January 2012

The synergy of losses: How much will downsizing really save?

January 31, 2012

Imagine it’s Wednesday and you want to mail something, and you’re used to seeing that mail delivered the next day.  But things have changed.  You can’t get to the post office until Thursday because yours has closed and the nearest one is too far away to make the trip today.  The next-day mail now takes two days because 250 mail processing plants have closed, so your mail won’t be delivered until Saturday.  But now there’s no delivery on Saturday, so your mail won’t be delivered until Monday (if it’s a holiday, make that Tuesday).

Scenarios like that one will cost the Postal Service some serious money.  A lot of mail is time-sensitive — bill payments, periodicals, advertisements about sales — so longer delivery times can cause big problems and drive away business.  Individuals, organizations, and corporations will be more inclined to use the Internet, or advertise in other venues, or have a private company deliver their periodicals.  Customers will simply take their business elsewhere, and that means lost revenue for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service has presented three plans for downsizing to address falling mail volumes and declining revenues: eliminating Saturday delivery, closing post offices, and consolidating mail processing plants.  It has prepared detailed reports on each plan for the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for Advisory Opinions, and the PRC has issued its own reports on the first two plans and it's working on the third right now.   There's plenty of material to look at if you're wondering whether or not these plans might succeed in balancing the books of the Postal Service.  (Of course, re-amortizing payments to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees would solve the problem with much less pain, but that’s another story.)

Each plan looks as if it could save some money. The cost savings from cutting jobs and downsizing the infrastructure are greater than the revenue losses each plan might cause.  But that’s looking at the plans in isolation.  The problem is synergy.  What happens when all three plans are implemented?

Normally, synergy is seen as a positive phenomenon: it refers, for example, to when people work together and produce a result greater than the sum of their individual efforts.  But synergy can also be negative, like when several economic problems interact with each other and cause a recession.      

If all three plans the Postal Service is pushing were implemented, the danger is that this negative synergy would kick in, and the total revenue loss would be greater than the sum of the revenue losses incurred by the plans considered in isolation.  The synergy effect could be so great, in fact, that the cumulative revenue loss would exceed the cost savings.  Implemented together, the three plans could actually lose money and increase the postal deficit.  Then what?  More cuts, and more revenue declines?  The Postal Service could soon find itself in a downward spiral that’s impossible to stop. 

In the Advisory Opinion process for the Network Rationalization plan to consolidate 250 processing plants, the issue of cumulative effects has come up on several occasions.  The Postal Service asked a market research firm to do a study about customer’s attitudes toward the various plans, and the study revealed that customers were very concerned about the change in delivery standards coupled with eliminating Saturday delivery and closing post offices. 

Several witnesses in the case have also been asked about cumulative effects, and how revenue losses might be impacted if all three plans were implemented.  The Postal Service has apparently not sponsored any quantitative research on the synergistic effect of implementing all three plans, so it’s hard to say exactly what those revenue losses might add up to.  But we can look at the numbers for each plan and get an idea of what could happen.


Eliminating Saturday delivery

In its case for eliminating Saturday delivery, the Postal Service contracted the services of Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), one of the oldest and most respected marketing research firms in the United States.  (You may have seen the name lately, since ORC partners with CNN to do election polling.)  The goal was to develop estimates of how much revenue might be lost if there were no mail delivery on Saturday.

Rebecca Elmore-Yalch, Senior Vice President at ORC, testified before the PRC about her firm’s research.  In her testimony she explained that ORC did two “parallel phases of research” — one qualitative and one quantitative.  The qualitative research, conducted September 1 to 24, 2009, involved “drawing out participants’ attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences, and reactions” through focus groups and in-depth interviews with a variety of mailers, big and small.  The quantitative research, completed in October 2009, developed forecasts of how the proposed changes would impact the volume of various types of USPS products.  

Using ORC’s estimates of lost revenue, combined with its own estimates of cost-savings, the Postal Service estimated it would save $3.1 billion by eliminating Saturday delivery.  As explained in its Advisory Opinion, the PRC questioned the numbers, did its own calculations, and concluded the savings would be more like $1.7 billion. 

Part of the discrepancy had to do with interpreting ORC’s market research.  The Postal Service estimated that it might lose $0.2 billion net revenue, but the PRC, looking at the same research, gave the numbers a different interpretation and said net losses would be more like $0.6 billion.  In its response to the Advisory Opinion, the Postal Service stuck by its original estimates.  

Contract post offices, closing faster than they open

January 29, 2012

Contract post offices look like a cheap and easy way for the Postal Service to outsource its retail postal business.  Just put the post office in a private business or community center, and don't worry about paying rent or postal employees.  There's still a post office in town, the Postal Service has met its universal service obligation, and a lot of money has been saved.  

But contract post offices are not the panacea that postal management, big mailers, and advocates of privatization would like to think they are.  They have many problems, and their numbers just keep declining.  During fiscal year 2011, the Postal Service opened 144 contract postal units, but it closed 259 of them.

News of these additional openings and closings was revealed in materials submitted by the Postal Service to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for its annual compliance report.  The document can be found on the PRC website (download the pdf here), and a list of the offices that have opened and closed is here.

A contract post office is an “approved postal provider” that’s operated by a private business or community and not staffed by USPS workers.  There are basically two types — a contract postal unit (CPU) and a community post office (CPO) — and then there's the closely related “village post office” (VPO). 

According to the 2009 Postal Employees Guide to Contract Postal Units, a CPU is “a supplier-owned or supplier-leased site operated by the supplier under contract to the Postal Service to provide postal services to the public at postal prices.”  A CPO is similar — it's a contract postal unit in which a small rural community, rather than a local business, assumes the responsibilities of providing postal services. 

Neither type of contract unit offers the full range of products and services available at a regular post office, but for many communities, it’s better to have a CPU or CPO than no post office at all.  You can get a sense of just how much people can value a CPO in this great story on Going Postal about one that closed earlier this month in Alplaus, New York, and here's another about a closing announced just a couple of days ago.

The Village Post Office was the “concept” unveiled last summer along with plans to closing 3,652 post offices under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI).  Though the VPO just sells stamps and flat-rate boxes, it was supposed to mitigate the loss of a post office for thousands of small towns across America.  However, at this point, only about eight VPOs have been opened, and the Postmaster General, having discovered that many small towns don’t have a suitable place to locate a VPO, has backed off the new concept.

