Ever since noted Republican megadonor and Trump supporter Louis DeJoy became postmaster general of the United States Postal Service in 2020, he and Democrats have engaged in the same song and dance on several occasions. Democrats want DeJoy to do something, whether that means keeping sorting machines in operation during an unprecedented surge in mail volume or speeding up the mail or not executing a plan to slow down the mail. DeJoy responds by saying, almost in so many words, make me. The Democrats do not make him. And the cycle repeats.
On Wednesday, the USPS and Democrats entered the cycle anew as the fight over the USPS’ next vehicle fleet intensified. A year ago, the USPS awarded a massive contract to procure at least 50,000 and up to 165,000 new delivery vans from a military contractor. Few if any of the vans will be electric, despite the fact that the Biden administration issued an executive order calling on the federal government to procure EVs and bucking an industry trend towards electric vehicles. Due to the vagaries of USPS governance and procurement practices—it embodies all the flaws government procurement has to offer and all of the flaws corporate unaccountability has to offer into one super-flawed operation—it was always unlikely the USPS would buy EVs even though EVs make total sense for the USPS.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and Congressional Democrats are once again challenging the decision to buy gas vans. The EPA says the USPS’ environmental analysis was flawed (as they so often are) while Democrats are once again calling for DeJoy to resign or be fired by the Board of Governors, which oversees the USPS. While Biden has appointed three people to the nine-member Board, it is far from clear they would support firing DeJoy. The USPS continues to defend the gas van purchase on the grounds of fiscal responsibility, claiming EVs are too expensive, a dubious claim given the potential long-term savings in fuel and maintenance.
Aside from the specific argument about whether it is wise or fiscally prudent to buy 150,000 or so gas cars in the decade from 2023 to 2033, there is a bigger picture here, one about the exercising of power in modern America. The USPS is a peculiar organization, neither entirely a part of the federal government nor wholly a private corporation. Biden cannot order the USPS to do something. But, Congress can pass laws ordering the USPS to do something. And currently, Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. If Democrats wanted to notch a small but meaningful victory in the fight against climate change which is ostensibly an uncontroversial part of the party platform, they could pass a law that requires the USPS to procure electric vehicles and gives it the up-front funds to do so. And, as far as these things go, such a law could be crafted to achieve broad support, or what passes for broad support in this day and age. This isn’t terribly controversial stuff. Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and postal services around the world are all buying as many EV delivery vans as they can find.
The problem here is that virtually everyone in America, up to and including members of Congress, view Congress passing laws as the worst, most difficult, and unlikeliest solution to any problem, even though that’s the avenue through which the government is supposed to do most things. As a result, our government does very few things. Hardly news to anyone, but we have a dysfunctional government. Examples abound, but the USPS vehicle procurement is a profound example, one where even if a party controls Congress and the presidency it still punts on the easiest of questions, calling on others to solve their problems for them rather than getting to work doing the thing they clearly have responsibility over.
DeJoy keeps responding to the Democrats the same way because it keeps working. As everyone—but especially Democrats in power—strain and struggle to wield that power like a toddler poking at a remote, pressing random buttons hoping something finally works, “make me” are the two most effective words in Washington.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Democrats control all three branches of government. They obviously do not, because the judicial branch is a nonpolitical body. Democrats control the executive and legislative branches. The article has been corrected to fix this dumb error.