Senate Homeland Security Committee grills postmaster general on USPS changes

Cornell University professor Rick Geddes, who studies the U.S. postal system, offers his take on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s proposed changes to USPS and testimony before Congress.
15:11 | 08/21/20

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Transcript for Senate Homeland Security Committee grills postmaster general on USPS changes
You've been watching those. It's the United States Postal Service. To the senate homeland security committee the committee called this hearing over concerns that recent cuts of the service. Would mean delays for mail in ballots in the presidential election this fall. At a Postal Service says they are ready and able to handle election now. Joining us now is Cornell University professor Rick caddies who studies US postal system professor Getty thanks for joining me today. Thanks for inviting me. When I found out about it and did it had the reaction then we did I can't answer I've suspended. Left the election. Well we've heard about disorders you address that earlier when you'll be bringing back any mail sorting machines that have been removed those since you've become postmaster general any of those combat. There's no intention to do that they're not meet its. You will not bring back any processors. And not needed sir. So this seems to hit on the crux of a lot of his responses which is a these changes happen before I even got here and their routine for the Postal Service. And to some of these things that have been removed are because they're not necessary readers modernizing what's your take on the. Yes so Diane I think the the postmaster general is it isn't in a tough spot but I agree with a lot of what he said. I think you have to assess what he's saying in the back with in the backdrop of the postal service's tremendous fiscal challenges. So its core business is delivery of first class letters. And cards and that business actually peaked. In 2001. So almost twenty years ago it's declined by 47%. Since then so almost half that's also their most profitable class. But they still have this so what he coat we are called the universal service obligation imposed service. Which is to learn to delivered to basically every address the United States six days a week. And that's expensive to do so they're looking for various cost cutting. Ways without layoffs Diane. That's the keys so the closure Parcells post offices has been going on for a long time. I think we also should note that that the sorting machines issue is a regional manager issue. You know not the decision to remove every. Sorting machine goes through alarmed foreign plows and Washington as is on the postmaster general's desk. And but I think he's doing the right thing in terms of putting a stopper slowing down some of those processes. Prior to the election Diane because I think the optics of that are very bad. For the Postal Service at it was created in 1970 BA an independent agency within the executive branch. So independent you know a politics hopefully. And I think he's doing a good job and terms of putting the brakes. Bonds on some of those things I think we also. She keep in mind that the their removal of the blue collection boxes that were all familiar with has been ongoing for ten years. So there are a lot of these these cost cutting things that are without layoffs keep in mind. That they post postmaster general's prior to. Missed shall enjoy have been doing for a long time to avoid the tide of red ink. That we're seeing me lost 2.2 billion dollars in their third quarter which ended June 30 they're predicting a ten billion dollar loss for this year so they have a real. Serious fiscal challenge on their hands Diane. They sure do and it you know one of the things that he points to is is male being down the packages being up to the trying to get rid of these sorting machines to make more room. To process the packages because that's where things are heading. Does that mean that the fact that we're about to have what seems ago largely male an election with all these ballots going out change that at all temporarily. Well. I it's it's a good question I had my guess is the sorting machines. I'm not an expert on sorting machines but they're mostly to handle flat. A matter of I think most up parcels need to be. Sorted by hand you know its price topped it to sort Parcells and packets. Through a machine and I'm guessing here. I definitely my question is it bed to talk about you know it sounds like that the argument is we don't process envelopes as much anymore because people don't send as much traditional mail process more packages but. The ballots are going out and envelopes correct so could that change for temporarily for November where they will have to deal with an influx of envelopes. Yeah sir perhaps temporarily damp but again might asserted Maine take home point is that the reserve. Underlying economic problems that the Postal Service has been facing for an. Decades of you know for years if not decades so there's decisions about these their multimillion dollar giant sorting machines. And the regional managers have been looking. You know for ways to keep costs down for a long time I think the the the coded. Was largely unpredictable. And the we all know that the cove it has increased the the interest and focus on mail in balloting. And my guesses that post may assert the senior managers in the regional managers. Had no idea that the the Mellon ballots we're gonna be so important. In other words it was an issue that came up on the Postal Service. Very quickly I think diet and their their kind of having to scramble particularly as I said about the optics but the idea of Rick you know re re moving her. Reducing the number of sorting machines that sort first class mail that's down by almost half. You know it is is an old management decision I'm sure. But again the optics evident with co bit and mail in balloting. Making mail in balloting were urgent. You know I think it is is cause the Postal Service. Allow a lot of attention that is perhaps unwanted. On what should be regular managerial decisions. So given especially senator has sons concerns that in her district for example she saw post office where. The sorting machine that was left went down and there was no back up because they've gotten rid of the back up and so that delayed things. Does it concern you at all given that context that. They're saying they're not going to be bringing back any of these machines or do you feel comfortable with this assurance that the post office. Can handle this influx. So there I I think they can. And I've been studying post service inserting 1993. Or 94. So long time I have tremendous. Had I been critical of its organizational and regulatory structure. Which would book came up in the hearing today. But I have enormous respect for both the UV ever you know lined postal worker as well as than the managers and senior management. Because they have a very very tough public mission. But I think they are they are going to be successful the mail will get delivered. It again it might be a little bit delayed because of the removal of some of those machines has been in the works for years so I think voters should really be prepared. You know first Phares a slightly slower mail process. But the ballots will get delivered the post service will deliver the mail. Sure to leave adequate time is