The Biden-majority Board is shielding DeJoy from accountability by silencing the public.
In a time of historic distrust in government, the United States Postal Service has accomplished something extraordinary: it remains a universally beloved federal agency. Second only to the Parks Service in public favorability (a jaw-dropping 77% approval rating, per Gallup), USPS is arguably also the most frequently-interacted-with component of the federal government: packages and letters are delivered to Americans’ mailboxes six days per week. But these warm feelings – already under threat by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s continued destructive leadership – could quickly chill if the Postal Board of Governors has its way.
At least four times per year, the Board (the governing body that votes on DeJoy’s agenda and has the sole power to fire him) holds an open session meeting, its sole formal contact with the public. In recent years, these meetings have concluded with a well-attended public comment period, where in-person and virtual attendees have excoriated DeJoy for embracing a privatization-friendly agenda. Just this year alone, public commenters at Board meetings have decried the mail slow downs and price hikes, demanded changes to DeJoy’s gas-guzzling and union-busting fleet plan, raised serious concerns about transparency of DeJoy’s facility consolidation plans, and pushed DeJoy to expand community services offered at the post office.
But when the Postal Board of Governors met this week for their final open session of the year, there was one major difference from its previous quarterly meetings: virtual and remote public comments were, without explanation, banned. This abrupt new barrier to public accessibility led the number of public commenters – which in recent meetings has been a double-digit tally – to drop to 4. The decline in attendance was also likely compounded by an unexplained shift in the meeting time: whereas past meetings have been held at 4:00pm ET, Tuesday’s session was held at noon – the middle of the workday.
The Board’s decision to not allow virtual comments at the November 14th meeting follows another alarming recent attempt to suppress public input. At the August 2023 meeting, each public commenter was allotted only 25 seconds to speak, in sharp contrast to the typical 3 minute time limit. And past meetings were not beacons of accountability, either. The Postal Governors never responded to any comments raised by the public, and the comment period itself was always excluded from the official publicly available USPS recording of the formal session.
But next year, the Postal Board’s accountability problem will get even worse. During Tuesday’s meeting, Postal Board Deputy Secretary Lucy Trout explained, starting next year, the Postal Board will only hear public comments once per year in November. In other words, though the next three Postal Board meetings (February, May, and August 2024) are ostensibly “public sessions,” members of the public will have no opportunity to inform the Postal Board about their concerns until a year from now.
And it’s not as if postal workers, customers, and public advocates don’t have anything pressing to alert the Board about. On the contrary, DeJoy has continued to advance a destructive agenda that includes:
- Five successive postage rate increases, which have risked driving away business and failed to improve USPS financial standing, despite DeJoy’s promises.
- A 10-year stealth privatization plan that is being advanced with zero opportunities for public input and would increase delivery times, slash 50,000 jobs through attrition, and cut operations at more than 200 post offices and sorting facilities, which could devastate rural and Indigenous communities.
- A next-gen postal fleet contract with Oshkosh Defense that is nearly 40% gas-guzzler and 100% built with non-union scab labor. UAW workers from Oshkosh have regularly attended postal board meetings (including Tuesday’s) to call for an investigation into the company’s union avoidance scheme and for the Board to rebid a new, union-built contract.
- Failure to protect USPS staff from a dangerous summer heatwave that killed one postal worker, even after members of Congress urged improvements to the USPS heat safety protection plan and letter carriers alleged their managers were routinely falsifying safety documents.
- Refusal to support alternative revenue sources that could strengthen USPS, such as postal banking, grocery delivery, or electric vehicle charging stations.
President Biden has utterly failed to hold DeJoy to account for any of this, instead inviting him to White House stamp ceremonies and staying silent as the Postmaster General laughably reinvents himself as a “Biden ally” to credulous reporters. This is particularly egregious given the President’s power to nominate members of the Postal Board of Governors:
- Biden has inexplicably failed to name replacements for two Trump-appointed Governors – including DeJoy-supporting Democrat Lee Moak – whose terms expired last December. This has allowed Moak and his Republican colleague William Zollars to stay on the board for nearly a full year (their holdover terms will expire on December 8, 2023) and continue occupying seats that Biden has been statutorily allowed to fill.
- The Save The Post Office coalition has endorsed former Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and postal expert Sarah Anderson – two strong critics of DeJoy’s leadership with decades of actual postal experience and policy expertise – for these positions. Biden has yet to indicate he will nominate anyone to these vacancies.
- Though Biden has already nominated five of the Board’s nine governors (on paper, enough to fire DeJoy), at least two of his picks have been DeJoy backers: Democratic ex-GSA head Dan Tangherlini (who approved Trump’s lease of D.C.’s Old Post Office Building) and Republican Derek Kan (a former Mitch McConnell/Elaine Chao advisor). As I’ve written before, Biden’s choice to nominate Tangherlini and Kan (instead of two anti-Dejoy reformers) squandered a key opportunity to finally give the Board a pro-reform, anti-DeJoy majority.
The Postal Board’s restrictions on public comment are unacceptable. They must reverse course by allowing both in-person AND virtual public comments at ALL open sessions next year, and take further steps to improve accountability by responding to public comments and posting recorded comment sessions to the USPS website. Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration must publicly call out this shameful barrier to transparent government and fast-track filling the Moak and Zollars Postal Board seats with anti-DeJoy, pro-accountability reformers.
The future of the people’s most treasured public institution depends on public participation and feedback–that’s how public service works.