Nearly 10,000 pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by the Washington Post depict an agency in financial distress long before the upheaval of a pandemic and national election. The documents mainly span March and April, and were obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group.
During this period, the USPS occasionally relied on legal advice from a Trump White House lawyer, Stefan Passantino, who is also part of a legal team preparing for the possibility of a contested election. Passantino was hired to help negotiate with the Trump administration and address the USPS’s financial concerns.
For years the USPS has operated in the red, trying to cover its mandated sky-high retirement costs leaving it $160.9 billion in debt. The pandemic would undoubtedly make it worse, with a predicted $23 billion loss over the next 18 months.
When the House proposed setting aside $25 billion in coronavirus relief to the agency, Trump threatened to veto any aid. They settled with a $10 billion loan in the CARES Act, which the Treasury Department was supposed to administer.
The documents include three separate email chains referencing calls with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other agency officials over nine days in early April. Two people familiar with the matter say Treasury drove a hard line, demanding operating control over the agency in exchange for the $10 billion congressionally approved loan. Such a demand was unprecedented, postal experts said, and appeared to lead the USPS to hire another law firm in the spring to study the legality of the issue. That firm, Mayer Brown, concluded that Treasury’s request was illegal.
In early March the USPS was inundated with e-mails of concerned employees and their spouses, many of whom were seeing the pandemic exploding in New York City. With over 630,000 employees, the USPS was on the front lines to deliver medicines, supplies, financial benefit checks, and other important items. Workers pleaded for protection, while union leaders and then Postmaster General Megan Brennan struggled with keeping the postal service running.
At one point in April, USPS leaders drafted a news release announcing plans to distribute 650 million masks nationwide, enough to offer five face coverings to every American household. The document, which includes quotations from top USPS officials and other specifics, was never sent. But it suggests that the government’s initial interest in tapping the Postal Service as part of its campaign to combat the coronavirus may have been far more advanced than initially reported this spring.
At the time the CDC was working on guidance that recommended face coverings, a reversal of its earlier position. The USPS was poised to help deliver to hard hit areas in Louisiana, King County, WA, Wayne County, MI, and New York. The White House nixed the plan.
“There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic,” one administration official said in response to the scrapped mask plan.
More to unravel in the Washington Post here.
Forbes recaps here.
Meanwhile, a report titled “Failure to Deliver” was delivered yesterday by Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters, and shows the mail service was slowed nationwide by the policies of Louis DeJoy.
DeJoy was not upfront about the policies he implemented, including arbitrary deadlines, allowing mail to pile up, and the removal of sorting equipment that happened two months ago. Peters says the on-time delivery has still not recovered.
Peters is pushing for Congress to pass his Delivering for America Act to prevent Postmaster General DeJoy from making further changes to harm the service during the pandemic.
Peters received 8,000 submissions from postal service employees and constituents across the country who shared with him their concerns about the mail delays.
See more at WOOD-TV.