Illinois’ congressional Democrats say Postal Service’s new online complaint portal should be canceled

Nine Illinois lawmakers sent a strongly-worded letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy outlining a series of problems with the new online portal.

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Flanked by other members of the Illinois congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks during a press conference outside Postal Service’s Chicago headquarters in August 2020. She was joined then by (from left) U.S. Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.).

Flanked by other members of the Illinois congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks during a press conference outside Postal Service’s Chicago headquarters last year. She was joined then by (from left) U.S. Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.).

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A new online portal for members of Congress to file constituents’ complaints with the U.S. Postal Service was touted as a way of streamlining the process, but a group of Illinois Democrats on Tuesday slammed it — and vowed not to use it.

The Congressional Entry Portal was launched three weeks ago. It allows U.S. lawmakers to file constituents’ complaints about the quality of their mail service. But on Tuesday, nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Chicago area — all Democrats — said they have sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy outlining a litany of problems.

“This new process is extremely cumbersome and bureaucratic, does not address the mail and package delivery issues our constituents are experiencing, is problematic for those who are not tech savvy or do not have access to a computer, and is simply not working,” according to the letter, which was provided to the Sun-Times.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who is leading efforts to change the system, said her staff is no longer using the portal, since it puts her most vulnerable constituents at risk of being forgotten.

“This complaint system is troubling on many fronts,” Schakowsky said. “Right now, before we can even file a complaint in the portal, we are required to have a privacy release form signed by the constituents and that can be done online, but what happens if it’s someone who isn’t comfortable with using the internet?”

In those cases, Schakowsky said, they must mail the person a release form, and that person must mail it back to her office. She said her constituents are already waiting weeks for mail, so there’s no guarantee they will even receive the consent form.

“In some cases, we are honest-to-God talking life and death situations,” Schakowsky said. “People are waiting for their medications to come, and they don’t come … this system removes the direct access we have to help in these cases.”

It can take nearly 10 minutes to file a single complaint in the portal, she said, adding that with her office typically fielding 20 to 30 phone calls a day about mail delays, just working the portal could be a part-time job.

Her office normally logs daily complaints into a computer spreadsheet, then forwards that list to the Postal Service’s Chicago district.

It’s not ideal, but at least communication between her office and the Postal Service was open, Schakowsky said. They would find out when issues were resolved.

This new portal replaces human interaction and with an automated procedure.

As a result, she said, “we aren’t sure if these complaints are even being addressed.”

Other House members signing are: Danny Davis, Bill Foster, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Robin Kelly, Marie Newman, Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush and Lauren Underwood.

Schakowsky said this new portal is another example of DeJoy making the Postal Service as inefficient as possible. Martha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said the use of the portal is optional but consent forms are required for any inquiry that requires their employees to access a person’s private information.

“This requirement for a release is mandated by the Privacy Act, which applies not only to the Postal Service, but all federal agencies,” Johnson said.

Since DeJoy became the 75th postmaster general just over a year ago, he has made cost-cutting moves that include the removing of hundreds of mail-sorting machines from facilities across the country, eliminating employee overtime that helped ensure mail is delivered each day and cutting hours at some post offices. DeJoy, a mega-donor to former President Donald Trump’s campaign, was also accused of slashing services in efforts to undermine mail-in voting in the 2020 presidential election.

DeJoy and postal executives have argued these cuts were necessary to reverse a projected $160 billion in losses over the next 10 years.

David Partenheimer, another spokesman for the Postal Service, said these previous reports on DeJoy cuts were “falsehoods.” He said the removal or moving of mail-sorting machines is an ongoing Postal Service strategy dating back decades.

Partenheimer also said DeJoy’s leadership during the 2020 general election was widely successful with 135 million ballots being delivered to and from voters.

“Here are the facts: The postmaster general directed our operations team to develop and execute on an existing plan to improve adherence to the transportation schedules,” Partenheimer said. “While we have had a temporary service decline, which should not have happened, it was quickly addressed.”

Quigley spoke with DeJoy over the phone on Monday and passed along “the concerns of over 1,000 of my constituents who have contacted me about mail delivery delays this year alone,” Quigley said Tuesday. DeJoy, Quigley added still “has the opportunity to make progress in rectifying these longstanding issues.”

Schakowsky, however, believes DeJoy’s short tenure has been so bad it’s time for new leadership.

DeJoy was appointed by the Postal Service’s board of governors, and only that nine-member board can remove him. Board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

DeJoy has largely had the backing of the board under Trump, but that might change, since the Senate approved President Joe Biden’s three new board members in May. The latest addition means five of the board’s nine members were appointed by Democratic presidents.

“We now have enough members, and they could replace him with a different postmaster general,” Schakowsky said Tuesday. “I think he clearly has demonstrated over and over again that he is not in favor of a well running United States Postal Service and I think he has done a pretty darn good job at undermining the Postal Service.” 

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