News of so many contracted units closing in 2011 is somewhat surprising, given that the Postal Service has been so intent on shifting from government post offices to "alternative retail outlets" like CPUs.  After all, they cost very little to operate — basically just the wages for the USPS personnel responsible for overseeing the contract unit from an official USPS "host" post office.  

Contract units also appeal to the big mailers, which see them as a money-saving alternative to post offices, and money saved means lower postal rates.  In its brief to the PRC on the RAOI Advisory Opinion, the direct mail company Val-Pak argued that contract units were a valuable “method of outsourcing the provision of retail services” because they reduce costs and “improve service to customers.”   

But contract units have a number of problems, and their number has been steadily declining for a long time.  In 1970, there were 7,241, and in 2010, there were 3,694.  After the openings and closings in 2011, there are 3,519 contract units remaining.  That represents a total decline of over 50%, and an average of about 90 closings a year.  

Congressman Hinchey calls for a moratorium on the closing studies

January 28, 2012

New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey has written a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe asking him “to place a moratorium on the USPS's current discontinuance studies until the USPS resolves the numerous problems the PRC identified in the RAIO. “  Hinchey is circulating the letter in Congress, looking for others to sign on with him.

The letter calls attention to the “serious flaws” identified by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) in its Advisory Opinion on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI).  The letter cites (1) inadequate financial data on all the post offices in the plan, “which makes it impossible to accurately calculate cost savings from proposed closures”; (2) inaccurate representations of revenue (various kinds of non-stamp-sale revenue were not included in the Postal Service’s calculations); (3) using geographical rather than driving distance as a criterion for putting post offices on the closing list; and (4) using criteria that disproportionately target rural post offices, a violation of 39 U.S.C. 101(b). 

The Postal Service has not yet issued a formal reply to the Advisory Opinion, and it has apparently conveyed its intention to proceed with the closings to Ruth Goldway, Chairman of the PRC.  At a meeting of the PRC on January 5th, the Chairman made some introductory remarks about the status of the closings, intended to make sure everyone understood that the moratorium did not mean the discontinuance studies had stopped.  As the Postal Service said when it announced the moratorium, the studies are ongoing — only the final closing of the doors is postponed until May 15.

Goldway also said that the Postal Service would be holding a second community meeting for most of the post offices still under study (about 3,300 of the original list of 3,652).  A second round of meetings is not required, so they are apparently intended to help rectify some of the problems the PRC had identified.  Goldway also said that we could expect to hear announcements of “mass closures” when the moratorium ends. 

Hinchey’s letter asks the Postmaster General to put a moratorium not just on the closings but on the studies themselves.  That would prevent the "mass closures" Goldway referred to.  It would also give Congress more time to address postal reform.

Just yesterday, Fredric V. Rolando, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), announced that due to pressure from the unions, the Senate would delay a vote on S. 1789, which had been expected soon.  That's the bill introduced by Joe Lieberman (I-CT), along with Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Scott Brown (R-MA).  It has some decent features, but a lot of problems.   

There's a passage on “service standards” that would restrict post office closings by ensuring that certain criteria are considered, like geography and demographics, but that would not prevent thousands of post offices from closing.  The bill  would return $11.4 billion in overpayments to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), but not the $50 billion to $75 billion in overpayments to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).  It would re-amortize payments to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees over a 40-year period instead of 10, but still cause excessive payments.  It would also permit a shift to five-day delivery in two years, reduce workman’s comp for employees of retirement age, change contract negotiations to favor management, and move toward an exit of the federal health benefit program (FEHBP). 

The bill is still a lot better than the one likely to come out of the Republican-controlled House, which will probably be some version of H.R. 2309, the Postal Reform Act introduced by California Darrell Issa.  That bill is intended to dismantle the Postal Service and it's nothing but bad news for postal workers, post offices, and the country's postal system.  

The best of the bills are H.R. 3591 and  S.1853, introduced in the House by Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, co-sponsored by Hinchey and fellow New Yorker Louise Slaughter (D), and introduced in the the Senate by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.   These bills would “recalculate and restore retirement annuity obligations of the United States Postal Service, eliminate the requirement that the United States Postal Service pre-fund the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, place restrictions on the closure of postal facilities, create incentives for innovation for the United States Postal Service, to maintain levels of postal service, and for other purposes.”

If the DeFazio-Sanders bill were to reach President Obama’s desk, all would be well with the Postal Service.  But that’s not going to happen.  If the House and Senate can agree on legislation — and that’s a big “if” — it will more likely be some compromise between the Issa and Lieberman bills.  It’s hard to imagine how that kind of postal "reform" will make supporters of the post office and postal workers happy.

Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Campaign to Dismantle the Post Office

January 24, 2012

The leaders of the Postal Service have made no secret of their plans for reforming the postal system.  They have issued white papers, given speeches, presented “optimization” programs, and appeared before Congressional committees.  The plans are clear: eliminate the layoff protections in union contracts; cut the career workforce by nearly half while tripling the number of non-career workers; reduce service standards for first-class mail; do away with Saturday delivery; give management control of workers’ benefit plans; consolidate away over 250 processing plants; and close 15,000 post offices.

What we don’t see very often are the players making this all happen.  We assume the Postmaster General is making the decisions, but he is merely the front man.  Behind him are the USPS Board of Governors, the mail industry stakeholders, and the corporate class as a whole.   These businessmen (and women) prefer to keep a low profile, so we rarely hear from them in public.  They leave it their surrogates — journalists and academics, politicians and pundits — to speak for them.  But it’s the businessmen who fund the think tanks, endow universities, make campaign contributions, pay lobbyists, and run the news media.  Yet for the most part, they are not to be seen.

In her excellent book Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal, historian Kim Phillips-Fein paints a very revealing picture of how the corporate class operates.  Her theme is the way conservative businessmen worked behind the scenes to undo the New Deal.  Believing all would be right if government stayed out of the economy and left everything, in Adam’s Smith famous expression, to the “invisible hand” of the market, these businessmen have spent decades working to weaken unions, eliminate social welfare programs, minimize government regulation of their companies, and diminish public services.

