From a few scattered complaints about slow mail in July to a fully blown national crisis in August, the apparent sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) should spark outrage from business leaders across the country. Nevertheless, even as some members of Congress and states have moved to bring criminal charges against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, corporate executives are missing a golden opportunity to defend a centuries-old civic institution that enjoys broad public support.
The smooth functioning of the USPS is always important, and this year even more so. Many states already allow or require voters to use mail-in ballots, and the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled millions more voters to use mail-in ballots for the first time.
As early as May, Democratic members of Congress began raising alarms that DeJoy was implementing sudden changes in the operations of the USPS that had the appearance of intentionally disrupting the mail in advance of the 2020 election cycle.
Laying the question of election tampering to rest, last week President Donald Trump admitted publicly and confirmed that DeJoy’s changes were all but certainly intended to disrupt the November elections.
Further hammering home the point, last month a U.S. Postal Service representative wrote to elections officials in 46 states, warning of “a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”
Adding even more fuel to the fire, news has surfaced that DeJoy ordered the removal of sorting machines from post offices. Hundreds of blue USPS drop-off boxes are also being removed from neighborhood streets in targeted areas around the country.
Despite the focus on election interference, the impact is far more widespread than the delivery of ballots. Those effects land squarely on the shoulders of the business community.
In early July, The Washington Post reported that DeJoy’s changes posed risks to business and employment transactions as well as delaying personal letters and packages.
That should have raised alarm bells across the business community, but it didn’t.
On July 23, one leading news organization in the northeast recounted widespread complaints throughout the state about how the changes at the USPS were affecting businesses and workers. “Many New Jersey residents are fuming as they say they’ve gone days without mail and packages being delivered, complaining of missing deadlines for checks and job applications,” reporter Torreo Torrejon of NJ.com observed.
More recently, reporters — and lawmakers — have focused on potentially life-threatening delays in the delivery of medicines and other healthcare equipment.
In particular, military veterans have been affected by disruptions with the U.S. mail service. Last week, for example, Stars and Stripes reported that a group of 31 Democrats raised the alarm over “many troubling reports from veterans waiting weeks for their prescriptions to arrive.”
Stars and Stripes further noted that “the Department of Veterans Affairs fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail — about 120 million prescriptions per year going to 330,000 veterans.”
Finally, on August 16 The Raw Story summarized the impacts to date, reporting that entire towns and cities have received none — as in zero — mail for days at a time.
Although business leaders appear to have declared radio silence on the issue, lawmakers are beginning to take action.
Last Friday, Democratic U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey’s 9th District announced that his office has made a criminal referral to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. He is seeking a state grand jury investigation of “electoral subversion by Donald Trump, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and other possible Trump administration officials in their accelerating arson of the United States Postal Service (USPS).”
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has also formally requested an investigation by the state’s attorney general, stating that it is “against the law to ‘delay the delivery of a ballot.’” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong also appears ready to take action on grounds of deliberate election interference.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced legislation aimed at restoring the USPS to normal operations. In late July, the Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee attempted to hold a hearing but was unable to bring DeJoy to make an appearance. On August 3, the Committee instead formally invited him to a hearing scheduled for September 17.
Considering the economic and health impact of the chaos at USPS since early August, the lawmakers may have to rethink their timeline. The House and Senate are on recess this month, and pressure has been increasing to recall Congress for an investigation.
The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take action, despite the results the disruption has had on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. However, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appears willing to recall the House.
As of this writing, Pelosi has not made a final decision, and the delay has been frustrating for voting rights advocates.
However, the longer that House members stay in their districts, the greater their opportunity to hear firsthand from their constituents, including business leaders.
DeJoy is a Republican megadonor, so the whole situation is clearly in the lap of GOP partisanship. Allegations that he has had stakes, even if relatively small, in two USPS competitors, FedEx and UPS, further provide critics with ammunition for charges of corruption and conflict of interest on the part of Trump appointees. Additional investments DeJoy has reportedly made have given his critics more reasons to criticize the changes at the USPS over the past several weeks.
Nevertheless, the systemwide disruption of business mail should enable corporate leaders to skirt both the political and corruption angles and insist on a return to normal operations from a straightforward, bottom-line perspective.
It shouldn’t be much of a stretch. After all, numerous business leaders have stood up to the Trump administration on issues such as preserving the DACA program and other immigration issues from the very beginning.
Others are taking action on gun safety and COVID-19 response, among other areas where the Trump administration has failed to act. Still corporate leaders are responding, in varying degrees, to employee activists who oppose Trump policies on climate change, among other issues.
The U.S. Postal service enjoys wide public support regardless of political affiliation. Business leaders who want to keep their corporate social responsibility profile in good standing have an opportunity — and a duty — to step up and defend it.
Editor’s note: The Speaker of the House has since announced a special congressional session this week to vote on legislation that would roll back recent changes made across the USPS. The USPS has since backed down from its proposed changes.
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Image credit: Tareq Ismail/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.