An unpopular appointee entered the fray at a deeply dysfunctional federal agency. Prior to joining the agency, the appointee made a name for himself in the private sector. And, once being named head of the agency, the appointee immediately began setting his sights on real meaningful reform. Critics warned of an apocalypse, and some protesters even stalked the new agency leader at home as punishment for his reform agenda.
This sounds an awful lot like the experience of the new United States Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General (PMG) Louis DeJoy, but it also matches the trials and travails of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai. But, as Pai learned early on, pursuing reform is worth it even in the face of considerable hatred and hardship. The internet is now stronger and more resilient than it ever has been before, and the mail system can enjoy a similar renaissance with the right reforms. Chicken littles are a dime-a-dozen, but DeJoy can and must ignore the haters and follow Pai’s lead in reforming a deeply troubled agency.
Since assuming the PMG role at the USPS on June 15, DeJoy has wasted little time in reforming the beleaguered organization. He found that unnecessary overtime delivery trips were costing the agency more than $200 million per year, so he immediately set out to make a dent in these costs. In “stand-up” talks with employees across the country, postal management instructed workers to wait to deliver mail until the next day if it arrives late from processing centers. As long as mail processing efficiency is also improved, these changes have the potential to cut down on overtime costs while even improving on-time percentages (which have been sliding over the years).
Critics have already taken these changes to be the beginning of the end of the USPS. Lawmakers, former presidents, and even famed musicians have accused DeJoy of kneecapping and dismantling the USPS. In reality, about 95% of mail is either being delivered on time or running a day or less behind schedule. And, marketing mail (how election mail is usually sent to voters) is actually running a bit ahead of schedule.
But the critics aren’t placated by the evidence, and DeJoy has to fear for his family’s safety. On the morning of Aug. 15, activists affiliated with a group called Shut Down D.C. staged a “noise demonstration” outside of the postmaster general’s house. Protesters sought to counter the alleged “dismantling” of the USPS by banging on pots and pans outside of DeJoy’s residence and stuffing fake absentee ballots through the agency leader’s apartment lobby door.
Pai found himself in a similar situation after taking the helm of the FCC in 2017. Similar to DeJoy, he immediately got to work in addressing the problems caused by longstanding agency policies. Onerous Title II regulations promulgated by his predecessor had led to a sharp drop in broadband investment. Meanwhile, internet providers offering free services to low-income consumers faced the risk of federal investigations and unfavorable guidance. Pai nixed these needless rules in his first year as chairman, but rocking the boat certainly wasn’t easy. Protesters showed up to Pai’s home threatening him and his family. According to the chairman, they “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”
Hysterical articles declared the imminent death of the internet. But as you can see reading this article, the internet is alive and well. Download speeds are increasing even amid a surge of usage due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And Pai isn’t done. He has continued making strides to bridge the digital divide, streamlining pole attachment regulations for 5G devices and clearing historic amounts of spectrum. Like his counterpart at the FCC, DeJoy cannot back down in the face of hysteria and unnecessary congressional hearings. Addressing overtime costs is just the tip of the iceberg for the USPS, which lost nearly $9 billion last year. In a 2019 report, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance suggested cutting down on bloated middle-mile delivery contracts, which result in $1 billion worth of wasteful spending per year. In addition, the USPS must take a wholesale look at prices to ensure that delivery costs are being covered.
Reform is never easy, but DeJoy has what it takes to go the way of Pai and enact real, lasting reforms. The internet hasn’t died, and neither will the U.S. postal system.
Reform should be rewarded and not punished by unruly mobs. If the federal government is to succeed in reforming the bureaucracy, real courage is needed, not just window dressing. Pai and DeJoy have dared to make the difficult choices that will benefit taxpayers and consumers.
Ross Marchand is the vice president of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.