While the U.S. Postal Service is obviously not a product of the New Deal, that same conservative agenda is behind the attack on the Postal Service we’re witnessing today.   Cutting the workforce, closing post offices and plants, and moving toward privatization through outsourcing and divestiture of assets — these are all part of an effort to shape the postal system in ways that serve the interests of an elite business class rather than the good of the country as a whole.  The free-market ideology and greed for profits that drove efforts to undo the New Deal are basically what’s driving the “postal reform” movement today.  

A post office worth preserving

January 18, 2012


[Mr. Jamison serves the town of Webster in the mountains of North Carolina as its postmaster.  He has written extensively on postal issues.  In keeping with the USPS Administrative Support Manual, Mr. Jamison does not "speak for or act on behalf of the Postal Service."  These are his thoughts on where things stand and where we ought to be headed.  Mr. Jamison can be reached at Mij455@gmail.com. —Ed.]

FOR MANY MONTHS NOW, postal management and a chorus of pundits have delivered one message: Out-of-control deficits are dooming the Postal Service, and it will survive only if management is given the authority to radically downsize the system.  Half the country's post offices and processing plants must close, Saturday delivery must go, service must be reduced, and over two hundred thousand jobs must be cut.  

These steps, however, will not ensure the survival of the Postal Service.  This is not a vision for the future.  It's an invitation to a funeral.  

After Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe spoke at the National Press Club at the end of November, it should have been clear to anyone following the trials and tribulations of the USPS exactly what vision postal senior management had for the future of the institution.  Mr.  Donahoe stated that it was his goal to wring $20 billion of costs out of the system within the next few years.  He essentially demanded free rein from Congress to disassemble the postal network as we know it.

The vision expressed by Mr. Donahoe was one of declining mail volumes, an entity that had outlived its relevancy in a technological age, and the need for a business model which transformed an institution of national infrastructure into simply another player in the mailing and delivery business.  He spoke of a future that consigned the purpose and the past of a national treasure to the dustbin of failed business models, right next to the graveyard of buggy whip makers.

The plans advanced by senior postal management involve shedding much of the current retail network and well over half of the plant facility network.  In addition, the service standards that have made the Postal Service useful and reliable were to be revised downward in what appeared to be a relentless quest for mediocrity.

The plans also involved eliminating tens of thousands of good, middle-class jobs and replacing many more with low-wage casual workers, while also dismantling retirement and health benefit systems that have served generations of workers well.

What Mr. Donahoe offered was a vision that has become popular among a small segment of the American political class.   It is a vision of an impotent public sector, a downsized, out-sourced, minimum-wage work force, and it shows a complete disregard for infrastructure.   It is a view of globalization come full circle, America as a third-world country.

Not long after Mr. Donahoe’s speech, several members of Congress awoke from their slumber and began seeing the future Mr. Donahoe proposed.  As calls from their communities became more alarming, telling of closed post offices and shuttered plant facilities, and as it became apparent that the proposed changes were not merely a matter of rightsizing postal operations but dismantling them and denigrating service, Congress began showing heightened interest, eventually demanding a moratorium on some of the proposed changes.

Yet even after agreeing to a moratorium on plant and post office closings, the Postal Service continued with the procedures and steps needed to close facilities.  Even after the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) found in its Advisory Opinion on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) that the Postal Service’s plans to rationalize the network had very little foundation, the Postal Service continued with requests for vendors to take over the hub-and-spoke operations that would be eliminated by plant closings.

The fact is the PRC found, as many of us have been saying all along, that the Postal Service’s plans were less about finding a successful business model than they were about simply carving up the postal network into bite-size chunks.  The RAOI decision returned to many of the same points raised in previous decisions, like the exigent rate case and the five-day delivery case — primarily that the Postal Service’s plans lacked substance. 

The plans espoused by the management of the Postal Service appear less the articulation of a successful outcome, the re-envisioning of a successful business model, than they are the actions a vulture capital firm might undertake when dissolving a business by extracting whatever value might exist and leaving the rest to “creative destruction.”  No one from the Postal Service has yet offered a picture of what a successful outcome might be.  Actually that isn’t terribly astonishing since it would be awfully hard to describe success when your every action is built towards taking the enterprise apart.


AT THIS POINT, the story is clear in terms of what got the Postal Service in these straits.  We know the excessive extraction of funds from the Postal Service by the poorly conceived 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) has resulted in non-operational deficits.  We know too that various retirement accounts have been over subscribed and that other accounting devices, like accounting for workman’s compensation obligations, have been rigged to transfer funds from the Postal Service to the Treasury.

We know too that volumes have dropped, and while some of that may be due to changing technology, a good bit is due to the ongoing recession and some may even be due to the continual atmosphere of crisis that the postal management has ginned up.

Post Office Closings in 2011: Lists, maps, the whole mess

January 16, 2012

The past year was not a good one for those who value the institution of the brick-and-mortar post office.  Over four thousand post offices were studied for closure, and were it not for the Christmas holiday suspension and the moratorium on closings, a large portion of them would have closed by year’s end.  Just to put that in context, consider that for the past 40 years, post offices have closed at the rate of one hundred a year.

When the moratorium ends in May, we’re told to expect “mass closures” of the 3,330 post offices on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) list.  (About 320 have been removed from the original list of 3,652.).  But last year, post offices that were not part of the RAOI closed by the hundreds.  How many exactly?  That’s hard to say.

The Postal Service has not provided a comprehensive list of the post offices that closed in 2011.  There’s also some ambiguity to the question of “how many?”  When the year began, a good number of post offices had already closed under an “emergency suspension” because of a lease problem or unsafe conditions.  Though these offices were not operating, they had yet to go through a formal discontinuance process to close them permanently. 

In addition, during the year, hundreds of post offices received a Final Determination notice indicating that they would close in 60 days, but they were still open when the moratorium began in December, so they won’t close until May 15.  Then there are a few, like the historic post offices in Westport, ConnecticutYankton, South Dakota, and Venice, California that are closing (Westport has) but don’t get counted as closures because the office just “relocated.”  

Since the Postal Service does not take the virtue of transparency very seriously, it’s virtually impossible to determine the exact number of closings or to get hold of a list indicating the status of every post office.  But here’s a review of what we know.

Back in July, the day after the Postal Service announced the RAOI list, it released a second list of 727 post offices that had been initiated for closure before the RAOI began.  Since then, other post offices were closed by emergency suspension or initiated for discontinuance that did not appear on that list. 

