Porter McConnell on Louis DeJoy and the Crisis at USPS

Postmaster Louis DeJoy’s ten year plan for United States Postal Service (USPS) has resulted in slower mail, higher prices, and fewer hours at rural post offices.

Porter McConnell
Save the Post Office Coalition

To help us understand what’s happening at the post office, we dialed up Porter McConnell of the Save the Post Office Coalition, which is hosted by Take on Wall Street. 

The Save the Post Office Coalition includes about 300 organizations that run the gamut from unions, faith groups, to retired postal workers, Indivisible chapters, MoveOn, Color of Change –  pretty much every group that cares about the post office and wants to see it protected and expanded.

Did DeJoy come in with an explicit privatization campaign?

“He was smart to not mention the p word,” McConnell told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “But the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) put out a report about the broader state of government in which they explicitly called for the privatization of the postal service. That was a year and some change before DeJoy was appointed in 2020. Steven Mnuchin headed a task force. There was so much push back to the call for privatization in that prior report that the task force didn’t use the p word when they came down with their recommendations for the postal service.” 

“However, if you have the same policies that lead to a market exodus and you get a smaller, weaker postal service, then it becomes ripe for selling off. You can make the case that the private sector would do a better job. And then you contract it out. It was everything but the punch line.”

How specifically was DeJoy paving the road to privatization?

“Fast forward to when he came. If you are not a postal insider, it wouldn’t necessarily raise the alarm except that the results were immediate. He came in in June 2020. By July 2020, he had a policy stating that the postal trucks were going to leave on time no matter how full they were. The previous mandate was that the letters were the most important thing. And you would wait around until the truck was full and then you would go. It was a thing where they were sending half empty trucks and mail wasn’t getting on the trucks. It was a false efficiency. And the result was that the mail was delayed for a long time.” 

“There were also ill conceived cost saving measures like no more overtime. Overtime had become integral to the USPS. It was part of the work culture that delivering the mail was the thing. If you needed to pay over time you paid overtime to meet the performance standards.”

“He had those kinds of policies that slowed down the mail. They were false efficiencies. If you build unreliability into the system, people are going to exit the system — especially consumers of more lucrative mail. Packages will start exiting the system.”

“By making delivery times worse and by charging higher prices, you create this death spiral. And the most aggressive and fastest price hikes have occurred since DeJoy came on. Much of that is incredibly poorly timed. You lower the quality of the product and you raise the price, there will predictably be an exit from the market.”

“And DeJoy recognizes this and says it publicly. He says – we are just speeding up the inevitable. Snail mail is dead. And that’s not the transition that you want as a leader of public service. And try telling that to places that are not being served by private carriers. Or people like seniors and veterans and people living with disabilities who rely on the mail for their medicines – obviously we are headed to a new future and you are not part of it.”

He’s also consolidating sorting facilities to the detriment of on time delivery.

“In two cities where it has been most implemented – around Atlanta, Georgia and around Richmond, Virginia – the mail standards have dropped off a cliff. During one week this March in Georgia, just 25% of first class mail was on time. That’s unheard of for the postal service.”

“It’s akin to the decline in service if there is a natural disaster. The immediate impact of this restructuring has been catastrophic which is why members of Congress really gave it to him last week.”

“The idea is that if you make sorting a regional function and take it away from individual post offices, you are going to get efficiency somehow. But what it has resulted in is mail will go from Nevada to a sorting facility in California and then back to Nevada.” 

“They are consolidating sorting and distribution into regional centers. There is a question of jobs and real estate. DeJoy has said – nobody is losing their jobs. However, if you offer someone a choice of a two hour commute each way, for many it’s not practical. So yes, you might have a job two hours away. But that commute is expensive and impractical – all of the reasons why humans would not want to commute four hours a day to get back and forth to their jobs. It’s inevitable that you will have attrition.” 

“The other thing that is going on is that you have freed up all of this space in the back of post offices around the country where sorting used to take place. And then the question becomes – maybe we should close this post office? Maybe it’s less necessary. Already, many post offices have turned from being owned by USPS to being rented in a strip mall. It’s an additional chipping away at the physical plant.”

“And we know that one of the chief advantages of the USPS is that there is a building in every community. There are over 30,000 post offices around the country. That’s more post office locations than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.” 

“You can be apologetic about this and downsize and close post offices in rural communities. Or you can recognize that with the universal service obligation, the point is the presence. That also lends itself to a lot of economies of scale.”

