Facing a backlash over operational changes that have resulted in mail delays, the new postmaster general in the U.S. is returning to Congress to testify before a House panel that has sharply criticized him.
The hearing Monday comes after the House approved legislation Saturday to reverse the changes in U.S. Postal Services operations and send $25 billion to shore up the agency ahead of the November election, when a surge in mail-in ballots is expected.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a political ally of President Donald Trump, said he would not restore the cuts to mailboxes and sorting equipment that have already been made. He could not provide senators with a plan for handling the ballot crush for the election.
DeJoy testified Friday in the Senate that his "No. 1 priority" is to ensure election mail arrives on time. DeJoy spoke of the need for efficiencies as the agency has seen demand dip during a time of pandemic but appeared to stumble when Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen asked him what kind of analysis was done on how potential changes would affect seniors, veterans and working families.
The U.S. Postal Service has seen dozens of employees die and thousands take ill from the coronavirus. Since DeJoy took over in May, there have been allegations from employees that overtime requests have been severely curtailed. DeJoy testified there was no specific edict from leadership regarding the limiting of overtime hours.
WATCH l DeJoy spars with Democrat over analysis justifying recent changes:
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the oversight committee and author of the House bill, said DeJoy was using the Postal Service's longstanding fiscal problems as an excuse "to justify sweeping and damaging changes to Postal Service operations."
"We have all seen the results: national headlines about delays of days and weeks, veterans desperately waiting for their medications, sorting machines being ripped out and thrown in dumpsters," Maloney said.
Maloney's committee on Saturday released internal Postal Service documents warning about steep declines and delays in a range of mail services since early July, shortly after DeJoy took the helm. Delays have occurred in first-class and marketing mail, periodicals and Priority Mail, the agency says in an Aug. 12 briefing prepared by Postal Service staff for DeJoy.
"These new documents show that the delays we have all heard about are actually far worse than previously reported — and they are across the board," Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said.
DeJoy acknowledged at the Senate hearing there has been a "dip" in service but disputed reports of widespread problems.
Republican leadership scoffs at House bill
In a statement Sunday, the Postal Service said it greatly appreciates House efforts to assist the agency, but remains concerned that some of the bill's requirements, "while well meaning, will constrain the ability of the Postal Service to make operational changes that will improve efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve service to the American people."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled lawmakers to Washington for a rare Saturday session over objections from Republicans, who dismissed it as a stunt. Trump urged a no vote, railing on Twitter against mail-in ballots expected to surge in the COVID-19 crisis. He has said he wants to block extra funds to the Postal Service.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has been eyeing a $10 billion postal rescue as part of the next COVID-19 relief package.
"Senate Republicans are committed to making sure the Postal Service remains well equipped to fulfill its important duties. But the president has already made it clear he will not sign the speaker's partisan stunt into law," McConnell said after passage of the House bill.
Still, there were signs of bipartisan support for the Postal Service, one of the most popular government agencies, with an approval rating above 90 per cent.
Twenty-six House Republicans broke with Trump and GOP leaders to back the House bill, which passed 257-150.
A bill co-sponsored by senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would provide the Postal Service with up to $25 billion to cover revenue losses or operational expenses resulting from COVID-19. The bill has at least 22 co-sponsors, including no fewer than nine Republicans.
DeJoy, 63, previously owned a logistics business that was a longtime Postal Service contractor. He maintains significant financial stakes in companies that do business or compete with the agency, raising conflict of interest questions.
The Postal Service has said DeJoy has made all required financial disclosures but that he might have to divest some holdings if conflicts arise.
DeJoy is the husband of Aldona Wos, who has been put forth as the next U.S. ambassador to Canada but has not yet been confirmed by Congress.
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