A day early or, if you prefer, a few long pandemic years too late, the federal government’s offer to mail free, rapid coronavirus tests to every American went live last week. So did the latest test of a surprisingly controversial proposition: that it might be incumbent upon an ostensibly large nation to maintain a functioning postal system.
President Joe Biden has thus launched headlong into a business that his own press secretary explicitly dismissed as nonsense a little over a month ago. Not that it’s hard to understand why a professional political communicator would instinctively steer his boss away from a company with the magical, ominous quality of the proverbial chicken in each pan: magic if it more or less works; ominous if, like the fowl fatally promised by Herbert Hoover’s supporters, it congeals into a government promise shattered by anti-government ideology that undermines crucial public services.
Illustrating the scale and challenges of the mobilization, COVIDtests.gov — the soothingly simple site deployed by an administration with many difficult memories of Healthcare.gov – apparently reaches one million concurrent visitors the day it debuted, multiple times the next busiest government site, US Postal Service package tracking. As it happens, COVIDtests.gov is also directing visitors directly to the Postal Service, putting the blind agency at the center of a pivotal trial of the federal feature.
It’s nonetheless chilling and appropriate to find the Postal Service, and in particular DeJoy’s Postal Service, responsible for the hefty logistical effort. In the first year of his presidency, Biden is under extraordinary pressure to demonstrate the competence he has advertised, and the bizarre conventions of American politics and media dictate that his competence be judged against a Platonic standard rather than by the shattering incompetence of his immediate predecessor. .
DeJoy is a top Republican donor, former executive and current investor in a private shipping company that contracts with the Postal Service and, according to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, “the worst postmaster general in modern history. from America”. It is the apotheosis of decades of unsuccessful postal policy stemming from the fundamental and fundamentally ridiculous right-wing idea that government, which is by definition not a business, should be more professional.
Dating back to the Second Continental Congress, which appointed Benjamin Franklin as Postmaster General in 1775, the lineage of the United States Postal Service is older than the United States. Designed to unite a vast, diverse and predominantly rural nation, it remains the most significant federal presence for much of the country and the epitome of a basic government function.
As the Congressional Office of General Accountability noted in 2020, the Postal Service “is dedicated to providing prompt, reliable, and efficient universal postal service, and federal law requires the USPS to “provide postal services for bind the nation through the personal, educational, literary and commercial correspondence of the people. USPS is obligated to serve, as much as possible, the entire population of the United States.”
It is therefore strange but not a coincidence that he has also become a favorite target of conservative anti-government experimentation. This set the Postal Service in check, perpetually fulfilling the false prophecy that undermined it in the first place.
The agency was a Cabinet-level department, placing the Postmaster General in the presidential line of succession, from Reconstruction until 1970. This was the year Richard Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act, which transformed it into a single Crown corporation, supposedly self-governing and run by an appointed board of directors by the president. This latest arrangement ensures that DeJoy, Donald Trump’s choice for postmaster, is still running the service a year into Biden’s term.
In 2006, as email and other technologies undermined the public’s willingness to line up for stamps, George W. Bush signed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was supposed to give the agency more flexibility to maintain itself by fixing prices. But the law also piled on new obligations, including that of funding retiree healthcare costs for the next 75 years old.
How did it work? As the GAO succinctly put it, “The USPS must operate as a financially self-sufficient entity; however, this is not the case.
This could be explained by the fact that “federal laws define the level of postal services…postal products and pricing. … Thus, there can be a tension between attempting to fulfill public service missions while operating in an efficient, commercial and financially self-sustaining manner.
Enter DeJoy, who set out to solve this largely invented problem with a plan to reduce post office hours, eliminate mailboxes and reduce carrier overtime, regardless of the impact on the mail delivery. Even in the best-case scenario, these measures might have been unpopular with an audience extremely well disposed towards the postal service. They were all the more so as they got their start in the teeth of a mismanaged pandemic that forced Americans to rely more on the Postal Service for goods, services and even elections. At the same time, DeJoy’s godfather, then President Trump, was waging a calculated rhetorical blitzkrieg against the reliability of voting by mail as if Americans hadn’t since the Civil War.
DeJoy backed down amid the outcry, and the agency’s inspector general later found his handling of election mail had gone missing. surprisingly well. But the postmaster returned last year with a 10-year austerity plan that has already had many of the feared knock-on effects on services, especially in the rural areas that depend on them the most.
To be fair, the Postal Service operates like a business in one notable way, according to the Center for Public Integrity: by tricking its rank-and-file employees and overpay its leaders — among them DeJoy, who has earned about as much as Biden last year while enjoying perks like airline club membership and retirement advice.
Unfortunately, DeJoy was not introduced to this retreat before his agency was tasked with nationwide implementation of an overdue public health precaution. As Sanders put it, “Given the deterioration of the Postal Service under Mr. DeJoy, how can anyone trust that these life-saving tests will be delivered to the American people in a timely and efficient manner? I think the obvious answer to that question is that they can’t.
DeJoy is still Postmaster General, but Ben Franklin isn’t. His leadership, and the ill-conceived legislative structure that enables it, inspires little confidence in the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to serve as a venerable and crucial public institution.