“You could contract with other governmental agencies to do things like census outreach, or EBT benefits. They already process passports. You could process hunting and fishing licenses. There are all kinds of services that could be offered that generate revenue. You could offer Social Security services.” 

“Running away from the physical plant of the post office makes no sense. There are many communities that only have a post office and need services.” 

“If you look at the services that communities actually need, that’s where the revenue is going to come from in the future. Any move to regionalize or shrink or cut jobs is myopic. You are not thinking about the comparative advantage that USPS has. It is quite useful to have 30,000 post offices.”

It seems clear from what you are saying that DeJoy is on a campaign to privatize the postal service without using the privatization word. Is it a priority for the Save the Post Office Coalition to get rid of him?

“We are not about people or parties, we are just about results. If he would do the things we are calling for, we would embrace him sticking around. But the data keeps mounting and he’s pretty stubborn about sticking with his plan even in the face of evidence. He agreed to a pilot check cashing program and did it in wealthy neighborhoods where it was not needed. It was a $500 limit. It costs more than Wal-Mart. They didn’t do any advertising at all. A skeptic could easily find evidence he was doing it just to say that he did it.” 

“If he were to take that pilot seriously, get the price right and expand it to 4,000 post offices or so to actually get data, that would be great.

“There is no personal animus.”

Based on what you heard in the Senate hearings last week, where do Senators stand on DeJoy?

“There is a frustration among Democrats that we still have to live with this guy. And there is an increasingly bipartisan unignorable groundswell from constituents. The reason that hearing was as spicy as it was last week is because typically members hear about whether their constituents are getting their mail or not and how slow it is and how bad it has been. That’s one of the top complaints members hear from their constituents. It’s like a pure democracy issue. They are made because the results are not good.”

“And if you are Senator Jon Ossoff and you are representing the Atlanta area or you are in the Virginia delegation and you are hearing about Richmond, it is catastrophically bad. People are complaining about their medicines going missing.” 

“Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) has not been a firebrand on that committee. The hearing came directly out of the frustration they are hearing from their constituents. And that’s the feedback we are getting from Congress and the White House. There is concern about how badly he’s doing.” 

“I don’t think it’s an election year partisan witch hunt kind of situation. It’s legitimately they are hearing a ton about it and it seems they are not okay. There was a bit of a bipartisan dividend after the Postal Service Reform Act passed in 2022. There was a honeymoon period that DeJoy was given after that because everyone was so pleased that legislation actually passed Congress. There was a reluctance to acknowledge that the law was necessary but not sufficient and that DeJoy was not getting the job done. It’s nice to have a story that something is done and dusted.”

“But in fact, it became harder and harder to overlook the overwhelming evidence they were getting from constituents. That’s why you are seeing an angrier Congress right now.”

You seem reluctant to openly call for DeJoy’s ouster. And I’m wondering why that is?

“There is no need to personalize attacks. If he’s willing to learn from his experience and change and grow and turn into a postmaster that protects and expands the post office –” 

Is there any evidence that he is willing to do that?

“To be honest, we were interested in his decision to pilot check cashing products. That was some sign that maybe he was willing to do something like that in the face of pretty intense financial industry lobbying. In the end, it was designed to neatly package proof that the concept wasn’t going to work. In the end, he proved us wrong.”

“There are a couple of modernizations that people don’t hate. There are some things he has done that the unions thought were not entirely unhelpful.” 

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Porter McConnell, see 38 Corporate Crime Reporter 18(12), April 29, 2024, print edition only.]

Updated May 10, 2024 5:20 pm EST.

After going to press, we received the following note from Porter McConnell:

I would like to correct the record on three points where my information was either old or incomplete and does not tell the full story.

First, current union contracts prevent USPS from forcing postal workers to commute long distances to retain their job. Questions remain around what regionalizing functions that were previously performed locally does to economic activity in rural or less populated areas. 

But no postal workers are being forced into an excessive commute by the transition to regional sorting and delivery centers.

Second, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair Gary Peters has generally sought to work across the aisle on postal issues. 

The recent hearing where he called DeJoy and the head of the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Inspector General to testify is evidence of a genuine and growing bipartisan concern about a sharp decline in the performance of the US mail.

Third, DeJoy has actually made some modernizations, including some pro-labor changes, that experts have been calling for. But unfortunately, those are in the context of a management style that has been unresponsive to public feedback and unwilling to learn from mistakes. 

And his stubborn conviction that he can cut USPS to health, rather than aggressively pursue new revenue ideas for a new century.

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