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Lawmakers question USPS board member's role in choice of postmaster general

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Washington — Two Democratic lawmakers sent a letter on Thursday questioning the role of a member of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors in the recent selection of Louis DeJoy as postmaster general, saying the process that led to his appointment was "highly irregular."

After assuming the role in June following his predecessor's retirement, DeJoy began implementing several operational changes to the Postal Service, which led to delays in mail delivery and concerns about the agency's ability to handle the influx of absentee ballots expected ahead of the November election. DeJoy later backtracked and said the changes would be "suspended" until after the election, but that has done little to quell concerns by Democrats about potential political influence on the Postal Service.

In a letter to board member John Barger, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Congresswoman Katie Porter noted that the firm Russell Reynolds Associates was contracted to research and recommend a new candidate for postmaster general, who is elected by the nine-person Board of Governors. The two lawmakers said DeJoy was not recommended by the firm but by Barger directly.

"According to individuals familiar with the process, Mr. Louis DeJoy was never recommended by this firm but was rather introduced by you to the selection committee," Krishnamoorthi and Porter wrote. "It would have been irregular for a member of the USPS Board of Governors, such as yourself, to recommend Mr. DeJoy without the consultation, research, or support of the contracted hiring firm Russell Reynolds Associates."

Krishnamoorthi and Porter are both members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on Monday with DeJoy and Robert Duncan, the chairman of the Board of Governors.

The two wrote that the former vice chairman of the Board of Governors, David Williams, had raised concerns about the process that culminated in DeJoy's selection. Barger told The New York Times that he "never heard an objection from David Williams about any of the candidates, other than the ones we did not hire." Williams resigned as vice chairman in April, shortly before DeJoy was appointed.

Krishnamoorthi and Porter wrote that members of their staff contacted Williams, who was inspector general of the USPS during the Obama administration. The two said that Williams told them, "I had expressed concerns after each of the interviews with Mr. Louis DeJoy. I urged that a background investigation be conducted. And when I resigned, I cited it as one of my reasons for submitting my resignation to Chairman Robert Duncan."

Krishnamoorthi and Porter noted that Barger has an "extensive record" of financial contributions to Republican Party officials, and that he had made several donations to them while he sat on the USPS Board of Governors. Barger was appointed by President Trump in August 2019.

The two lawmakers are asking Barger whether he considered recommendations from Russell Reynolds Associates, whether other candidates had been recommended by the firm and whether Duncan suggested or requested that Barger recommend DeJoy. They also want to know if he discussed the DeJoy recommendation with GOP officials or with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and whether Williams raised concerns about the recommendation.

"The appointment of Mr. Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General was highly irregular and we are concerned that his candidacy may have been influenced by political motivations," Krishnamoorthi said in a statement to CBS News. "We need to get to the bottom of why Mr. DeJoy was considered."

In addition to his service on the Board of Governors, Barger is a managing partner at NorthernCross Partners, an investment and advisory firm based in Los Angeles, and a director at NanoLumens, a Georgia company that makes LED light displays. NanoLumens received a loan of between $1 to 2 million from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Barger also gave $10,000 to the Republican National Committee in December 2019, after he was named to the USPS Board of Governors.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Duncan on Wednesday calling for the release of materials related to DeJoy's selection and for more information any role that Mr. Trump or Mnuchin played in the search process.

DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he would suspend the operational changes that led to delays in mail delivery. In a statement, he said he was doing so "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail." Democrats have called on DeJoy to reverse the changes altogether and are pressing forward with legislation aimed at forcing him to do so.

At the request of the Democrats, the inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service launched an investigation into the recent changes made by DeJoy. Democrats also requested that the inspector general assess whether DeJoy and his wife — who "reportedly own assets worth tens of millions of dollars in Postal Service competitors and contractors," according to a statement from Senator Elizabeth Warren's office — have fully complied with ethics requirements.

The House is scheduled to return to Washington on Saturday to take up legislation that prohibits the Postal Service from making any changes to its operations or levels of service until the end of the pandemic. On Wednesday, 90 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that the USPS Board of Governors remove DeJoy from his position immediately.

Barger and Duncan will also be appearing at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday.

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