(AP) -- Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday announced plans to slow mail delivery standards and cut hours at some post offices as part of a 10-year strategy to stabilize the struggling agency.
Details of the long-awaited plan come at a time of intense scrutiny on the U.S. Postal Service over persistent delivery delays under DeJoy, a major GOP donor who took over the agency last summer. The plan also includes a proposal to consolidate underused post offices, hinted at a potential postage rate increase and detailed investments in new delivery vehicles, among other things.
Facing an expected $160 billion in losses over the next decade, DeJoy and postal executives stressed the need to cut costs and modernize the agency's operations as its workload increasingly shifts from handling letters to hauling more and more packages.
"This is about the long-term viability of the organization under the two missions that we have that are legislated, that is deliver to every house six days a week and be self-sustaining," DeJoy said. He announced the plans at a webinar with other postal service officials.
DeJoy said the biggest change would be a relaxing of the current first-class letter delivery standard of one-to-three-days to a one-to-five-day benchmark. Postal leadership said the longer timeframe would apply only to mail going to the farthest reaches of its network and that 70% of first-class mail will still be delivered within a three-day standard.
The agency said it will request advisory opinions from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission on potential changes to delivery standards as well as other initiatives that "change the nature of postal services on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis" according to federal law.
Democrats immediately criticized the plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would undermine the mission of the agency. Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, warned it could harm service for people who get prescription drugs and financial documents through the mail. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly said the strategy "guarantees the death spiral of the United States Postal Service."
Many Democrats have called for DeJoy to be removed from his post as delivery times have lagged across the country. Late last month, President Joe Biden named three nominees to the agency's governing board, which if approved, would give Democrats and Democratic appointees a majority on the panel and the ability to oust DeJoy through a vote. Currently, all six of the board's members were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Biden "has expressed concerns about the decision making in the past and the performance, at times, of the Postal Service -- not to speak to the men and women who are serving, but the leadership at the top. And those concerns remain."
DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO who took over the Postal Service last June, has been mired in controversy since taking over the agency.
Shortly after taking the position, DeJoy carried out a series of controversial policy changes that delayed mail before the 2020 election, fueling worry that he was sabotaging the agency on behalf of Trump, a vocal critic of mail-in voting. DeJoy has strongly disputed that claim and eventually suspended some of his changes following intense public pushback and a crush of legal challenges.
Despite the concerns, the agency said it processed and delivered at least 135 million ballots during the general election and that 99.7% of ballots were delivered to election officials within five days.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said the plan included some positive elements but urged the agency to prioritize on-time deliveries and other service standards.
"Any proposals that would either slow the mail, reduce access to post offices, or further pursue the failed strategy of plant consolidation will need to be addressed," he said in a statement. "The APWU will proactively engage with USPS's managers, the Postal Regulatory Commission, leaders in Congress and the public to address these issues."