In October, Dean Granholm, USPS Vice President of Delivery and Post Office Operations, told Bloomberg News that 280 post offices had closed in 2011, and 300 had received a Final Determination.  In November, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told the National Press Club that 500 post offices had closed in 2011.  In January of 2012, PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway indicated that the number of post offices being studied for closure outside the RAOI had grown from 727 to about 800 post offices— “a couple of hundred that were already suspended and closed, and about 600 post offices that were active.”

Given the discrepancies in these reports, it’s not surprising that there’s a similar lack of precision about which post offices are in what stage of the closing process.   There’s no comprehensive list, but it is possible to cobble one together from various sources.

The OIG wants your opinion on post office closings

January 12, 2012

The USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is doing an "audit overview" of the Retail Access Optimization initiative (RAOI), the Postal Service's plan to close 3,652 post offices.  The OIG wants to hear your opinion.

The OIG helps maintain the integrity and accountability of the Postal Service through independent audits and investigations.  The OIG has already issued one report about the RAOI (pdf here), and now the OIG wants to go another step by hearing from the public about post office closings.

Here's what the OIG website says: 

On July 26, 2011, the Postal Service announced the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), to examine whether to continue providing retail services and products at over 3,600 Postal Service operated retail facilities. The Postal Service’s attempt to adjust its network by closing retail facilities has stirred public debate and resistance because of the affect on jobs, service, employees, and communities.

On December 13, 2011, at the request of multiple U.S. Senators, the Postal Service announced a five-month moratorium on closing Post Offices and Processing and Distribution Centers until May 15, 2012. Subsequently, on December 30, 2011, the Postal Regulatory Commission issued an advisory opinion, stating that the RAOI is likely to affect service on a nationwide basis and is not designed to optimize the retail network.

  • What is the impact to you if your local Post Office is closed?
  • Should the Postal Service continue to optimize its network by closing retail facilities, or are there better opportunities available?
  • Should the Postal Service maintain its traditional brick and mortar presence or expand alternate access locations to purchase services and products?
  • Should the Postal Service close or consolidate retail facilities that are in close proximity to other facilities?
  • Do you currently use, or will use, your carrier, USPS.com, or other alternate access channels to provide services such as parcel pick-up and stamp purchase instead of a traditional brick and mortar Post Office?

This audit is a great opportunity to share your thoughts about post offices and the Postal Service.  Go to the OIG website and leave your comments here.

Hundreds of Postal Workers and Allies March in Oregon

January 10, 2012


Portland, OR – Over eight hundred Portland-area letter carriers, other postal workers, family members and allies held a demonstration Sunday, calling attention to tax-free solutions to save America’s postal service.  From a rally at downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square, the boisterous marchers chanted and sang down Fourth Avenue, ending with a rally at the Main Post Office on Northwest Hoyt.  Signs calling for saving 6-day delivery, door-to-door and curbside delivery, community post offices and family wage jobs dotted the blocks long procession. 

“We called for this rally to build public understanding of the current postal crisis and support for the very viable solutions available.   The entire Oregon Congressional delegation, except Congressman Walden, support rational legislative solutions to save the U.S. Postal Service, such as HR 1351 and S. 1853,” said Jim Cook, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 82, representing about 1,200 USPS city letter carriers in the greater Portland area.

“Oregonians know about the USPS’s financial crisis, but few know what caused the crisis or that there are solutions before Congress that won’t cost the taxpayer a dime.  In fact, by subjecting the USPS – unlike any other agency or company in the country – to a pre-funding obligation starting in 2007, Congress itself has caused the bulk of the red ink.  There also has not been enough information about what’s at stake if the proposed detrimental legislation (HR 2309 / S.1789) is passed.”  said Cook.

Representatives from Working America, the Rural Organizing Project, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, Portland Workers Rights Board, and the Oregon AFL-CIO encouraged the crowd to fight proposed service and job cuts.  Postal union leaders saluted supportive contingents from the JOBS with JUSTICE coalition and OCCUPY Portland.

Media coverage: KGW.com and KATU.com

(Photos by Jerry Atkin on PicasaSlideshow made with Slideshow Embed Tool)

"This Post Office will not be closed in vain"

January 10, 2012

The post office in Ukiah, California, will close permanently on Friday, after a long fight.  It’s a beautiful New Deal post office located in the heart of downtown.    There’s a very good story about the closing by Carole Brodksy in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

"It's despicable," said attorney Barry Vogel, who worked with a group of citizens to prevent closure of the Ukiah branch.  “These closures take the guts out of local communities, subjugating us so that we become less free.  We have fewer services and it makes life more difficult for hard-working people who have used this post office for 75 years.”

The post office contains an historic mural, "Resources of the Soil," by Ben Cunningham (1938).  Postal officials have said the mural would be preserved when the building is sold, but that's cold comfort to the people of Ukiah.

The community didn't even merit a complete discontinuance process, since the "post office" is being relocated to a carrier annex on the edge of town.  An appeal was filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), and the brief was extremely thorough and beautifully done.  But the PRC dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, since the law doesn't cover relocations.  (Other historic post offices are closing as "relocations" in Venice and Palo Alto, California, and in Yankton, South Dakota.)

Some 5,000 signatures were gathered opposing the Ukiah closing, but to no avail.  The closure represents a serious blow to downtown economic activity, and a piece of local history will be lost forever.  And it will mean no more walking to the post office.

“This Post Office will not be closed in vain," says Vogel. "There is a level of community synergy developing across the country.  I don't know how many people it will take, but soon there will be enough of us in our small communities to stop this."

(There’s more information about what happened in Ukiah on the Ukiah Post Office website and the Facebook page that local citizens maintained about their efforts to save the post office.  And here's a story, after the closing.)

(Photo credits: Resources of the SoilUkiah post office)

Mass Appeals at the PRC

January 9, 2012

The Postal Service closed about 600 post offices in 2011, and it is poised to make mass closures in the spring when the moratorium ends on May 15.  That will also mean mass appeals at the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), and last Thursday the Commissioners were talking all about it.

Chairman Ruth Goldway began the Commission's monthly meeting with a few remarks intended to clarify the status of post office appeals with respect to the moratorium and the two closing lists — the list of 3,652 included in the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) and the list of 727 non-RAOI offices that were already being studied for closure when the RAOI began in July.  

