“That’s why we have a board of governors,” Warren (D-Mass.) told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “We need them to just get rid of Louis DeJoy and say, all those mailboxes they took out, all those [mail] sorting machines they took out, the no-overtime policy . . . we’re done.”
After years without a voting quorum, Trump was able to reshape the once-obscure Postal Service Board of Governors in three years into a behind-the-scenes powerhouse that is setting his priorities in motion, possibly for years to come.
With the coronavirus spread across the country, tens of millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail this fall. On Tuesday, in response to mounting criticism that cuts could derail voting by mail, DeJoy said they would be postponed until after the election. Regardless of who wins in November, Trump’s board and its postmaster general will still be running the Postal Service for several years.
The Trump administration has yet to make hundreds of political appointments across the federal government and has left vacant slots on dozens of boards and commissions.
But the president, who has fixated on one of the country’s beloved institutions since soon after taking office, has left his imprint on the Postal Service’s traditionally nonpartisan governing board, now at the center of one of the biggest controversies over election integrity in years.
The Trump White House benefited from inaction in a divided Senate, a vacant board when he took office and an intervention by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that left the new president with a clean slate to mold his agenda.
“The president had a unique opportunity to start from scratch,” said Arthur Sackler, a longtime lobbyist for mailers, postal shippers and suppliers. “I can’t recall another time when there was literally no one on the board.”
As DeJoy and board chairman Robert M. Duncan prepare to testify before Congress in coming days about mail delays affecting many areas of the country, here is a primer on the entity that helped set the changes in motion.
What's the role of the Postal Service board?
The 11-member board is comparable to the boards of directors of most private corporations, since the Postal Service is largely self-funding — although its precarious finances in the Internet age have led to multiple loans from the Treasury Department.
Nine of the board’s members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general. The members appointed by the president elect the postmaster general, who runs the agency’s day-to-day operations.
No more than five of the appointed members can be from the same political party, and the party in the White House gets five appointees.
Board members serve seven-year terms and cannot be removed except for cause. The five current Trump appointees would carry over into a Biden administration. Terms are staggered to expire in December each year.
The board, usually made up of former business executives, has traditionally had low visibility outside the postal world. But it approves high-dollar capital investments; sets mail prices, long-term strategies and legislative policies; and signs contracts with the heavily unionized workforce.
The governors run their monthly meetings like corporate boardrooms, with most business conducted in closed-door executive sessions. The public portions tend to be pro forma affairs, with decisions made in advance.
The board lost its quorum in 2014. The remaining members found a workaround, creating an emergency committee to carry out the functions of the board. President Barack Obama nominated three Democrats and two Republicans to fill the vacancies that year. Then came a Senate stalemate that reverberates today.
What happened with Sanders?
Even before his first campaign for president in 2015, Sanders’s message of economic populism extended to a pledge to save the struggling Postal Service from extinction, as the volume of first-class mail plunged with the rise of email and as the agency’s debts grew.
Then, as now, the Postal Service proposed steep service cuts that included closing post office branches and mail-sorting plants and eliminating Saturday delivery.
Sanders decried the cuts. Buoyed by the politically potent postal unions, he led the charge in the Senate to forestall them.
Foremost among his actions was a Senate hold to block Obama’s slate of five nominees to the board. The senator’s aides said at the time that he thought that the two Republicans, a lobbyist for the payday loan industry and a former Reagan administration official, would slash jobs and outsource one of the country’s oldest institutions to private companies.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held the entire slate from a vote on the Senate floor. The hold lasted two years. By the time Trump took office in January 2017, the last remaining members were off the board.
What did Trump do with the board?
The president, who complained to aides that Amazon owner Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) was ripping off the Postal Service with cheap deals to ship its packages, began building his board.
The Senate confirmed Duncan — a former Republican National Committee chairman and director of the board of American Crossroads, a super PAC backing Trump — and Democrat David Williams, a former Postal Service inspector general, in August 2018.
The Senate confirmed three more nominees a year later, giving the board a quorum for the first time since 2014. Former investment banker Ron Bloom, who led the Obama-era bailout of the auto industry, became the second Democrat. Roman Martinez IV, another former investment banker, and John Barger, managing director of the NorthernCross Partners investment firm, were the other Republicans.
After five years leading the agency, Megan Brennan announced in October that she would retire in January. Trump had told aides repeatedly that he wanted Brennan out, The Post reported, although postal officials characterized her departure as a normal retirement.
Two more Trump appointees joined the board in the spring — Democrat Donald L. Moak and Republican William D. Zollars. Williams resigned from the board in April in what was widely viewed as a protest against the Treasury Department’s expanding role. Trump has not nominated a replacement, leaving Bloom and Moak as the board’s only Democrats.
In June, the board selected DeJoy to succeed Brennan. Since then, DeJoy has reassigned or forced out about two dozen postal executives as he has embarked on sweeping cost-cutting directives. He has also launched a review of package delivery fees in contracts with Amazon, UPS, FedEx and others, a sign of Trump’s growing influence in the agency.
A new era at the Postal Service began.