Postal Service sees chance to turn the page after tumultuous year

The United States Postal Service is at an inflection point after a year of withering scrutiny and questions about the direction of the critical agency.

Bipartisan legislation in the Senate, paired with the appointment of three new board members by President Biden, is giving the Postal Service a path to modernize and cut costs after its finances and operations were thrust into the spotlight during the 2020 elections.

Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) last week introduced the Postal Service Reform Act, which would roll back some of the agency’s financial commitments and aim to improve its service and accountability to the public.

The most significant aspects of the legislation would eliminate a prefunding requirement for retirees and require them to enroll in Medicare. Those two steps alone would save an estimated $46 billion over the next decade for an agency that employed 500,000 workers last year. The Postal Service is the only federal agency that has a prefunding requirement for retirees.

The legislation also requires letter carriers to continue delivering mail six days a week, allows customers to search by ZIP code to see how efficient the Postal Service is in their area and makes equipment changes to accommodate the increase in parcel deliveries.

“For decades, the Postal Service has struggled to overcome unfair and burdensome financial requirements that risk its ability to continue providing reliable service in the long run,” Peters said in a statement.

“This commonsense, bipartisan legislation would help put the Postal Service on a sustainable financial footing, ensure it is more transparent and accountable to the American people, and support hardworking postal workers who deliver rain or shine to communities all across the country,” he added.

And the prospects for passage are high.

The Senate bill already has 10 Republican backers, meaning it will avoid a filibuster if all 50 Democrats support the measure as well. The legislation mirrors a House bill that advanced out of committee earlier this year, giving it strong odds of making it to Biden’s desk.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Biden would sign the bill if it reached his desk, but administration officials have previously said the president is “committed to the Postal Service’s success” while criticizing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership.

DeJoy, a Trump donor, faced calls to step down or be removed from his position throughout 2020. A sharp rise in the use of mail-in ballots and the Postal Service’s delayed delivery of those ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic put the agency and its operational problems front and center.

DeJoy ordered, and then reversed, the removal of mail-sorting machines and sought to implement various cost-cutting measures. Former President Trump complained at the time that the agency was not profitable and shrugged off calls from Democrats for billions of dollars in funding to get the agency through the election.

DeJoy has since announced a 10-year plan intended to boost revenue for the agency through a focus on package delivery and reduce employee turnover.

James O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, said the Postal Service still faces myriad problems even as Biden seeks to reshape it through the board of governors and as Congress aims to alleviate some of its financial burden.

“One is cost structure, and they have an aging vehicle delivery fleet,” O’Rourke said. “They also have an aging workforce. … So the current postmaster general is faced with rebuilding the force and with modernizing the mail delivery system.”

Biden officials have been critical of DeJoy’s leadership without outright calling for his ouster, a decision that would fall to the agency’s board of governors.

The president earlier this year appointed three people to fill existing vacancies on the board: former Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman, former American Postal Workers Union General Counsel Anton Hajjar and Amber McReynolds, CEO of the nonpartisan National Vote at Home Institute.

Experts noted the picks brought diversity to the board, but they were skeptical of the idea that DeJoy’s ouster was imminent. Instead, they suggested the board might look to implement changes such as the ones outlined in the bipartisan legislation and work with DeJoy before considering his removal.

McReynolds said in an interview that the agency is at a pivotal moment in its 50-year history, and she argued the pandemic should force the Postal Service to reimagine how it can best serve the public.

She suggested better collaboration with state and local elections officials would lead to smoother implementation of mail-in voting and ballot tracking, an area where she has extensive experience.

But she also noted that rural communities and states such as Alaska and Hawaii depend on the Postal Service for critical services such as the delivery of packages, mail and medications.

“[Postal workers] were very much part of the front-line people that supported the nation in a time of crisis,” McReynolds said. “And I think taking a really close hard look at how that went and thinking about how to ensure Postal Service is agile and resilient to those times of crisis is really important.”

Updated May 24 at 9:29 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Gary Peters Joe Biden Louis DeJoy Postal Service Rob Portman USPS

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