During her remarks, Chairman Goldway made a few important revelations about what's coming next from the Postal Service.  (The podcast is here, and a complete transcript of her opening statement is here.)


The RAOI is not going away

“Those [post offices] that are in the 3,600 will not have a final decision on discontinuance until May 15," said Goldway, "but they may well have a mass number of decisions on May 15, which then we would have to hear if there are appeals.  I am told that the Postal Service is reviewing those 3,600 and may in fact have a second community meeting for most of those 3,600 and may have a different approach for some of them at the end of May 15.”

That comment contains three noteworthy points:

1. If the Postal Service is going to issue “a mass number of decisions on May 15,” that means it will be proceeding with the RAOI despite the negative review it got in the PRC’s Advisory Opinion.  The Postal Service can do as it pleases with the Opinion, but Goldway stated in her Concurring Opinion that if the Postal Service chooses not to follow the PRC’s recommendations “and rather proceeds with the RAOI as originally submitted to the Commission, it risks, I believe, violating the law I cited earlier and the consequences that could follow.”  It looks like the Postal Service will try to modify the RAOI in a way that will avoid a confrontation with the PRC, but clearly the Postal Service is not going to abandon the RAOI completely.

2. The Postal Service will apparently not be issuing Final Determination notices on RAOI post offices during the moratorium.  This was news because when the Postal Service announced the moratorium, it issued a “pleading” to the PRC that said it would “continue all necessary steps required for the review of Post Offices during the interim period.”  That left the door open for issuing final notices during the moratorium, with a closing date after the moratorium.  If the Postal Service is going to hold off on issuing Final Determinations until May 15, no post office on the RAOI would close its doors before mid-July.  (There’s a 60-day period between the Final Determination notice and closing date.)

3. The Postal Service will hold a second community meeting for most of the 3,600 post offices on the RAOI list.  That’s not required by postal regulations, so holding another round of meetings is apparently a response to the Advisory Opinion, which criticized the Postal Service for not doing enough to ensure “meaningful public participation,” and recommended “more robust processes” for obtaining and evaluating relevant community information. 

It will be interesting to see what happens at these meetings, how they are different from the first round, how the community turnout is, and what this "different approach" is all about.  Perhaps the Postal Service will ensure that a District Manager or Post Office Operations Manager is present, as required by the USPS Discontinuance Guide (PO-101), perhaps someone will take notes on the community's comments, and perhaps they'll provide accurate information about cost savings, distance to neighboring post offices, and other matters that require local knowledge.  (There’s more on the problems in the closing process here.)

The appeals just keep on coming

When the Postal Service issues a “Final Determination” telling a community its post office will close, interested parties have 30 days to file an appeal with the PRC.  Historically, there haven’t been many appeals, but in 2011, the PRC was swamped with appeals, and 2012 promises to be even busier. 

At Thursday's meeting, Commissioner Nanci Langley indicated that there were still 138 open dockets before the PRC, and General Counsel Stephen Sharfman said that they are receiving “approximately one appeal per day . . . and this has honestly put a tremendous strain on staff resources.”  Back in November, the PRC put out an ad to hire ten attorneys to handle the "influx of appeals," so they're probably at work now or getting ready.

Over 200 appeals were filed in 2011, and the Commission issued decisions on 59.  Six decisions were “victories” for the appeal, i.e., the Final Determination to close was remanded back to the Postal Service for further consideration.  The other 53 decisions were affirmed, thus sealing the fate of the post office to close permanently.  Six cases were dismissed because the Postal Service withdrew the Final Determination notice at the last minute, for reasons it has not disclosed.  (A list of the appeals and their status is here, and there's a map here.)

Just to put those numbers in perspective, here’s a table showing the history of appeals over the past few decades.  (An explanation of where the numbers come from is here.)

1976- 1997
1998- 2007
2009- 2010
1976- 2010 totals
1976- 2010 annual average
% of closures appealed
% of decisions remanded
Dismissed, etc.

The table shows why this past year was so unusual, and why the PRC is concerned about what’s going to happen in 2012.  In 2011, the number of closings was nearly six times the annual average of the past few decades, and the rate of appeals was nearly four times the average, so the PRC saw twenty times the average number of appeals per year.  If the Postal Service announces a couple of thousand closings on May 15, the PRC could be hit with eight hundred appeals in May and June.  Given that the appeal rate seems to be increasing with heightened awareness of the process, that number could even be higher.

This doesn’t mean, however, that many appeals will be successful.  Last year the PRC issued remand decisions at about half the average rate of the past few decades — about one in ten as contrasted with one in five.  So a thousand appeals would lead to only a hundred remand decisions.

And there’s no reason to think the remand rate will improve.  Sometime soon the Senate will confirm the nomination of Tony Hammond as the fifth Commissioner on the PRC.  That will give the PRC three Republicans and two Democrats.  It may be a coincidence and party politics may have nothing to do with it, but it’s been the Democrats who have been consistently voting in favor of remands, while the Republicans have been content to affirm the Postal Service’s closing decisions.  Unless Hammond turns out to be more inclined to remand than his fellow Republicans, there will be few successful appeals.

While appeals are not likely to be victorious, it’s important for communities to file them anyway.  They send a message to the PRC, the Postal Service, and Congress that the people in the country want their post offices.  The details in the appeal dockets also help guide the PRC in its work as a regulatory agency, and appeals can have effects far beyond the fate of a particular post office. 

This year’s appeals, for example, influenced the PRC’s Advisory Opinion on the RAOI.  The Postal Service had claimed that closing 3,650 post offices would save $200 million, but the PRC used the appeals it had reviewed to make its own calculation and found that closing 95% of the RAOI post offices would more likely save only $100 million.


The dissents keep on coming too

While there were very few remand decisions in 2011, there were many dissenting opinions from Chairman Goldway and Commissioner Nanci Langley.  Since November, Goldway has dissented on something like 18 decisions, and Langley has joined her on many of them.  

It's getting to be a regular thing now, with Commissioners Robert Taub and Mark Acton voting to affirm the closing decision, while Goldway and Langley dissent.  A remand requires a majority, so those two-to-two votes mean the post office will close.  But the dissents are important anyway, and they are often cited in subsequent decisions.  The causes for the dissents have varied, and they're worth noting, since they can help guide those making appeals in the future.

