President Donald Trump's newly confirmed U.S. postmaster general ordered the endangered public service Monday to make major cost-cutting changes, which could slow mail delivery.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor who has given more than $2 million to the GOP, warned employees that the agency needed to make "difficult" decisions to stay afloat, according to a new report in The Washington Post.
"If the plants run late, they will keep the mail for the next day," one guideline says, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post and verified by the American Postal Workers Union.
Carriers do not typically leave mail behind, often making multiple trips under heavy loads to get letters and packages to marked recipients as soon as possible.
Experts who reviewed the internal document, titled "New PMG's [Postmaster General's] expectations and plan," said it presented "a stark reimagining of the USPS," which could alienate customers. If the agency increases package delivery rates, which has the support of the administration, competing private companies could smell blood and throw new weight behind smothering the agency.
DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman, ascended to the head office in May after the resignation of Ron Stroman. Stroman, who had defended the integrity of voting by mail, was reportedly forced out amid coordinated Republican attempts to undermine public faith in the service.
"Stroman was specifically key on elections and vote by mail — this is not a good sign," ProPublica's Jessica Huseman tweeted in response to the resignation.
A USPS spokesperson told Salon in a statement that the service was "developing a business plan to ensure that we will be financially stable and able to continue to provide reliable, affordable, safe and secure delivery of mail, packages and other communications to all Americans as a vital part of the nation's critical infrastructure."
That plan has not been finalized, but it will "certainly include new and creative ways for us to fulfill our mission," the spokesperson added.
Vote-by-mail advocates say any new policy which slows deliveries might mean bad news for mail-in ballots, yielding delays in ballot requests and possible confusion surrounding the tabulations of votes. This represents an acute concern for upstart Democratic congressional candidates looking to pick off Republican seats.
"The people in power are trying to keep voter turnout low, and they're hoping that fear keeps us from exercising our constitutional right to vote so they can stay in power. But they have another thing coming," MJ Hegar, who on Wednesday was declared the winner of the Democratic Senate primary in Texas, told Salon.
"We are going to keep fighting to allow Texans to vote by mail and ensure Texans don't have to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and public health," she added.
James Mackler, aspiring Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee and a veteran of the War in Iraq, called the report in The Post "deeply disturbing" in an email to Salon.
"This deeply disturbing report is another example of a willingness to abuse the powers of the executive branch for political gain," Mackler said. "Our democracy works best when people vote, volunteer and make their voices heard. Efforts to suppress Americans' right to vote – and do so safely by mail – fly in the face of what I fought to defend on the battlefield and in the courtroom."
A West Virginia mail carrier last week pleaded guilty to election fraud and injury to the mail after admitting he had altered requests for mail-in ballots along his route, changing party affiliation from Democratic to Republican.
The USPS spokesperson dismissed these concerns, saying the agency's "current financial condition is not going to impact our ability to deliver election and political mail this year."
"I want to emphasize we will run our operations on time and on schedule, which will result in affordable, efficient and reliable service," the spokesperson added.
The new guidance has also raised old fears about a decades-long Republican drive to privatize the postal service, which now finds itself strapped for cash in the middle of a once-in-a-century infrastructure emergency.
In an early coronavirus relief bill, lawmakers authorized an additional $10 billion for the USPS to fund emergency operations during the pandemic, but the loan has stalled amid a dispute with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over terms which would allow his department to take over some agency operations.
On July 1, Mnuchin announced a $700 million bailout of a trucking company and Pentagon contractor worth only $70 million, whose former CEO, Bill Zollars, was confirmed to the USPS board of governors the month prior. Salon reported that the Department of Justice has accused the company in federal court of crimes committed under Zollars' tenure, including allegations of defrauding the Pentagon to the tune of millions of dollars.
Two months ago, the Democrat-controlled House passed another $25 billion emergency aid package to keep the beleaguered agency alive, but the Republican-led Senate has not yet taken up the measure. The decision would likely fall to Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., the chair of the Republican-led Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which conducts oversight of the agency.
Johnson did not reply to a request for comment. However, his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, issued a statement to Salon.
"The Postal Service is a critical lifeline for our communities. Millions of Americans depend on the Postal Service to deliver prescription drugs and supplies to seniors, help small businesses stay connected with their customers, exercise the fundamental right to vote and ship the goods families need at home – no matter where they live," Peters said.
"The Postal Service should not slow down mail or compromise service in any way, especially during this crisis," he added. "I am concerned Postal Service leadership is prioritizing cost-cutting over customer service, and I am conducting oversight of their actions."
A Peters aide told Salon that the USPS Board of Governors said the Postal Service could be insolvent in the coming months because of the pandemic, and the senator's office was committed to securing bipartisan support.
Emphasizing Peters' belief that "the independent Board of Governors and the Postal Regulatory Commission should be making the decisions about what's best for their business models – not the administration," the aide also implied a suspicion that the administration's hand was at play.
Johnson has not outwardly expressed interest in reform. However, this April he and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., put bi-partisan pressure on the USPS to resolve issues with delivery of mail ballots in their state's primary.
A number of prominent Republicans, including Trump, have pushed baseless conspiracy theories about the security of voting by mail as part of a broader effort to inject doubt into the nationwide election system. An individual familiar with internal White House campaign discussions told Salon that Republican strategists had as recently as last week stressed concerns about brutal internal poll numbers to the president, who has routinely attacked the mail-in system he views as a threat.
However, many of those officials have availed themselves of that same system, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and the president himself.