Democrats and policy groups have called for the ouster of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the agency leader at the epicenter of controversies over postage rates, delivery times, mail-in ballots, electric fleet vehicles and alleged conflicts of interest. Can President Joe Biden remove him?
This month, more than 80 public interest groups led by The Save The Post Office Coalition sent a letter to Biden, calling on his administration to nominate Postal Board of Governors candidates who will hold DeJoy accountable for his “destructive leadership” and advocate for the expansion of USPS services.
“Despite the passage of the Postal Service Reform Act, DeJoy still plans to raise postage prices at ‘uncomfortable rates’ around the country,” the groups said in the letter. “Additionally, numerous post office locations are set to be shuttered under his 10-year restructuring plan, potentially impacting thousands of employees during a time of economic crisis.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat from New York, has led calls in Congress to remove DeJoy.
Is the Postmaster General a cabinet position?
In 1971, the United States Post Office Department was re-organized into the U.S. Postal Service, a special agency independent of the executive branch that is not funded by appropriations.
The Postmaster General is not a member of the Cabinet and is not in line to be president. The position is selected by the Board of Governors of the Postal Service, whose members are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. They serve seven year terms.
The Postmaster General’s office has no fixed term, meaning that DeJoy can serve as long as the Board of Governors approves.
“I was hired by a bipartisan Board of Governors to lead the Postal Service based on my extensive business and logistics background,” said DeJoy in a statement to Federal Times. “As such, my mission and full attention is on improving the efficient and reliable delivery of mail and packages to the American people and becoming financially self-sufficient as required by law.”
Who has authority over the Postmaster General?
The U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors has sole authority to hire and fire the postmaster general, the highest position in the organization. Though pressure mounts from Democrats and watchdogs to remove DeJoy from his seat at the top of the agency, Biden lacks the power to do so.
Most decisions are settled by majority vote, and at least six members must be present for a quorum. There are nine governors in total. Both the Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General are voting members of the board, though they they are barred from voting on certain issues like pricing.
No more than five of the nine governors may be from the same party.
Removing the Postmaster General requires an absolute majority vote of the governors in office.
Deputy Postmaster General Douglas Tulino was appointed last year.
Appointments are made when vacancies occur or for the remainder of unexpired terms.
Governors may continue to serve following expiration of their term or until a successor is appointed, but not for more than one year. No member may serve more than two terms as a governor.
What are the controversies surrounding DeJoy?
A number of criticisms have been levied against DeJoy since he became the fifth Postmaster General to join the institution from the private sector since 1971.
Last year, DeJoy unveiled “Delivering for America,” the USPS strategic plan to achieve longterm financial sustainability. In April of this year, Biden signed the Postal Service Reform Act, which lifted budget requirements imposed by Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and required USPS to keep delivering mail six days a week.
In February, the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent DeJoy a letter urging USPS to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act after it had committed $480 million to begin engineering and factory construction of new postal vehicles before the agency started its review.
This month, USPS announced that at least half of Next Generation Delivery Vehicles will be battery electric. The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by Biden on Aug. 16, also allocates nearly $1.3 billion for the purchase of zero-emission delivery vehicles and another $1.7 billion for developing that infrastructure at USPS facilities.
Critics have also called out ethical concerns regarding DeJoy’s finances. Congress’ request for investigation alleged that DeJoy held tens of million of dollars in competitor and contractor assets.
In 2020, the USPS Office of Inspector General reported that DeJoy, a former logistics company CEO, met all ethics requirements for divestment and disclosures.
An OIG report found that DeJoy sold his Amazon and UPS holdings and recused himself from remaining conflicts. Still, Democrats and nonpartisan watchdog groups have wanted DeJoy out, especially as 2022 midterm elections loom.
“After two years of misconduct and ethical lapses on the part of the USPS’s leader, the public deserves to know the USPS’s rationale for keeping its leadership in place,” said an Aug. 9 letter submitted by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group.
What are the concerns about USPS and elections?
In the first year of the pandemic and after the 2020 election in which mail-in ballots become the subject of controversy, DeJoy came under fire for mail delays.
Experts warned that operational changes, which included elimination of late and extra trips to transport mail, a reorganization of field and headquarters operations, and a pilot to reduce overtime, could impair mail-in ballots.
USPS said the changes were developed to save on work hours after it predicted a $7.6 billion loss for fiscal year 2020. A follow-up report concluded that these initiatives, in part, contributed to delays during a year in which more than two-thirds of voters cast their ballot using nontraditional means.
USPS processed 135 million ballots in the general election, and about 99.9% of ballots were delivered to election officials within a week, consistent with the service’s expectations.
As of Aug. 12, the USPS has participated in 54 primaries, runoffs and special elections and delivered more than 40 million ballots to and from voters.
“Americans should be confident that the United States Postal Service is well-prepared and will provide extraordinary services in these coming November elections,” DeJoy said during a Board of Governors meeting on Aug. 9.
Future of DeJoy’s leadership
As the board stands during the annual summer recess for Congress, Biden’s appointees outnumber those by former President Donald Trump five to four.
The Senate confirmed Biden’s two nominees to the board back in May, adding a Democrat and Republican to the roster.
Two other board members’ terms will expire in December, one from each party.
With vacancies on the horizon, Biden may choose to replace at least one opening with a Democrat or independent.
Many have said that appointments create opportunities for a president or Senate to have an indirect influence on board decisions.
“It is a great honor to serve as the 75th Postmaster General of the United States,” DeJoy in the statement. “The Postal Service has a proud and ongoing history which I have, and will continue to uphold, of performing our vital work in an apolitical and nonpartisan fashion.”
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.