In late April, the mainstream media gave Postmaster General Louis DeJoy another opportunity to promote his opinion of what’s wrong with the Postal Service and how his Plan would be its salvation. Unfortunately, the concurrent opportunity to challenge what DeJoy presented as fact was not taken, resulting in the successful delivery of his message to readers unequipped to evaluate it critically.
The April 27 interview by The Washington Post opened with an airing of DeJoy’s unsubstantiated claim that the USPS “has kept unhealthy businesses alive because of its low prices.” Those businesses, he added, have benefitted from “mailing and shipping costs that have been kept low at the expense of the Postal Service’s financial stability.” This, he opined, was part of a “false business model which is what we have done for 15 years.”
In the Q&A part of the interview, DeJoy had an open field to make his assertions uncontested. For example, asked if he felt the USPS was in a better condition now than two years ago, the PMG gave a predictable response:
“I think we’re 10,000 percent better than we were two years ago. For 15 years this place had been constructively destroyed with an operational strategy that was devoid of any logic.”
Replying to a question about inflation, DeJoy stated:
“... I think a bigger issue is the uncertainty of the market in terms of advertising. People try to attribute my price increases to reducing mail volume. I don’t buy that for a second. The overall advertising market is down 10, 11, 12 percent. What one would do to save money in an inflationary economy in a different industry is stop doing things. That’s not an option for me.”
On the matter of postage and costs, he commented:
“Whatever it costs, it will still be the cheapest in the industrialized world. It can go up to 90 cents, and it will still be the cheapest. And higher prices will be a contributing factor to why we will still have the United States Postal Service. For those who want to reach the American public and want to do it with a mail piece, we will be the best and only way to do it. That’s what the law requires me to do. It doesn’t say, ‘Go do all things at all costs’.”
Reiterating his dislike for commercial mail producers, DeJoy blamed them for his agency’s financial circumstances:
“Once we take care of the American public and we fulfill our mission, to everybody else, we’re a third-party service provider. The major mailing companies, they’re out to make a profit. I’m all for profit, but it shouldn’t be on the back of the US Postal Service in terms of our existence.”
The interviewer next stated that “Mailers often pass on the cost of rate increases to consumers,” such as bank fees rising to cover postage costs; in reply, DeJoy stated:
“The system that’s set up means we have to cover our cost. If we have kept alive things by a false business model – which is what we have done for 15 years, and we have abused the organization – well, that’s not something we’re supposed to be doing. That has to change. Yes, at some point, things come out of the marketplace. But is it the US Postal Service’s job to support and fund those things with its own resources? I think that’s a recipe for disaster. Price matters, and some things are going to get chased from the marketplace, but I think that’s just a matter of time. I’d rather get on with it now, because that time should have been seven, eight, nine years ago.”
For someone whose primary knowledge of the USPS in mid-2020 was as a former transportation contractor, DeJoy has become a font of strongly-held opinions that, to people with more postal background, reflect less independent study than an indoctrination by like-minded top advisors. That education has focused on four major elements: a “false business model”; a “defective” pricing system; an abusive commercial mailing industry; and an indifference to mail volume.
DeJoy’s missed a fundamental point: the US Postal Service is a public monopoly intended to provide a public service. It is not a business. While it’s true that Congress has consistently failed to rationalize the agency’s Universal Service Obligation with how it’s funded, DeJoy is connecting the dots wrong when he cloaks himself in service to the American public while blaming business mailers for not paying the costs.
Commercial mailers are not demanding a retail network of 31,000 post offices nor that delivery of letters and flats be made six days a week – an element of the USO that DeJoy himself further embraced when agreeing to codification of six-day delivery in 2022’s Postal Service Reform Act.
Commercial mailers are not urging the expansion of a full-time career workforce when a flexible part-time workforce would be more suitable to declining mail volume, yet DeJoy’s policies are doing just that, hard-wiring significant cost while decrying how rates are too low to cover them.
As for ratesetting, his education about the system established by the 2006 reform law – intended to make the USPS control costs and allow rates to climb at a reasonable pace – omitted that it was torpedoed by the prefunding mandate.
DeJoy has become the spokesperson for the handful of top executives who’ve long harbored the opinions he now dutifully echoes. That the assertions are self-contradictory or simply deflections of responsibility are not acknowledged.
The Postal Service has consistently and historically failed to control costs, period. In blaming others’ demands for service as the reason, the USPS has institutionally ignored its own role in driving up costs – ineffective management, operational inefficiency, and unmoderated labor agreements.
In turn, the agency has conflated the cost of operating under a Congressional mandate – the USO – with the cost attributable to processing and delivering commercial mail. Concurrently, the insufficiency of revenue to cover total USPS cost is blamed on commercial ratepayers, not on retail customers or Congress – whose mandates are otherwise unfunded.
For his own purposes, DeJoy is demonizing the ratesetting process and commercial mailers as a way to avoid real corrective measures: making Congress align its USO expectations with its willingness to fund public service costs, and making the postal unions accountable for their role in operational inefficiency and ever-rising labor costs.
In formulating and implementing his Plan, Louis DeJoy predictably carried forward what he was taught: it’s not “our” failure to control costs, it’s “theirs” for not paying enough.
Leo Raymond is Owner and Managing Director of Mailers Hub LLC.
This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.