With no clear recourse to immediately remove him, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is widely expected to remain in his role after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in next month, leaving in place one of the most controversial figures of the Trump era as Biden seeks to reshape the federal government in his image.
A former logistics company executive and Republican donor with close ties to President Donald Trump, DeJoy imposed sweeping changes at the agency that slowed mail service over the summer, prompting accusations that his efforts could undermine the presidential vote. Few leaders in the Trump administration garnered as much scrutiny in recent months -- and few are as inextricably linked to the president for whom they served – as DeJoy.
Biden himself once derided DeJoy as "the president's guy," and congressional Democrats have repeatedly called on DeJoy to resign or be removed, citing allegations of mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and possible campaign finance violations.
But the postmaster general cannot be removed by a president. That power lies with the Postal Service's governing board -- whose six sitting members were all appointed by President Trump as a result of a Republican-controlled Senate blocking a slate of President Barack Obama's nominees.
"If DeJoy leaves on his own, that's his choice," said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union. "But if he doesn't leave on his own, that becomes a decision for the [Postal Service] Board of Governors -- not a decision for the president of the United States."
In recent public remarks, DeJoy -- who has donated millions of dollars to Republican causes and whom Trump once called "a friend of mine" -- has repeatedly indicated that he has no intention of stepping down, pledging before the election to see his cost-cutting initiatives through "no matter who is president," and laying out plans for the future of the beleaguered mail agency at a Postal Service board meeting earlier this month.
Many of the Postal Service's board members have also publicly endorsed DeJoy's performance -- an indication that his job is safe for the foreseeable future.
John Barger, a member of the board, praised DeJoy in September as a "tremendously gifted" leader who "is doing a tremendous job" as postmaster general.
"The board is tickled pink -- every single board member -- with the impact he's having," Barger told lawmakers.
The Biden transition team did not respond to inquiries about DeJoy's future, and a Postal Service spokesperson declined to say whether DeJoy planned to stay on, instead providing a statement that read, "The Postmaster General is not a political appointee, and his term is not affected by a Presidential transition."
Sources familiar with the Biden transition team's planning acknowledged that DeJoy will almost certainly remain as postmaster general -- at least until Biden can appoint new members to the Board of Governors, which could take months or years.
The board is currently comprised of six members, all of whom were nominated by Trump and approved by the Republican-controlled Senate. By law, the group must remain bipartisan, and the current slate includes two Democrats and four Republicans -- including Robert Duncan, the board's current chair and a longtime friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Board of Governors can have up to nine members. However a dispute between McConnell and Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2015 and 2016 left the board vacant, with a slate of President Obama's nominees left without a confirmation hearing.
The McConnell-Sanders standoff, which industry experts chalked up to rising partisan tides in the Senate and long-simmering union disputes, left Trump with the unprecedented opportunity to stack the board with his preferred nominees, who in turn appointed DeJoy as postmaster general in June 2020.
Biden will come into office with the option to fill the remaining three seats on the board. Congressional aides and industry leaders said that if Biden can quickly appoint politically aligned governors to the board, they could tip the scale and remove DeJoy.
Another option, a Democratic Senate aide suggested, would be for Biden to immediately fire all or some of the six governors "for cause," as a 2006 law allows, and appoint an entirely new board.
But with a slew of foreign and domestic policy priorities welcoming Biden into office -- not the least of which is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic -- industry experts and congressional aides said quick executive action remains unlikely.
In Congress, where DeJoy has drawn some of the more withering verbal critiques in recent months, aides to Senate Democrats have acknowledged that their hands are also tied.
Ahead of the election, several high-profile Democrats called on the Board of Governors to "reverse any and all changes put in place by Mr. DeJoy that degrade or delay postal operations and the delivery of the mail."
"Should [DeJoy] not cooperate with these efforts, you have the authority, under the Postal Reorganization Act, to remove the Postmaster General," the coalition of Democrats wrote in a letter to the Board of Governors.
Congressional Democrats and outside government watchdog groups have also highlighted potential conflicts of interest related to DeJoy's private finances -- including at least a $30 million stake in his former company, XPO Logistics, and other investments in Postal Service competitors, like Amazon and UPS.
The Postal Service inspector general confirmed in August that her office would investigate whether DeJoy's holdings amounted to a breach of ethics laws, but in October determined that DeJoy had met "requirements related to disclosure, recusal, and divestment." The inspector general's office noted that DeJoy initially opted to recuse himself from matters that might conflict with his financial stakes, but ultimately agreed to divest from certain holdings -- a process that remains ongoing and that will "take an undetermined amount of time" to complete, the agency watchdog wrote.
After the board refuted lawmakers' calls for DeJoy's removal, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused board members of a "dereliction of duty," and characterized DeJoy's tenure at the mail agency as "defined by conflict, sabotage, incompetence and politicization."
Michael Plunkett, the CEO of the Association of Postal Commerce, a trade group for commercial mailers, explained that politicization of the mail agency is exactly why removing a postmaster general is so difficult. A 1970 overhaul of the agency sought, in part, to better insulate its leadership "from political pressure," Plunkett said.
"The intent was to depoliticize the agency and to make it function more like a business enterprise," he added. "That's the underlying reason why it's not easy for a postmaster general to be taken out by a change in an election."