Postmaster General Louis DeJoy faced hours of an intense grilling by Democratic lawmakers on Monday who sought answers on why the US Postal Service underwent operational changes in recent weeks that have led to significant delays in delivery.
“After 240 years of patriotic service, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks? I understand you bring private sector expertise. I guess we couldn’t find a government worker who could screw it up this fast. It would take them a while,” said House Oversight Committee Democrat Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.
Democrats in Washington have suggested Mr DeJoy, a former Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman and Trump campaign backer, was installed to undermine the initiatives of several states to expand mail-in voting this fall to prevent undue Covid-19 exposure at in-person ballot boxes.
Americans all across the country have reported widespread delays in the delivery of their mail in recent weeks, something Mr DeJoy said he was trying to address.
“Transitions don’t always go smoothly,” he said before the Oversight panel on Monday.
“We are very concerned with the deterioration in service,” he said, but “we’re seeing a big recovery this week.”
Mr DeJoy denied that he was responsible for several of the operational changes that outside observers believe caused the mail delays this month, saying those changes had been implemented before he took over the USPS.
“First, I did not direct the removal of blue collection boxes or the removal of mail processing equipment,” he said.
“Second, I did not direct the cut back on hours at any of our post offices. Finally, I did not direct the elimination or any cutback in overtime,” Mr DeJoy said.
Mr DeJoy has suspended those operational changes “to remove any misperceptions about our commitment to delivering the nation’s election mail,” he said, adding that any assertions of malign intentions were a “false narrative” by Democrats and the media.
His statements about overtime pay and a cutback on hours were at times confusing. Mr DeJoy acknowledged on Monday that changes he had instituted, such as limiting trips and overtime pay, had led to systematic breakdowns and late deliveries.
Mr DeJoy told lawmakers on Monday he has warned the president’s associates that Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting and claims that it is rife with fraud are “not helpful” for his job.
Mr DeJoy said that he, like the president, plans to vote by mail this November, and he urged other Americans to do the same.
The postmaster general urged Americans to request their ballots and return them early, to ensure they’re counted by Election Day this 3 November.
That advice “should in no way be misconstrued to imply that we lack confidence in our ability to deliver those ballots,” Mr DeJoy said on Monday.
“We can, and will, handle the volume of election mail we receive,” he said.
Republicans on the committee, led by ranking member James Comer of Kentukcy, charged Democrats with pushing a “baseless conspiracy theory” that Mr Trump was politicising the USPS to undermine the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats responded that the government ought to be infusing the postal service with more money, not less, as Americans are expected to vote by mail at an unprecedented scale this November amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill that would send $25bn to the USPS ahead of the election and prevent Mr DeJoy from instituting operational rollbacks.
Mr Lynch panned Mr Trump for treating the USPS like one of his failed business ventures.
“He’s running it into the ground as he has declared bankruptcy a few times on his own businesses,” Mr Lynch said.
"We can only reach two conclusions: One, either through gross incompetence you have ended the 240-year history of delivering the mail reliably on time, or the second conclusion that we could gather is you’re doing this on purpose and that you’re deliberately dismantling this once-proud tradition,” he said.
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