House Oversight Committee's Top Republican On Postmaster General's Testimony
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It has been another tense day on Capitol Hill for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Today he testified in person before the House Oversight Committee. As on Friday, when he sat before a Senate panel, he defended some of his controversial cost-cutting measures, and he denied that he made others, such as removing blue post office boxes from cities. While mail has slowed down recently, DeJoy chalked that up to a rough transition.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LOUIS DEJOY: We are very concerned with the deterioration in service and are working very diligently. In fact, we're seeing a big recovery this week.
KELLY: Joining me now from Capitol Hill is the committee's top Republican, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky. Congressman, welcome.
JAMES COMER: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: Start with what we know about why mail has slowed recently. I noted in your opening statement, you said you wanted to hear directly from DeJoy on that. Did you get a satisfactory answer?
COMER: Well, I think we all know we're going through a pandemic. I think we realize that, like every other industry, there is a lot of absenteeism. People are missing work because of health reasons or concerns. They may have a friend or a neighbor that came down with COVID-19, and they're trying to stay away from everyone for a few days. So we also know that there've been a lot of riots in big cities. And we don't know exactly what amount that has had to do with any increase in delays, but we're certain that that has had an impact on the mail. So...
KELLY: We also know sorting machines have been disabled. We also know overtime has been cut. Post office hours have been cut. How big a role do you think that has played?
COMER: I don't think that's played a role at all, and he mentioned that today. The sorting machines were at 35% capacity everywhere, so if you can consolidate those to save money, that's what the postmaster general wanted to do. And with respect to the blue mailboxes, I mean, that's been an ongoing thing for over a decade starting back before President Obama, where administrations took up the blue boxes in locations that are no longer relevant and no longer see very much mail volume.
KELLY: Yeah. I want to just put to you the central question that was on a lot of people's minds today because there have been cost-cutting measures. Most reasonable people can probably agree that some cost-cutting measures are in order, that the post office needs to be put on a more sustainable financial footing. Are you open to the argument, though, that - as you noted, we're in the middle of a pandemic; we are right before an election in which an unprecedented number of Americans are going to be trying to vote by mail - that maybe this isn't the best time to have big cuts at the post office?
COMER: I don't think they'll have any impact whatsoever on the post office's ability to deliver the mail. They're - we learned today there's no effort to sabotage the election as the Democrats have been saying. The postmaster general, again, said the post office has the capacity to handle the increased volume of mail from absentee voting. The postmaster general also said the post office has the money to obtain operations for another year or so. I don't think any of these are having any impact on the outcome of the election, which is...
COMER: ...What many of the Democrats are trying to allege.
KELLY: Yeah. But how do we square this, though? - because he also acknowledged that there have been delays in service. So why is this a good time to divert resources from the Postal Service?
COMER: I don't think we're diverting resources from the Postal Service. The Postal Service has $15 billion cash on hand. They also have an access to a $10 billion line of credit that we approved in the CARES Act a few months ago that they've not tapped into.
KELLY: The post office itself has asked Congress for more money. This isn't Democrats making it up.
COMER: The post office asked - the former postmaster general asked the post office for more money in March, when they feared that there would be a devastating downturn in mail when, actually, because of e-commerce, because of so many retail stores shuttering, the post office saw an increase in package delivery. So the post office has actually done better - much better - than they would have projected in March at the onset of the pandemic.
KELLY: I mean, I think you get what's making a lot of people nervous. I'm sure you're hearing from constituents in your own state, in Kentucky, about delays in service. And then they combine that with the president himself suggesting he opposes new funding for USPS in order to stop people from voting by mail.
COMER: And the post office is very important in my district in rural Kentucky and all of rural America, but I've been getting complaints on the post office for two decades now. So I don't think anything the postmaster general has done will affect the mail. Voters can have confidence that they can vote absentee as long as they vote early enough. You wait till the last minute to vote, it wouldn't matter who's postmaster general. That ballot may not get there in time. So as long as people vote early, I don't think there'll be any delays in the - absentees in the mail or any other delays in mail.
KELLY: We just have a few seconds left, so a yes or no answer, if I may - can Americans be confident that the Postal Service will safely manage all the electoral mail and that everybody's ballot will be counted?
KELLY: Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, thanks so much for joining me.
COMER: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: And we'll be hearing from the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Carolyn Maloney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.