The Postal Service’s mode of calculation for cost-savings has come under repeated scrutiny.  The Postal Service typically figures in the full salary for a postmaster as an expense that will be eliminated, but often the post office is staffed by an Officer-in-Charge, who earns far less.  That issue came up in the appeals for Hoxie, Arkansas; Lake Creek, Texas; and Chillicothe, Iowa.  A related issue is that the Postal Service consistently says that there’s “no effect” on employees since they’re transferring to another office, which has the Commission asking how any money would be saved on their salaries.

In some cases, such as Goodwin, Arkansas, the Postal Service failed to consider the cost of paying out the remaining years on the lease, or the cost of replacing the post office with a rural carrier.

The dissents also note errors in the documentation, such as the distance to the nearest post office.  In Chillicothe, Iowa, for example, the Postal Service said a nearby post office was four miles away, but a bridge is out, and the distance is actually about 20 miles.

Failure to give adequate consideration to community concerns has also been cited several times, as in Langley’s dissent on Pilot Grove, Iowa, where she noted that the Postal Service did not offer meaningful responses to community questions about establishing a Community Post Office and reducing hours of operations a an alternative to closing the post office.  She made essentially the same comment in her dissent on Bigelow, Arkansas.  Langley’s point is that the Postal Service is not fulfilling its obligation to give serious consideration to issues raised by customers.  Implicit in her remarks, however, is a sense that reducing the hours of operation, setting up a community post office, negotiating a lower lease cost, and so on, would be legitimate alternatives to closing the post office completely.

Chairman Goldway also took objection to the closing of the post office in Freehold, New Jersey, which was operating out of a trailer in a parking lot, yet somehow bringing in 2010 revenues of $661,000.   The cost for operating this facility was $154,000, so the office was making a profit of more than half a million dollars.  Goldway felt compelled to “express my serious reservations about the Postal Service’s aggressive pursuit of closing retail facilities that has led it to include truly viable facilities. I believe that this policy is indiscriminate, counterproductive and not in the public interest.”

The moratorium on closings is also figuring into dissents.  In each of her recent dissenting opinions, Chairman Goldway has included the following passage: “Moreover, the Postal Service recently announced a moratorium on post office closings.  It is confusing and perhaps unfair to require some citizens whose post offices have received a discontinuance notice as of December 12, 2011 to gather evidence and pursue an appeal to the Commission, while others whose post offices were in the review process, but had not yet received a discontinuance notice by December 12, 2011, have the respite of a 5-month moratorium.”  It looks like she’ll be using that passage quite frequently over the coming weeks.


Predictions for 2012

If things keep going as they have been, it’s not hard to predict the future.  The 138 appeals before the PRC will probably yield about 15 remanded decisions, and 123 post offices under appeal will close as soon as the moratorium ends in May.  That’s on top of a number of post offices that did not file appeals that will also close when the moratorium ends — probably around a hundred.

Thousands of communities with post offices on the RAOI list will have a second meeting during late winter and early spring, as the Postal Service tries to get it right the second time around.  Citizens will continue to fight for their post offices by making noise at these meetings and writing their legislators.  

In May, a “mass number” of post offices will receive Final Determination notices, and at least a third will appeal, but only a small percentage will win a remand.   The Postal Service will probably release a new list with another 4,000 post offices it wants to close (as we have been told by the Deputy Postmaster General), and it will be well on its way to closing half the country’s post offices, according to plan. 

Congress will debate postal legislation and make some effort to protect rural post offices while giving the Postal Service ample latitude to reduce costs by closing post offices and consolidate processing plants.  Whether Congress can finalize legislation before the moratorium ends — or before the election in November — is an open question. 

Also during the spring or early summer, the PRC will issue its Advisory Opinion on the plant consolidation plan (the procedural schedule is not out yet).  It will probably find that the cost savings from closing 250 plants will be far less than projected by the Postal Service, but that won’t stop the consolidations from proceeding.  The Postal Service is already shifting work away from the plants it plans to close. 

The speed with which the mail is delivered will slow down as plants and post offices close, people will need to drive further to a post office and the lines will be longer, postal workers will be further demoralized, more historic post office buildings will be sold off, the downward spiral will accelerate, and the country’s anger at the Postal Service will increase to the point that people will look forward to privatization or at least further steps in that direction.

Photo credits: Closing meeting in Coaldale, CO;  Stu's Views cartoonGepp, AR, post officeLake Creek, TX, post office; Pilot Grove, IA, post office; Freehold, NJ post office

The Postman Always Writes Twice

January 5, 2012

Yesterday the New York Times ran an article by Campbell Robertson entitled “A Fight for Post Offices and Towns’ Souls.”  It’s about the efforts of citizens to save rural post offices in Arkansas. 

Robertson does a good job describing the work being done to protect rural post offices, but there are a couple of moments when the Times can’t help but let its urban elitism slip through.  For instance, Robertson describes the rural post office as a place “where the Pentecostals who do not look kindly on computers conduct much of their business and where postmasters discreetly read letters for the customers who are unable to do so themselves.”  That makes it sound like rural America is filled with illiterates and people who don’t use computers for religious reasons, when the fact of the matter is that millions can’t afford broadband or live where it’s unavailable (as discussed in a recent Times' piece on "The New Digital Divide").

But overall, Robertson's article is one of the best the Times has run about post office closings, and it’s well worth reading, even if it's just to see how Big City folks tend to look at Small Town folks and their "existential anxiety" over losing a post office.  Robertson describes the “resistance movement” going on to save the post office, and he cites as an example the Rural Community Alliance.  Its director, Renee Carr, is working to protect post offices by requesting public records, creating a website (Save Our Rural Arkansas Post Offices), and contacting members of Congress. 

“The letter-writing campaigns have gotten the right attention,” writes Robertson.  “Even Republican members of Congress who came into office on the wave of fiscal hawkishness in 2010, like Senator John Boozman and Representative Rick Crawford, are coming to the defense of the rural post office.”

The article also refers to “a dogged brigade of retired postmasters, waging similar fights in little communities and four-building towns across Arkansas, where roughly a third of post offices are on the list of possible closings.”

