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Former Deputy Postmaster General: Changes Are Needed, But 'The Time Is Not Now'

A customer deposits mail into a U.S. Postal Service mail collection box this week in Burbank, Calif.
Patrick T. Fallon
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A customer deposits mail into a U.S. Postal Service mail collection box this week in Burbank, Calif.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says any new controversial cost-cutting changes to the U.S Postal Service — such as slashing overtime, removing mailboxes from city streets and getting rid of mail-sorting machines — won't happen until after the general election in November. A record number of voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail then.

But many changes have already been made, including removal of some mail-sorting machines. DeJoy says the proposed changes were intended to cut costs and improve efficiency in the agency, which reported a loss of $9 billion last year.

Meanwhile, President Trump has said he opposes increasing funding for the agency because he wants to make it more difficult to expand voting by mail — before softening those statements.

Until June, Ron Stroman was the deputy postmaster general, a job in which he oversaw, among other things, election mail. He resigned shortly before DeJoy started.

The spotlight on the agency has highlighted the crucial role it plays, Stroman says.

"In times of crisis, whether it's a tornado or a hurricane or a once-in-a-generation pandemic, the Postal Service goes beyond just delivering the mail," Stroman told NPR's Leila Fadel. "It's a lifeline to American citizens, and you can't just operate this as a business as usual."

While political interference in the Postal Service isn't new, DeJoy, a Republican donor, has come under bipartisan criticism for making the changes in the first place. He is set to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday and the House Oversight Committee on Monday.

In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Stroman discussed why he left the Postal Service when he did, the politicization of the agency and how it can get its fiscal house in order.

Interview Highlights

On why he left the Postal Service in June, just before DeJoy started

It was certainly clear to me that when they hired Louis DeJoy, the board of governors [was] going in a completely different direction, and looking to bring someone in whose philosophy and approach, I think, to managing the Postal Service was probably inconsistent with my own philosophy. So after having considered that, I made a decision it was time for me to leave the Postal Service.

On how his philosophy differs from DeJoy's

I have not met Mr. DeJoy, so I do not know, but it seemed likely that there were going to be significant reductions in the Postal Service and possibly a move closer to more of a private-sector approach to the Postal Service, one which de-emphasized, I think, the overall mission of the Postal Service. So, having seen his background [as head of a private logistics company] and having seen some of the decisions that were being made, I made a decision that I thought it was in everybody's best interest that I leave.

On whether DeJoy is politicizing the Postal Service

To me, his intent is relatively irrelevant. The question is, what is the effect of what he is doing? And if the effect is to slow the mail, to potentially disenfranchise people, voters across the country, then I think we are all right to say these are initiatives that should certainly be halted.

On why the deeply in debt Postal Service shouldn't cut costs now

There need to be efficiency changes within the Postal Service, there's no question about that. The issue, though, is when you make those efficiency changes, and making them less than three months before a presidential election, in the middle of a pandemic, is such a high-risk proposition that it is ill-advised to make those changes right now.

The second thing I would say is that the benefit just simply doesn't outweigh the cost. You're talking about saving a little bit of money, but nowhere near enough money to stabilize the finances of the Postal Service. So I think the time is not now, and any additional changes or any changes should be halted, certainly until after the election.

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Peter Granitz