Column: How did we end up with a postmaster general who doesn’t know what it costs to mail a postcard?

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified Monday before members of the House Oversight Committee.
(U.S. Senate)

If you had spent Monday watching members of the House Oversight Committee grill Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, you would be as confused as I am.

The U.S. Postal Service is in dire financial straits.

The U.S. Postal Service is well funded, partly thanks to a dramatic, pandemic-related increase in mailed packages.

DeJoy is a logistical genius, who has successfully demanded that mail trucks leave processing centers on time.

DeJoy is a soulless bureaucrat so intent on getting mail trucks to stick to their departure schedules that he let them drive away empty. (As L.A.-area Democrat Rep. Jimmy Gomez put it, “You focused on getting trucks to leave on time, but you didn’t focus on getting mail to the people.”)


Ah, details, details.

I felt a little sorry for DeJoy, 63, who sat alone at the witness table in front of smattering of socially distanced lawmakers. He is not a public servant. He is a wealthy, well-connected Republican mega-donor and former owner of a logistics company, which evolved from his father’s Long Island trucking company.

Under questioning by Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, a former letter carrier and post office supervisor, De Joy admitted he did not know about Chapter 39 of the U.S. Government Code, which holds that the USPS “shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people.”

He confessed to Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California that he doesn’t know how much postage is required for a postcard (35 cents), nor has any idea how many Americans “to the nearest million” voted by mail in the last election.

DeJoy, it’s clear, knew next to nothing about the Postal Service when he took it over in June. But hey, Donald Trump didn’t know anything about the federal government when he took over, either, and look how well that’s worked out.

Like the president, DeJoy probably thought his private business experience was all he needed. He would transform the Postal Service, and its 600,000-plus employees who deliver 451 million pieces of mail a day, into a better, more businesslike version of itself.

That hasn’t happened.

Instead, he has instituted a management hiring freeze, pushed for early retirement for workers and allowed overtime pay to be curtailed at a moment when as many as 40,000 postal workers are either ill or in quarantine because of the COVID-19 virus.

Attempts at cost containment, he admitted, have caused serious delays in mail deliveries.

How serious?

A couple of Democratic lawmakers cited the work of my colleagues Maya Lau and Laura Nelson, who reported last week on widespread delays and dysfunction in California post offices, where sorting machines have been removed or locked up with no explanation. By early August in a South Los Angeles processing facility, they wrote, “gnats and rodents were swarming around containers of rotted fruit and meat, and baby chicks were dead inside their boxes.”


Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tried to get DeJoy to blame the slow deliveries on “all the rioting going on,” but the postmaster general did not bite.


During the morning, I toggled back and forth between the DeJoy hearing and the Republican National Convention, which was just getting underway.

As DeJoy was trying to reassure the country that he takes his job as a sacred duty, the president was literally trashing the Postal Service, as he has done for years.

At almost exactly the same time DeJoy vowed that he is working with state election boards and that “it is our intent not to have any fraud,” Trump was advancing the loony theory that the tens of millions of Americans who will vote by mail are part of a Democratic plot to unseat him.

“They’re using COVID to steal the election,” Trump said onstage in Charlotte, N.C., where he made a “surprise” visit to the convention in the middle of its roll call. “They’re using COVID to defraud the American people.”

He brayed that the post office should raise its rates on Amazon, founded by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post.


“When I get bad stories in the Washington Post,” said Trump, who has falsely claimed that Amazon does not pay its fair share in postal costs, “I wonder why.”

Trump has complained so often and so loudly about the imaginary perils of universal mail-in voting that you really had to laugh at his sycophants on the Oversight Committee who accused Democrats on Monday of ginning up a conspiracy theory of their own: that the USPS is under a Republican partisan attack to thwart mail-in voting.

Ranking member Rep. James Comer of Kentucky accused Democrats of whipping themselves into a “hysterical frenzy.”

DeJoy, for his part, assured the committee that, despite what his political patron has claimed, the Postal Service is well equipped to handle the increase in mail when voting season rolls around.

Notwithstanding the dead bodies of defenseless baby chicks, I really do believe him.