that accurate. Yes sir verso was not my letter was a letter from on General Counsel idea. Warning out all the different variations that we could experience in how Grassley good process yes your time we get that balance. Else was sent Alex. The day before the election. It's almost impossible to through us to. Now for devoted to vote could have put him to bow to get to devote would have voted to vote and third to get back in time but it. But he election so this was. Me a very very well thought out after he safeguard. The election not to get in the way of safeguard the processing of ballots not to get in a way. What advice would you give voters this is an opportunity used to the voters of Ohio and country. Would you advise him to wait to last manner reviewed by the end the week. General word around his little old girl. There they go there's the advice from the press master general we've also heard about the you know issues and in some other areas of the ballots getting there are not being counted. Because of errors on the ballots what's your advice to people who are planning to vote by mail and how to they insure that their vote is counted. Where again Diane I think the the advice is to. Investigate the process this is done at the state level but the Postal Service op pup rates at the federal level. And you know and so it has its own sort of national constraints. People should know their state election rules if they wanna vote. You know by mail. But they each they should definitely do it earlier Mena as it was brought up in the hearing. Postal Service is ready for the holiday season Mother's Day and then around you know the holidays around Christmas are its peak times they're ready for that. But this is something I think it was unexpected. You know in terms of the affects them and certainly covad related. Impacts on the desire to vote by mail was something that was really unpredictable body anyone. And post services it I think he's doing a tremendous job too sort of but quickly adjust. So that increased demand but that you know it's not magic I mean they have to. You know there's a lot that has to happen to to make the deliveries on time. So I'm urging everyone just like the pros mr. generals said took to understand the rules in your state. But also to vote early to give the Postal Service time to get that delivered you know on time for the election. And and finally in terms of finance you know one of the challenges that Detroit touched done and that it sounds acute your touching on as well as that. The post office does have a mission right now by legislation to be self sufficient and currently that's that's really challenging they're trying to operate this sort of business but they're also a government entity. Funding seems to be a key point in this and despite the fact that he says the post office is ready to handle all this mail. The jury also said they they need help here they needed especially to cover. Covad losses so how do you think this all bodes for the legislation being considered in congress right now. So so Diana. It hit in Canada perverse way I'm actually happy that the Postal Service is getting all this attention. Because people who study the issue have known for years that it's in a serious fiscal bind in the underlying economics of postal services. You know is it makes it very difficult to meet that breakeven requirements. That you mentioned so I think. You know what that the taxpayers are going to be giving the Postal Service more money. Mothers to cover the cove and related losses or other losses but I think what they should demand Diane. Is that we bring our postal policy and regulation. Up to what just about every other developed country I'm aware of has done in terms of reform. And that's liberalizing and so that's basically giving Postal Service management. And senior management more control over how they run the Postal Service subject to the fact that they meet that USO. That I mentioned which is the universal service obligation that's should be precisely defined in law and it's not. Precisely define. Right now. And then covers should compensate the Postal Service for the losses so so you your recall postmaster general enjoy. Call he called it an unfunded mandate. But what he's referring to is the cost of meeting the universal service obligation to those rural areas. And that's fine to have that US so. But you know. It's very hard for the Postal Service to meet that USO and break even in the face of a massively declining market so I think we we need to. Undertake some serious postal reform and look to what the rest particularly Europe. But what the rest of the world has done in terms of modernizing their posts. Any final thought so. They and their confidence or concern for people at home. A poor planning to vote this November by and yes yes. Yes Diane says so I urge everybody to. You don't and be grateful for the Postal Service at this time to have confidence and the Postal Service. It might be slower because because the unexpected it's and it's not just ballots Diana's other election mature are coming in at this time. That's not ballots so the post service going to be dealing with a lot of added volume. They will deliver the mail but it might beat slower. You know than it would be but to toot toot beat have confidence. In that process and I think to be grateful that there's people he's only been at the job a little over sixty days. You know it and to have that have all this thrown at him in that short time coming from the private sector but I think you know having a private sector person who can. It introduced modern logistics techniques into the delivery of males a good thing for the country at this time but I think people should have that confidence but also. Be ready to mail in your ballot early. But I don't we do both of those things in terms of you know how to howry supposed to accept that. We can handle it everything's fine and volume is down which is why we can make these cutbacks but also there's going to be this big in flux so make sure you get. Your votes in early and also be patient if there are delays it feels like those are conflicting messages. I don't know I mean. I guess hopefully people can (%expletive) find the sweet spot in there. You know they can optimize in the sense of of how early they you know they wanted to get their ballot in. If they do you plan to to vote by mail. But I think you know as I said before I think this is actually an opportunity Diane I think we saw it come through the hearing today. For Americans to focus on the Postal Service and it's serious challenges. And the laws and regulations surrounding that are outdated. And actually look at that is you know sort of the silver lining. In the cloud. You know written regarding all the controversy that has surrounded the Postal Service spent much of that I think it's unfair. Yeah we know those challenges are not new and hopefully you're right this is a silver lining were at least those challenges can be addressed professor Geddes we so appreciate your time today thank you. Thank you and thank you all at home for joining us we will have continuing updates right here an ABC news live throughout the day and a complete wrap up tonight at 7 PM eastern on ABC news live prime. With Lindsey Davis thank you all for joining us and Diana say to have a great day.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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