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Rep. Katie Porter quizzed the postmaster general about the mail. He didn’t do great.

How much does it cost to send a postcard? Don’t ask the guy in charge of the mail.

US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on August 24, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 
Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee Monday that he came to the United States Postal Service to apply his experience in logistics to help the USPS “grow and evolve in the path of sustainability.”

But during the hearing, he revealed that he’s still a tad unfamiliar with the agency he is set to reform.

That came out in questioning from Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who used her time to quiz DeJoy about postal service basics. She started out by asking DeJoy what the price of a first-class stamp is. DeJoy responded, correctly, that the cost is 55 cents.

But Porter kept going. “What about to mail a postcard?” she asked.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” DeJoy replied. He also missed a question on greeting cards.

“I’ll submit that I know very little about postage stamps,” DeJoy said.

Porter asked about packages (DeJoy went 1 for 2) and then got to voting: “Within a million or so, can you tell me how many people voted by mail in the last presidential election?” Porter asked.

“No, I cannot,” DeJoy responded. Porter asked then if he could estimate it to the nearest 10 million.

“I would be guessing, and I don’t want to guess,” DeJoy answered.

“So, Mr. DeJoy, I’m concerned,” Porter replied. “I’m glad you know the price of a stamp, but I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency. And I’m particularly concerned about it because you started taking very decisive action when you became postmaster general.” Porter noted the unplugging of mail-sorting machines, changing employee procedures, and locking collection boxes.

Porter then asked DeJoy if he had analyzed the major overhaul plans before they took effect. DeJoy responded that he “did not order major overhaul plans” and that they were in effect before he arrived.

So Porter asked if DeJoy could say who did put those plans in place. “If you did not order these actions to be taken, please tell the committee the name of who did.”

“I do not know,” DeJoy responded.

When Porter asked if he would commit to reversing the changes, DeJoy replied that he would not.

Porter’s direct questioning helped get at two of the central questions that are still unclear about DeJoy’s tenure at the USPS: whether he knew the recent changes would cause delays in delivering the mail, and how seriously lawmakers should take his assurances that these delays will be temporary and not affect mail-in voting.

As in his Friday testimony before a Senate committee, DeJoy on Monday acknowledged delays had occurred but distanced himself from some of the cost-cutting measures — including taking sorting machines offline, changing overtime policy, and removing blue boxes. He said he’d since suspended those measures in response to the public outcry and perceptions of what it meant for the upcoming November elections, in which a record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail because of the pandemic.

DeJoy said the only changes he directly implemented were stricter transportation schedules for mail trucks and a management reorganization. But even as he said he had nothing to do with other measures, he also said he’s not reversing any of the changes that have already taken place, such as putting the decommissioned sorting machines back online.

Yet he still promised that the USPS is “fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s ballots securely and on time. This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and Election Day.”

Despite DeJoy’s assurances, he has not yet given Congress a detailed plan on how he’ll make sure that happens. And Porter’s questions reinforced DeJoy’s contradictions: He’s not responsible for many of the cost-cutting measures, but he was able to suspend them. He didn’t analyze the potential fallout from those changes because they went into effect before his tenure started, but he isn’t going to reverse them.

DeJoy, a Trump ally, again denied any political motivations for messing with the mail, even as Democrats questioned him on potential conflicts of interest (something the inspector general at USPS is currently reviewing). But Porter’s questioning showed why there’s still cause for concern about what’s going on at the Postal Service, and how decisions are being made.

House Democrats have tried to remedy this with legislation, passing a bill on Saturday that would give $25 billion to the post office and prevent changes in service until at least the end of the year. But Republicans are largely opposed, citing DeJoy’s own statements that the USPS has enough money, and so is the White House.

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