But it’s not just retired postmasters fighting to save post offices.  There’s also a retired city letter carrier name John Meredith who’s joined the battle.  Mr. Meredith is not part of the Times’ story, but he’s worth hearing about.

Mr. Meredith worked as a city letter carrier in Southern California.  Then he and his wife retired to rural Arkansas, and he’s now the Chairman of the Committee to the Save the Gravelly Post Office.  Gravelly is one of the post offices being studied for closure under the Retail Access Optimization initiative (RAOI).  It’s located in the middle of the Ouachita National Forest, in Arkansas’ 1ST District — Congressman Rick Crawford’s district.  

Like many members of Congress, Crawford has expressed concern about rural post offices, especially those in his district, and he has introduced a bill, H.R. 3370, that would prevent the Postal Service from closing a rural post office if there is not an alternate post office within eight driving miles.  It’s similar to another bill introduced by Montana senator Max Baucus, which would prevent closing a post office if there’s not another within ten miles.

Crawford’s bill would save some post offices.  About half of the 3,652 post offices on the RAOI list, for example, are eight or more miles from the nearest post office (the Postal Service provided the Postal Regulatory Commission a list with all the distances, here).   But it wouldn't save the post office in Gravelly — there's another about five miles away.  And the bill wouldn’t stop the Postal Service from closing thousands of other post offices.  It’s not intended to.  Crawford basically buys into the line that the Postal Service must be radically downsized or we’re headed for a taxpayer-funded bailout.

Back in November, Mr. Meredith wrote Congressman Crawford to share his thoughts about the Postal Service and the importance of rural post offices.  The Congressman replied with a lengthy letter that repeats most of the talking points we’ve heard from Darrell Issa and others: Decreasing revenues caused by digital communications and the recession, as well as “increasing and excessive labor costs,” are bringing the Postal Service to “the brink of insolvency.”  Crawford puts much of the blame on postal workers and their unions:  “Powerful postal unions have negotiated higher wages and better benefits than most federal and civilian employees.  Currently, labor costs make up 80% of the USPS’s expenses.” 

The Congressman also mentions the pre-funding mandate for retiree health benefits, which many argue is unfair and causing most of the Postal Service’s deficit.  “This is simply not true,” writes Crawford.  “If the USPS were allowed to cease meeting this pre-funding requirement, they would have an unfunded liability of nearly $100 billion by 2017.  These costs would then be passed on to the American taxpayer. . . .  I will work to ensure that the cost of restoring the USPS to fiscal solvency is not placed on the backs of the American taxpayers in the form of a costly government bailout.”  The letter proceeds then to discuss Darrell Issa’s bill with approval. 

All the trash talk about postal workers and unions was too much for Mr. Meredith, and he wrote a second time to Congressman Crawford.  It’s a great letter, and worth reading in full, so here it is, reprinted with permission of the author.


Representative Rick Crawford
U.S. Congress
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

December 9, 2011

Dear Mr. Crawford:

Thank you for your detailed response to me regarding the condition of the United States Postal Service.  I am in total agreement with your position in trying to save our rural post offices.  I think H.R. 3370 is a bill I can support.

It is very hard for me to understand your attack on postal workers.  They are the hardest workers in the government.  Perhaps you have not been allowed by Darrell Issa to check out the facts yourself.

There are several reasons why labor is 80% of the Post Office budget.  The Post Office is required by law to deliver to every address in the nation.  A private company will only deliver where they can show a profit.  The Post Office already has a contract with UPS and FedEx to deliver their parcels where they refuse to go.  This is called “last mile” delivery.

Another labor expense is that the Postal Service has one management position for every seven employees.  Some of the supervisors make $70,000 per year just to stand behind the carriers while they are sorting out the mail in the morning.  Do you not think most postal employees who have worked at the post office for at least a month know how to do their job?

Letter carriers are forbidden by management to deliver mail in the easiest and fastest way.  For instance, the Post Office now has machines that allow mail to be already sorted in order of delivery when the carriers prepare the mail to go out on the route.  This does save time in the office, but when the carriers are out on the street, they have one bundle for the letters, another bundle for the magazine-size mail, another bundle of ads, and maybe even another bundle for a second set of ads.  They have to stand in front of every house to sort this mail all together.

How do you think a carrier on a walking route can do that, especially when so many of them are now working in the dark?  I believe the rural route carriers can sort the mail together in the morning so when they go out on the street they just have to use one motion at every delivery point.  Think how much time the city letter carriers could save if they were allowed to do that.

The so-called powerful postal unions are not allowed to go on strike.  They have already lost over 100,000 members in the last ten years, because of Postal Service downsizing.  The clerks' union has already agreed to a substantial reduction in wages and benefits.  The letter carriers will probably agree to a cut in wages also, if they are treated fairly.  The only thing the union is doing wrong is fighting to save Saturday delivery because they do not want to lose any more jobs.

The Postal Service is the most profitable government agency ever created by the United States Constitution.  Any agency that still brings in $65 billion a year is not obsolete.  Just a few minor adjustments would return the Postal Service to a position to break even or show profit.  Even the Government Accountability Office has said the Post Office funding of its retirement benefits for people who have not even been born yet is wrong.

Darrel Issa’s bill may have some good points but careful study of it suggests he wants to break up the Post Office into little pieces and have private enterprise take parts of it.  It almost appears that some Republicans are so dogmatic they cannot stand to see a successful government agency.

Mr. Crawford, because of your comments about the hardworking postal employees and your misunderstanding of how the Postal Service works and you blaming the postal unions for the problems of the Postal Service, for the first time in my life I am ashamed to be called a Republican.  Unless you change your position on Darrell Issa’s bill, I have no choice but to work for your defeat in the next election.


John Meredith
Gravelly, Arkansas 72838


(Photo credits: Ida, AR, post office, featured in the Times' articleJohn Meredith (left) speaking at the public meeting on the Gravelly post office in September; Gravelly AR post office.)

A special thanks to David Fisher, the editor and publisher of the Yell County Record, for the photographs of the Gravelly post office and the meeting, and for some of the background on the story.  The Yell County Record has run several excellent stories about the post office, available here.  (Apologies for not mentioning the Record when we first posted this piece.)

