South Bay expert among witnesses at subcommittee hearing on postal chief

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This article originally appeared in The San Jose Spotlight.

By Katie King

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The head of the U.S. Postal Service is unfit for the job, according to multiple witnesses and lawmakers who spoke at a heated Sept. 14 House subcommittee hearing.

“We have a crony at the helm of our nation’s postal service, a man rife with conflicts of interest and potential violations of law,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Virginia, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations.

Louis DeJoy assumed the position of postmaster general on June 15. Five former employees at his previous company, New Breed Logistics, have since accused him of coercing his staff to donate to Republican candidates. The employees said those who cooperated were reimbursed with a bonus. DeJoy firmly denied the accusations at a House hearing in August.

DeJoy has also come under fire for his investments in companies that compete with the U.S. Postal Service, as well as for enacting various operational changes — such as removing mail-sorting machines from postal facilities — that have slowed down services prior to the November elections. DeJoy has defended the changes as necessary cost-cutting measures.

“I feel like I am stating the obvious but a businessman with absolutely no experience serving in the Postal Service should not have changed operational procedures without first grasping the negative impacts that they would have on our delivery,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, said at the hearing.

The subcommittee heard from five witnesses, including California Senate candidate Ann Ravel, a former Federal Election Commission chair and an adjunct professor at University of California Berkeley School of Law, and Richard Painter, a professor at University of Minnesota Law School and a former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

Painter said he was alarmed by DeJoy’s investments. He explained the Bush administration would never have permitted the head of a federal agency to have a conflict of interest.

“There is a grave risk that person will commit a crime when they are in office,” he said. “How can you run the post office and make decisions about scheduling the mail, about the specifications or contracts, about when the trucks leave, if you own millions of dollars of stock in a company that is trucking the mail around?”

Painter also urged lawmakers to thoroughly investigate the accusations from DeJoy’s former employees. He said reimbursing employees to make campaign donations is a felony.

Ravel, who taught campaign finance and ethics, agreed it was a serious offense. Ethics laws are crucial for protecting the integrity of the democratic process, she said, but the Federal Election Commission has frequently failed to properly enforce them. As a result, the laws are often disregarded.

“The failure of these protections led to where we are today with Mr. DeJoy who was skirting campaign finance laws knowing that with no consequences for violations he could instead be rewarded for his illegal and unethical acts,” she said.  “Now we have to be vigilant that our right to vote won’t be impacted by a politicized postal service.”

Another witness, Lisa Graves, told the subcommittee it was clear DeJoy was not properly vetted for his position. Graves is the executive director of True North Research, a policy research and watchdog organization.

The director called on DeJoy to resign or be fired amid the allegations that he violated campaign finance laws. She asked the committee to make a formal referral to the US Attorney’s Office to investigate.

Although many who spoke at the hearing shared concerns about DeJoy, some Republican legislators accused their Democratic counterparts of embracing baseless conspiracy theories.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, slammed the hearing as a farce. He said the subcommittee should instead focus on a postal reform bill that would help the agency stay afloat amid declining mail volume.

“Assembling a group of people like we are doing here today, regardless of their experience, to speculate with no more facts or information than what is printed in the Washington Post, is absolutely a waste of time,” he said. “This is, in my opinion, as close to a kangaroo court as anything I’ve seen.”

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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