Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
A House Democrat who has advocated for the U.S. Postal Service to electrify its vehicle fleet vowed Thursday to block a contract the service awarded to Oshkosh Corp. earlier this week.
“This is an urgent situation where we cannot allow this contract to go forward,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in an interview.
USPS awarded Oshkosh Defense a $6 billion, 10-year contract to manufacture a new fleet of as many as 165,000 postal delivery vehicles with “either fuel-efficient internal combustion engines or battery electric powertrains.” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Wednesday that the service has plans for only 10% of its new truck fleet to be electric.
Workhorse Group Inc., the only all-electric vehicle maker in the running, said in a statement Wednesday that it “intends to explore all avenues” available to it in the government bidding process.
Workhorse rose sharply on the news that lawmakers are aiming to block the contract, closing up 25% to $18.87 in New York trading. The increase ended a three-day losing streak, though the stock is still down 43% for the week after losing the contract. Oshkosh declined 3.9%, to $108.50.
The lawmaker’s scrutiny adds to pressure on the Postal Service, which has come under fire in recent months for a delivery slowdown under DeJoy. President Joe Biden on Thursday said he wants leaders who can do a “better job” running the service, signaling DeJoy could be at risk of losing his job.
Only the Postal Service’s Board of Governors can decide to keep or remove DeJoy, a donor to former President Donald Trump. But Biden announced three nominees to the board on Wednesday. If confirmed by the Senate, they would give Democrats a majority of the board’s nine slots.
Huffman didn’t specify how lawmakers would seek to block the contract and said several options were being explored. “We’re not powerless,” he added.
Congress has less oversight of USPS, an independent part of the executive branch, than it does over most federal agencies.
Huffman also said that there could be litigation on the contract from environmental groups. “I think there’s a great desire in Congress, in this new administration, and among clean vehicle advocates outside of government to not allow DeJoy to sabotage this golden opportunity,” he said.
Huffman called the decision “a poke in the eye for the Biden administration,” given its recent push for electric vehicles.
The White House, USPS, and representatives of Oshkosh and Workhorse didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Groups that back electric vehicles and renewable energy panned USPS’s decision.
“We are encouraging Congress and the Administration to make it clear that doubling down on gas-powered vehicles is not the right path forward for the postal service or any other federal agency,” Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, said in an emailed statement.
If the contract with Oskosh is stopped, it would take years to work through complex procurement procedures for different vehicles, said Paul Steidler, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a policy group that favors limited government.
Huffman “ought to be very careful about what he wishes for,” Steidler said in an interview.
“If he just kills the thing, we’re back at square one, with a very dirty, very antiquated delivery system,” Steidler added. “It’s going to keep dirty vehicles on the road for a longer period of time.”
Huffman has previously advocated for USPS to electrify its fleet.
The $1.5 trillion infrastructure package House Democrats passed last year included provisions from Huffman that would authorize $6 billion for USPS to purchase largely zero-emission or electric vehicles.
The Senate never considered that bill, but House Democrats want to use it as a framework for the infrastructure package they’re preparing to introduce later this year, and Huffman said he expects it will again include his USPS proposal.
With assistance from Ari Natter