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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

U.S. Mail woes will last long past Trump's damage to the brand

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy at a House hearing

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy at a House hearing on Wednesday. Credit: Washington Examiner via Bloomberg / Graeme Jennings

Louis DeJoy's ascent to U.S. postmaster general last spring was paved by his record as a major Republican fundraiser. He raised $1.2 million for then-President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign, plus another $1.2 million for the Republican Party since 2016, according to published reports.

Once in office, DeJoy ordered overtime cuts, reductions in hours and in extra delivery trips and the removal of some collection boxes and high-speed mail-sorting machines. Carried out during the coronavirus pandemic amid the run-up to the presidential election, resulting service delays raised suspicions that Trump, who falsely said mail-in votes were riddled with fraud, stood to benefit from perhaps a passive kind of delivery sabotage.

DeJoy's changes were reversed under pressure in October.

Trump by then already was treating the Postal Service as a political piñata. In 2018, he sought to blame its fiscal problems on nemesis Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post and CEO of Amazon, and called for doubling shipping rates that Amazon and other companies were charged to use the USPS for last-mile deliveries.

Like many of the ex-president's impulsive proposals, that did not happen.

Now that Trump's damage to the Postal Service's reputation is fading, Democratic President Joe Biden is moving to step up his own influence over the board that runs the essential service.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Biden would nominate three people to fill vacancies on the board: Ron Stroman, the recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, ex-general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.

If the Biden picks win Senate confirmation, the nine appointees on the Postal Service Board of Governors will have a new Democratic tilt. That could mean a future move by the board to oust DeJoy, who nonetheless predicted on Wednesday he will be there for some time.

Either way, Biden's pending changes won't instantly solve the pile of problems that afflicted the USPS well before Trump put his own smudged stamp on the independent agency.

Postal service on a federal level is a little like mass transit on a New York State level. The elected executive exerts influence indirectly through a mostly appointed 11-member board. Fees charged to the public cannot cover costs, and labor efficiency, automation, debt and service delivery are constant issues.

The nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office offered a bleak outlook in 2019 that is proving valid. The Postal Service had lost $69 billion over the previous 11 fiscal years — including $3.9 billion in 2018. Unfunded liabilities and debt had grown to double annual revenue. Expenses were growing faster than receipts. The volume of first-class mail was down while wage and benefit costs were rising, according to the GAO.

Appearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, DeJoy tangled with members over details of further cost-cutting. He acknowledged that during the 2020 holiday peak season, the service "fell far short of meeting our service targets."

DeJoy continued: "We need to frankly confront the problems we face, be candid and realistic about the magnitude of the solutions we require, and embrace the few, crucial elements of legislative help we need from the Congress." So the basic dilemma lingers: How well will mail be delivered and at what cost?