Internal Postal Service documents from March-April show that the agency scrapped a plan to send all American households face masks in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post reports.
Newly disclosed details of these struggles are laid bare in nearly 10,000 pages of emails, legal memos, presentations and other documents obtained by The Washington Post from American Oversight, a watchdog group that requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
At one point in April, USPS leaders drafted a news release announcing plans to distribute 650 million masks nationwide, enough to offer five [reusable] face coverings to every American household.
- But the White House scrapped the plan before the news release was sent, senior administration officials said. The Department of Health and Human Services, where the plan reportedly originated, instead opted to send masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations, according to the report.
"There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic,” one administration official said in response to the scrapped mask plan.
- At the same time, mail carriers were revolting amid fears of catching the virus and a lack of personal protective equipment as they continued delivering the mail in areas hard-hit by the pandemic.
“I literally was on the phone today with many of my members screaming at me to do something [and] I don’t want to die,” the unnamed union official wrote, noting they had 12 confirmed coronavirus cases among the ranks by March 25. “You cannot expect the unions to convince the employees that if they come to work they have nothing to worry about.”
- Further complicating matters, USPS officials were sent scrambling as the Trump administration bore down on the agency’s finances and appeared ready to attempt an illegal takeover of the agency's operations.
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other agency officials reportedly demanded operating control over the USPS in exchange for the $10 billion loan Congress approved in coronavirus relief legislation — a move lawyers concluded was illegal.
- In addition, the USPS engaged in a standoff with Amazon in response to pressure from President Trump, at which point Amazon “privately signaled it could take some of its lucrative delivery business elsewhere,” per The Post.
- In response to the agency’s struggles, USPS officials reportedly turned to the legal counsel of well-connected Republicans, including Stefan C. Passantino, a former deputy White House counsel for Trump, and Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff and Republican National Committee chairman.
“Why did the Postal Service need the services of Stefan Passantino when his primary claim to fame, the primary reason you hire him, is to carry out Donald Trump’s personal and political defense work?” asked Evers, the head of American Oversight.
- As for Amazon, the documents don’t reveal the status of USPS’ talks with the company but do list some of Amazon’s questions over the agency’s future: “What does the USPS look like in the next few weeks, the next few months and the next several years?”
[T]he documents unearthed by American Oversight suggest Amazon is a lucrative client for the mail service. Amazon drove roughly $3.9 billion in revenue, and $1.6 billion in profit, for the USPS in fiscal 2019, according to multiple emails and financial statements obtained via open records laws.