On the Road: Postal Trucks as Vehicles of Discovery

January 3, 2012

When we talk about the “infrastructure” of the Postal Service, we’re usually thinking about the network of post offices and mail processing plants.  But the Postal Service also possesses the largest civilian fleet in the world — 213,881 vehicles.  And those vehicles cover 1.25 billion miles each year.  There are also thousands of long-haul mail trucks operated by contractors for the Postal Service.  This huge component of the postal infrastructure represents an untapped resource.  Imagine if some of those vehicles were doing something else, automatically, at the same time they were moving the mail. 

That’s just what Michael Ravnitzky envisions in an article entitled “Offering sensor network services using the postal delivery fleet.”  The paper was presented at the 18th Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics, in Porvoo, Finland, in June of 2010 (the paper is here, and the presentation materials, here).  It was also included in the book Reinventing the Postal Sector in an Electronic Age, edited by Michael A. Crew and Paul R. Kleindorfer (2011). 

Ravnitzky suggests some of the things sensors mounted on vehicles might do, like gathering weather data to help improve the nation’s weather forecasting capability and collecting air quality data to help reduce pollution.  The mobile sensors might also improve radio and cellular communications, as well as assisting in homeland security by detecting chemical, nuclear and potentially even biological materials.

The idea might bring the Postal Service some additional revenue, although that’s not the main motive.  It would also need good oversight to avoid potential privacy and civil liberties problems.  Testing the idea, however, would be relatively easy and wouldn’t require equipping the entire fleet.  A few university scientists and engineers could outfit a few vehicles (postal or other) to demonstrate the value of the concept, and the Postal Service could take it from there, perhaps by partnering with a private business to provide the start-up capital.

Anyway, this is the kind of forward thinking that needs to be encouraged.  Rather than closing post offices, we should be talking about how to diversify their products and services, particularly in ways that integrate the innovations of the digital era.  We should be thinking about how to “multi-task” the USPS vehicle fleet with a high-tech innovation like sensors that collect and transmit useful data.  Ultimately, such information is important enough that someone will do this — if not the Postal Service, then other large fleets.  In fact, there are already certain vehicle fleet owners already carrying weather sensors and collecting valuable data for the federal government.

Week in Review: Protests, dissents, and a fury that won’t go away

January 1, 2012

The protests over closing post offices and mail processing plants continue, despite the moratorium on closures.  The Postal Regulatory Commission splits down the middle on decisions about appeals on closings.  Another New Deal post office closes, sold to the highest bidder.  And the anger just builds.  Here's a roundup of the week's news.


Occupy the Post Office

Occupy Tucson: On December 28, the Occupy Tucson movement, postal unions, and Jobs with Justice united to protest the closing of the Cherrybell mail processing plant in Tucson, Arizona.  The demonstration took place outside the public meeting where the Postal Service was making its presentation for the consolidation plan.  This video has some clips of the protest as well as an excerpt of the slick video the Postal Service presented at the meeting.

Occupy Oregon: On Monday, December 19, the Rural Organizing Project coordinated rallies across the state of Oregon to protest the Postal Service’s plan to close rural post offices.  Over twenty-three communities fought back against the push to privatize the Postal Service for corporate profit.  Here’s a roundup of the day’s activities, a slideshow, and video. 

ON January 8, there will be another “Save the Post Office” rally in downtown Portland, this one organized by Occupy Portland.


Update on Network Rationalization

Packing in the meetings: During the final week of 2011, the Postal Service packed in 22 public meetings (plus 12 the week before] on mail processing plants being studied for closure.  The moratorium on closing post offices and plants says only that they won’t be closed before May 15 — but the closure studies continue.  And apparently the moratorium doesn’t apply to seventeen plants where the implementation had already begun.  Public comments are due in a couple of weeks.  You can see where to send your comments by going to the last page of the presentation material for each facility, here

How the “news” becomes “history”: The Postal Service acknowledges that the consolidation plan will slow down the mail, but postal workers at the consolidation meetings are saying it will be much worse than the Postal Service admits.  One thirty-year-veteran mail clerk at the meeting on the Gateway plant, which serves southern Oregon, said the closure of the processing center would result in “massive mail failings,” and would be a killer for weekly newspapers, which could be delayed several days.  If that happens, he said, “You start producing a history, not a newspaper.” 

Advisory Opinion on the Rationalization plan: While the Postal Service continues its closure studies on the processing plants, the Postal Regulatory Commission is getting started on the process for its Advisory Opinion on the Network Rationalization plan.  Since the Request for an Opinion was submitted by the Postal Service on December 5, twenty parties have filed a “notice of intervention” indicating they will participate.

The cast of characters is roughly the same as in 2006, when the PRC did an Advisory Opinion on the Evolutionary Network Development (END) strategy, the Postal Service’s earlier plan to rationalize the processing and delivery network.  You can see that 2006 Advisory Opinion here, and the docket is here.  If you’re interested in getting a preview of what side of the issue the participants are on, take a look at their briefs for the 2006 case

As expected, stakeholders in the direct mail industry, like DMA, favor the plan since they think it will keep costs down and keep postal rates down, whereas the periodicals stakeholders are more concerned about delivery speed than rates.  One interesting note is that this time around the City of New Orleans will be one of the interveners— the city stands to lose its mail processing plant on Loyola Avenue in the heart of downtown, which employs 680 workers.


Appeals on closing at the PRC

One remand: The appeals continue to arrive at the PRC faster than the Commission can issue decisions.  This week nine appeals came in, and the Commission issued eight decisions.  Seven closing determinations were affirmed, and one — for Gepp, Arkansas — was remanded back to the Postal Service for further consideration.  The Gepp office had been closed for an emergency suspension because the Postal Service said it was unable to find a replacement for the officer-in-charge, who was offered a position at another post office.  The record was filled with statements from the Postal Service that were challenged by residents and other evidence (the PRC’s decision is here).

And seven affirms, with dissents on all of them: PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway dissented on all seven decisions to affirm the closing, and Commissioner Nanci Langley joined her on six of them.  It takes a majority to remand a decision, so that means six post offices will close with the Commission evenly divided, two to two.  The PRC is awaiting the Senate confirmation of Tony Hammond as the fifth commissioner, but that’s probably not going to help the appeals much.  The split has been along party lines, with the two Democratic Commissioners voting in favor of a remand, and the two Republicans voting to affirm the closing decision.  Hammond is a Republican.

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