Politics & Policy

The Postal Service’s Routine Reforms Are Recast as the Latest Plot to Help Trump’s Reelection

Postal workers in Carlsbad, Calif., in 2013 (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Prominent Democrats have pushed a conspiracy theory that the Postal Service is implementing cost-cutting changes to its service in order to bolster President Trump’s reelection prospects, despite the agency’s insistence that a recommitment to “existing operating plans” will not affect its ability to meet the 2020 election demand.

Last week, Barack Obama claimed during a eulogy for the late congressman John Lewis that “those in power” are “undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots.”

This week, Hillary Clinton tweeted that reports of slower Postal Service delivery times amounted to a “Republican sabotage of the USPS” and “a Trump strategy to make voting by mail more difficult this fall.” And on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was a “sine qua non” for the USPS to reverse a slowdown in delivery times amid negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package.

Senator Gary Peters (D., Mich.) also told the Washington Post that he would open a probe into the matter.

But when asked about the allegations, USPS spokesman David Partenheimer categorically denied the nefarious characterizations of the agency’s longstanding service problems. “We are not slowing down Election Mail or any other mail,” David Partenheimer told National Review in an email. “Instead, we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail consistent with our standards.”

Partenheimer explained that the agency has “taken immediate steps to better adhere to our existing operating plans,” and acknowledged that “temporary service impacts can occur.”

“But any such impacts will be monitored and temporary as the root causes of any issues will be addressed as necessary and corrected as appropriate,” he explained. On Monday, USPS said in a statement that it “has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and Political Mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The majority of the attacks on the USPS have ignored a damning audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office, which was released in May and detailed the numerous inefficiencies within the agency that have led to its insolvency and poor service.

“Absent congressional action on critical foundational elements of the USPS business model, USPS’s mission and financial solvency are increasingly in peril,” the report states. “USPS’s growing difficulties to provide universal postal service in a financially self-sustaining matter provide Congress with the need to consider fundamental reform of the entire framework of postal services in the United States.

Experts have warned that the Postal Service will be out of funds within the next year without action, and Partenheimer told National Review that “it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively.”

While Democrats have called for additional funding of the Postal Service, the resistance to any attempt to implement cost-saving efforts runs against the sustainability goals of the agency.

“High quality service and efficient service are not mutually exclusive, but in fact necessarily go hand-in hand if we are to be self-sustaining as required by law,” Partenheimer explained. “Indeed achieving both is the only way that the Postal Service can continue to survive as a self-funded entity and to provide prompt, reliable, and reasonably-priced universal postal services for all Americans over the long-term.”

Ultimately, much of the conspiratorial noise appears to stem from two alleged USPS memos that were leaked last month, which were widely taken as fact, even by some Republicans. The first, titled “New PMGs expectations and plan,” detailed policy changes for the agency, including cutting employee overtime, with the goal of “making the USPS financially solvent.” The second, called “Pivoting For Our Future,” warns that new policy directives could result in temporary situations where “mail is left behind…on the workroom floor or docks (in P&DCs), which is not typical.” Followup coverage by mainstream outlets detailed anecdotal reports of delays, without confirming whether the USPS had actually implemented agency-wide changes.

The Post, which first reported the memos, said they were “verified” by the American Postal Workers Union, even as the USPS told the paper its plan was not finalized, while the New York Times emphasized the political leanings of USPS’s new postmaster general Louis DeJoy, a longtime Republican donor, implying that he was acting at the behest of President Trump.

Partenheimer pushed back on allegations of political interference, saying that “the notion that the Postmaster General makes decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the President is wholly misplaced and off-base.” Regardless of his proximity to Trump, DeJoy is not an appointee of the president, as that authority does not fall under presidential purview.

According to Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, DeJoy vehemently denied that his role was being influenced by Trump, saying “my relationship with the president is not going to have anything to do with me doing my job.”

Following news of the memos, House Oversight Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) sent a letter to DeJoy, demanding answers over the alleged changes. According to a USPS response, however, the memos that were leaked to the press should not be described as “official Postal Service memoranda” and did not come from DeJoy.

“The document entitled ‘PMG’s Expectations and Plan’ was prepared by a mid-level manager in one district, and the ‘stand-up talk’ was prepared by Southern Area leadership and was distributed in the Southern Area,” the USPS explained. “Therefore, the documents should not be treated as official statements of Postal Service policy.”

So far, the USPS’s clarification to Maloney has received very little attention from the press and politicians.

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