By OLIVIA RUBIN, ABC News
(PORTLAND, Ore.) — As questions over recent changes implemented at the U.S. Postal Service continue to mount, new images obtained by ABC News appear to show mail sorting machines — critical pieces of equipment used to speed up the mail delivery process — sitting in parts in a postal facility in Portland, Ore.
The machines are wrapped in yellow caution tape after having recently been decommissioned and broken down into parts within the last month, according to the postal employee who took the photos, who requested anonymity because they are not permitted to take photos inside the facility.
Asked about the removal, Ernie Swanson, a spokesperson in the Oregon office of the USPS, said, “Mail processing equipment is replaced as it becomes out-of-date. It is replaced by state-of-the-art new machines.”
Swanson did not respond to a question about whether the machines had, in fact, been replaced by newer models. Instead Swanson replied with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s statement Tuesday in which he announced he would be “suspending” until after the presidential election the contentious cuts he implemented at the postal service, which saw overtime slashed and equipment taken out of service — a major reversal in the face of public outcry.
One formal postal service leader said that announcement raised more questions than it answers, including for the equipment in facilities like the one in Portland that have already been taken offline.
“[The statement] goes on to say that mail processing equipment will remain as it is, will remain where they are. … Well, if you’ve already dismantled some of that equipment or removed it, the fact that it’s remaining as it is doesn’t mean that you’re going to reassemble that equipment, or return it to the extend that it’s been removed,” Ronald Stroman, the former Deputy Postmaster General until June, said on Tuesday.
At least six sorting machines at the Portland facility alone have already been taken offline in the past month, according to Joe Cogan, the head of Portland’s postal union. Their fate remains unclear.
Cogan, an employee with the postal service for 30 years, said these changes interfere with employees’ ability to carry out their work. “Our job is to deliver mail to the American people,” he said.
Sorting machines have been removed in cities across the country in recent weeks, according to local reports in Michigan, Oklahoma, and Kansas, among others. Similar issues were raised when images emerged showing the removal of some blue mail collection boxes across the country.
On Tuesday ABC News Washington, D.C., affiliate WJLA broadcast photos of what sources reportedly told the outlet were sorting machines being disassembled recently at a postal facility in Maryland.
Before DeJoy announced a halt to the removals, a spokesperson for the postal service explained the moves with regard to mail collection boxes by saying that the agency “reviews collection box density every year on a routine basis to identify redundant/seldom used collection boxes as First-Class Mail volume continues to declines.”
Recent moves by the USPS to remove equipment have worried some lawmakers and critics alike, who fear the measures were taken to slowdown mail service ahead of the presidential election — allegations the postal service and the White House have denied.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Sunday denied reports that sorting machines were being decommissioned in postal facilities across the country.
“There’s no sorting machines going offline between now and the election,” he said on CNN. “That’s something that my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there, that’s not happening.
At least 20 states are expected to sue DeJoy, the Trump Administration, and the postal service, among others, to halt the changes. DeJoy has also agreed to testify on Capitol Hill about the changes, once on Friday in front of Senate lawmakers and again next week before the House Oversight Committee.
President Trump, who has rallied against mail-in voting, denied he had taken part in an effort to slow down mail service ahead of the election. “I have encouraged everybody to speed up the mail, not slow the mail,” he said Monday.
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