Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who is still in his job, is about to release his 10-year plan for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), including the largest rollback of consumer mail services in a generation. Apparently forgetting that he is a public servant, he intends to make postage more expensive, slower, and post offices harder to access by cutting their operating hours. All as part of his “strategic vision,” which seems to be gutting the service so private companies can take over. In the name of austerity.
In a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in February, DeJoy told lawmakers: “Does it make a difference if it’s an extra day to get a letter? […] Because something has to change. We cannot keep doing the same thing we’re doing.” That’s how he’s justifying eliminating one-day first class mail. He apparently is operating under the assumption that everyone in the country has both the technological ability and the broadband access to conduct all their critical business online. More likely, he doesn’t give a damn about all the people who don’t have those things, because he’s a Republican. What DeJoy hasn’t explained is how the Postal Service will reverse the massive losses he projects—$160 billion over the next 10 years—by destroying its revenue stream and driving away business.
Even more disturbingly, the Democratic chairman of the board of governors seems okay with this. Ron Bloom took over the chair with President Joe Biden’s inauguration. He will appear with DeJoy Tuesday to announce the new policies. Bloom told the same House panel last month that he “believes the postmaster general in very difficult circumstances is doing a good job.” The rest of the board, all Republicans chosen by Donald Trump and who are political cronies of Mitch McConnell, are clearly giving DeJoy free rein.
Bloom is serving a one-year holdover term, his regular term having expired. Only the board can fire DeJoy, and there are three vacancies on the board. Biden has submitted nominees for those vacancies, but as of yet there aren’t confirmation hearings scheduled for them in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. That needs to be remedied ASAP, and the new board must be installed, Bloom sidelined, and DeJoy fired.
Then Biden needs to find a new postmaster general, one who has actually served in the ranks of the USPS and who does not have a private financial stake in the USPS’ competitors. Then Congress and the Postal Service can get to work fixing the agency’s problems, not with austerity, but with smart policies that actually do serve the public.
First of all, Congress needs to repeal the 2006 law that requires the agency to pre-fund future retirees healthcare costs. No other agency has been forced to bear that constraint. The real reason Congress imposed that burden on the USPS had a lot less to do with the health of future postal service retirees than deficit mania in Congress in 2006 (when George Bush’s “war on terror” was draining the federal treasury). The 2006 law pumped in funds, as the Economic Policy Institute explains. “Since the Postal Service is an off-budget entity, these intragovernmental payments were counted as federal revenue at a time when deficit concerns—or deficit posturing—loomed large in policy discussions.”
The USPS is operating under the massive financial constraint of that, now carrying more than $188 billion in liabilities with another $160 billion projected over the next 10 years. That burden must be lifted. Repealing the 2006 law will mean finding a solution for the healthcare needs of future retirees, which is a pretty easy fix—integrate the current Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) plans with Medicare.
Instead of cutting services, the USPS could generate new revenue by expanding them, most obviously with postal banking, something that the USPS did anyway up until 1967. In fact, Postal Service banks could be the answer to some of the questions about how federal stimulus payments out of the American Rescue Plan will be delivered to unbanked people. A Postal Service bank could be the delivery mechanism for the new child allowances the government is paying out from the Child Tax Credit.
The sky’s the limit for what USPS carriers could bring to their regular routes—there’s no reason the kinds of deliveries Amazon is now doing couldn’t be done by mail carriers if the USPS is given the ability to compete. But first the Postal Service has to be rescued from DeJoy. That should be job No. 1 for Sen. Gary Peters, chair of the committee that will consider Biden’s new board nominees. Then Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to prioritize their confirmation votes.