IG report: DeJoy ignored impacts of his 'reform'
- By Nathan Abse
- Oct 21, 2020
Postmaster General—and big donor to President Trump—Louis DeJoy did not break any law specific to his part in the recent Postal Service delivery slowdown. However, he did fail to consider the harm his hurried “reforms” might cause to employee efficiency and mail delivery.
Those are the conclusions of a new report by the Postal Service Inspector General.
“These initiatives undertaken individually may not have been significant,” the report said of the changes instituted quickly under DeJoy. “However, launching all of these efforts at once, in addition to the changes instituted by the Postmaster General, had a significant impact on the Postal Service.”
The report went in to greater detail, noting the issues arose last summer, soon after DeJoy began his tenure in May.
“In June and July 2020, various cost-reduction strategies were initiated throughout Postal Service operations on top of three initiatives the Postmaster General launched to meet financial targets,” the IG report concludes. “No analysis of the service impacts of these various changes was conducted … [and the] resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities resulted in significant negative service impacts across the country.”
Despite DeJoy’s failure to consider the downsides to making such rapid and substantial changes—and in effect service reductions—the IG determined the following:
“Information the OIG reviewed to date indicates that Mr. DeJoy has met the ethics requirements related to disclosure, recusal, and divestment upon entering the position of Postmaster General,” the report concludes. “However, we have not yet had the opportunity to review Mr. DeJoy’s … accounts and that process is ongoing.”
The IG audit comes after a wave of reports throughout last summer of significantly delayed, and even lost, mail triggered by DeJoy’s rapid deployment of what he referred to as “changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability.” To justify his hurry, DeJoy publicly focuses on multibillion-dollar financial shortfalls in USPS operations—red ink postal unions and outside analysts attribute mostly to onerous, congressionally-imposed requirements that USPS excessively prefund retiree healthcare costs. In any case, DeJoy’s rapid changes included reorganizing HQ management—but, more consequentially, suddenly retiring sorting equipment and collection boxes, slashing overtime and holding vehicles to strict schedules. These disrupted and actually slowed the flow of mail in many parts of the country.
On Aug. 18, amid a firestorm of consumer and postal union criticism, DeJoy issued a statement defending his directives, still refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of harm done or the possible political implications. He repeatedly was called to answer questions before oversight panels led by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Additional congressional hearings followed. DeJoy’s answers to lawmakers and other critics—consistently defending his actions and stating delays were meant to be temporary—did little to allay critics’ suspicions his reforms were reckless—or worse.
Many in politics, media and academia are bluntly suggesting that DeJoy’s hastily applied “reforms” are actually designed to cause slowdowns and chaos in mail processing. Delays and chaos in mail delivery have the effect of buttressing the president’s repeated claims that the Postal Service and mail-in ballots cannot be trusted, and hence the federal courts or House of Representatives, not voters, might have to decide Election 2020. This dark view of DeJoy’s actions is not defined by party loyalty. Normally neutral political observers have given DeJoy a failing grade. Opinion polls and analysis just last month also shows many in the public are still skeptical and DeJoy remains a lightning rod—and a majority want him gone. DeJoy has had his defenders— certain members of the politically appointed Postal Board of Governors, as well as examples of leaders in the private sector who give him the benefit of the doubt.
Amid this rancor, whether DeJoy’s work at the USPS damaged the storied public trust on purpose—or for political ends—has not been legally established. Beyond party politics, some critics note, financial incentives may also be in play. Media reports based on public records and disclosures show that, at the very least, DeJoy is invested in companies that compete with the Postal Service, raising unprecedented conflict-of-interest questions about the leader of the nation’s centuries-old public delivery institution.
For now, DeJoy’s expedited stripping down of personnel and equipment is on hold. In the wake of the ongoing scandal and investigation, the report notes, the “Postal Service is now also subject to preliminary orders from at least four federal district courts imposing additional requirements on the handling of election mail.”
Bottom line: the IG has let DeJoy off the legal hook—but that may change. The report contains a couple of crucial caveats. First, that “applicable legal and policy requirements” for the postmaster general are “limited”—the legal bar he must meet here is low. But second—and potentially more important—the IG’s auditors are continuing to investigate possible lawbreaking. The IG report is only an interim document.