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A Smorgasbord of Issues at Congressional Postal Hearing
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
As we celebrate our nation’s 247th birthday, it is wise to recognize the importance of the Postal Service to the growth and success of the United States. Indeed, our recent past has reconfirmed the essential nature of this government institution that predated July 4, 1776.
I state with conviction and certainty that the American postal system was created as and remains a federal service established for the benefit of the public. As such, Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) are empowered under the U.S. Constitution and the law to ensure the Postal Service fulfills the mission for which it was created.
On May 17, the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce conducted a hearing to review the Postal Service’s financial and operational condition. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), heard from only one witness—Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Unlike past postal hearings, there was limited drama and no hysteria.
With few exceptions, DeJoy provided a generally upbeat appraisal of his team’s rollout of the “Delivering for America” plan. However, in a cautionary note, Sessions explained that he, as well as other members of Congress, have their own views and may have criticisms about the Postal Service and that DeJoy will be held accountable for the plan and its impact on those served by the agency. Sessions’ comments and questions were reflective of his presentation to NAPS members at the March Legislative Training Seminar.
Ranking subcommittee member Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) and full committee ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) drew attention to the escalation of crimes committed against postal delivery personnel, which coincided with the Postal Service’s 2020 decision to restrict uniformed postal law enforcement to postal property. In response to questions by a number of committee members, DeJoy alleged the USPS police force never exercised law enforcement authority beyond the perimeters of postal property and he lacked the authority to deploy officers to locations outside a USPS facility. It is NAPS’ understanding that committee members have in their possession USPS documents that contradict the PMG’s assertion.
In part as a result of this exchange, Mfume co-sponsored H.R. 3005, the Postal Police Reform Act, after the hearing. As NAPS members know, the legislation clarifies that postal police do, indeed, have the legal authority denied by the USPS. The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and William Pascrell (D-NJ).
NAPS Baltimore Branch 42 President Maxine Campbell personally thanked Mfume the week following the hearing for his co-sponsorship of the bill. Moreover, on May 19 at a Chicago press conference, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) announced his intention to introduce a Senate companion to H.R. 3005.
Early in the May 17 hearing, DeJoy deflected a question posed by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) relating to postal plans for the enhanced authority granted by the Postal Reform Act of 2022 that enables the agency to partner with feder-al, state and local governments to provide government services. The PMG suggested he was deferring prospective partnerships until such time he believed the agency had the resources to offer those services. Although DeJoy did applaud the Postal Service’s success in shipping and packaging government-issued COVID-19 test kits.
One of the more interesting colloquies was between freshman Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) and DeJoy. She asked why the Postal Service failed to engage with communities and other stakeholders before implementing sorting and delivery center consolidations, as required under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PL 109-435). DeJoy responded that the Postal Service complied with the law, yet he could not indicate the level of communication that occurred between affected communities and the USPS.
Lee followed with an inquiry about the PRC’s recent interest in the consolidation plan. She prefaced her question by indicating the case related to stakeholder concerns about the plan’s lack of transparency and public scrutiny. This is the PRC public inquiry referenced in my June column. Lee asked why the USPS requested the PRC to quash the inquiry.
DeJoy did not directly respond to Lee’s question. Rather, he aimed his fire at the PRC, asserting that the regulatory body “proactively participated in the destruction of the organization over the past 15 years.” I am sure the PRC will not take kindly to these remarks.
Another exchange that commanded some attention was a discussion between Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS) and DeJoy. It concerned the inefficiencies of processing flats based on a recent PRC study. In addition, LaTurner expressed concern about escalating periodical postage. The PMG was not pleased with the PRC study’s conclusions and took the opportunity to launch another broadside against the PRC, both for the study and its pricing regime.
One of the more significant exchanges—although it did not generate much attention—was between Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) and DeJoy about postal pensions. Palmer asked about a recent USPS Office of Inspector General white paper regarding the investment of postal pension funds. The USPS Board of Governors requested the white paper; at the May board meeting, it was discussed by Chairman Ramon Martinez.
The funds in question include employee and employer Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employees Retirement System
(FERS) contributions. The OIG suggested if pension funds had been invested in stock index and bond index funds, rather than low-yield U.S. Treasury securities, the investment balance would top $1.2 trillion, rather than hover at $298 billion. (The May 25, 2023, episode of NAPS Chat hosted Joy Sanzone, the lead author of the OIG white paper, who provided a detailed explanation of the analysis.)
In sum, all the issues addressed at the hearing will command NAPS’ attention. These issues may require future advocacy activities to ensure the Postal Service continues to provide the service that Americans expect and deserve.