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Ensure USPS delivers on its mission

United States Postmaster General Louis Dejoy speaks during

United States Postmaster General Louis Dejoy speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on 'Legislative Proposals to Put the Postal Service on Sustainable Financial Footing' on Capitol Hill on Feb. 24. Credit: Graeme Jennings/POOL/EPA-EFE

Any doubts about the importance of the U.S. Postal Service were obliterated in 2020.

During a devastating pandemic, postal workers continued to connect the country from one end to the other, delivering letters, medications, food, supplies, gifts and more. And the agency was tested by a historic flood of mail-in voting, transporting at least 135 million ballots to or from voters during the general election. There were — and continue to be — stumbles and difficulties, but a post-election analysis found that 99.89% of ballots were delivered within seven days.

It was just more evidence of the need for a strong Postal Service, and showed why President Joe Biden and Congress must move quickly to put the USPS on a secure route.

That starts with gaining control over the independent agency’s nine-member board of governors and changing the trajectory being charted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has helped weaken the organization in his clumsy attempts to reduce costs.

Clearly, costs must be contained and new ways of raising revenue found because the USPS is struggling, despite some bright financial notes driven by pandemic-related shipping in the first quarter of the agency’s 2021 fiscal year. However, the USPS has lost tens of billions of dollars in recent years given new ways of communicating and shopping, from email to Amazon. There also are structural obstacles such as the unique rule requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund employees’ retiree health benefits.

Yet what DeJoy, who was appointed by the Postal Service Board of Governors under President Donald Trump, did on the job was often reckless, and it showed.

Last summer, he implemented changes, including reductions in work hours and the elimination of late and extra trips to transport mail, which required that mail be transported on regular routes or delayed until the next regular route is available. It didn’t go well. In October, the agency’s inspector general’s office found that the summer changes suffered from a chaotic rollout, done without completing a study on how mail service would be impacted, and "resulted in a significant drop in the quality and timeliness of mail delivery." The pandemic complicated matters, too.

The summer debacle came when the Postal Service needed to work efficiently, as detractors cast doubt on mail-in voting. It was no time for mail slowdowns. This year, DeJoy is hinting at a strategic plan to come that could include big changes like degrading first-class mail.

Biden should look in a different direction for Postal Service leadership. He can’t directly fire DeJoy, as the USPS is an independent federal agency. But the U.S. Senate should quickly approve Biden’s new board of governors appointees. They should consider replacing DeJoy with someone without his business conflicts in the delivery sector and thirst to cut aspects of mail service on which Americans rely.

The Postal Service weaves our nation together. It must remain a public institution and that is why it needs an imaginative, forward-looking leader.

— The editorial board