expand its Election Integrity Task Force to include participation from postal union leadership.

National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said nearly a quarter of all ballots cast in the 2016 election involved mailed-out ballots, a figure that could double this year because with more states moving to mail-in ballots because of the pandemic.

Rolando said postal employees have always handled election mail with the “highest priority and greatest care,” but the task force would establish protocols ahead of this November’s election to ensure the expedited handling of all political and election mail, especially for mailed-out ballots.

“Our goal is to give every American voter who chooses to return their ballots by mail the assurance that their ballots will be counted, consistent with state and local election board regulations,” Rolando said.

The decision to postpone operational changes comes after lawmakers raised concerns about the removal of mailboxes and mail-sorting equipment in their regions. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports 20 states announced they would be suing to stop the changes.

In a letter to postal staffers last week obtained by the AP, DeJoy said his policies have brought “unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels,” but added that the Postal Service “must make a number of significant changes which will not be easy, but which are necessary.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called members back to Capitol Hill on Saturday to vote on a bill that would prohibit further operational changes at the Postal Service. The bill also gives USPS $25 billion to stem long-term financial problems made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

American Postal Worker Union President Mark Dimondstein said he welcomed the temporary rollback of USPS operational changes, but urged Congress to approve emergency funding for the agency.

“We do our job. Congress and the administration need to do theirs and ensure that postal workers can safely and reliably deliver for the people of the country during this year and beyond,” Dimondstein said.

On Friday, DeJoy will testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. On Monday, he’ll appear before members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

HSGAC Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said there’s “simply no excuse” for the Postal Service implementing these changes during the pandemic, and said many questions remain unanswered.

“The American people deserve to know whether he will be returning sorting machines he already removed from facilities across the country, the details of any changes he is leaving in place and any future changes he plans to enact that could continue to harm the millions of Americans who count on the Postal Service for reliable, timely delivery,” Peters said.

Chairman of the House committee’s government operations subcommittee Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) echoed those concerns, and said that USPS postponed operational changes after public pressure.

“While this is a victory for all voters and every American that relies on the USPS, congressional oversight cannot be interrupted. If Mr. DeJoy has nothing to hide, he will come to Congress with answers to our questions about the service disruptions that have defined his tenure as Postmaster General. Accountability is the cornerstone of our democracy.”

While recent operational changes have drawn intense scrutiny, Steve Kearney, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers’ executive director, said the association has worked with USPS for years on cost control and efficiency measures, and that “a couple of months or so won’t make a huge difference.”

David Fineman, a former chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, told Federal News Network that the Postal Service has had several opportunities to consolidate mail-processing facilities, but because of scrutiny from Congress “the Postal Service runs into roadblocks.”

“They don’t need senators to agree. They just have to do it, and that is how they can right-size. While you might have some attrition of workers, you’re going to have a much more efficient operation,” Fineman said.